Ranking Car Rentals


Many rental-car companies have brought down rental fees by “right-sizing” their fleets


The good news for clients renting cars is that customer satisfaction is up after two years of decline. The bad news is that gains in rental fees are offset by increased excise taxes imposed by local and state governments.

Gains in six key areas—costs and fees; pick-up process; rental car; return process; reservation; and shuttle bus/van—were reported by J.D. Power and Associates in its 2009 U.S. Rental Car Satisfaction Study.

Enterprise is the big winner, according to the J.D. Power study, ranking highest in customer satisfaction among rental-car companies for a sixth consecutive year and performing well in all six categories. It is followed by National and Hertz, respectively. “In particular, National has improved considerably from 2008, by 15 index points and two rank positions in 2009. Hertz performs particularly well in shuttling customers to and from the airport,” says the study.

After two consecutive years of considerable decline, overall customer satisfaction with renting cars at airports stabilized in 2009. Overall satisfaction averages 733 on a 1,000-point scale in 2009, from 734 in 2008. It declined by 16 points in 2007 and 17 points in 2008.

The report notes, “The stabilization of overall satisfaction is largely a result of the rental-car industry effectively responding to economic pressures. In particular, many rental-car companies have focused on containing operating costs by ‘right-sizing’ their fleets to meet changing consumer demand and extending the service life of their vehicles, allowing them to delay orders for replacements. This has enabled many companies to decrease their rental fees.”

However, in a number of locations, reductions in rental fees have been offset by increased excise taxes imposed by local and state governments, the study notes. This increases rental costs despite the efforts of the rental-car companies.

“The rental-car industry has tried to dissuade attempts to increase taxation on rental-car customers and has made efforts to increase consumer awareness and understanding of these fees and their origin since these fees may confuse customers when they receive their final bill,” says Paula Sonkin, vice president of the travel practice at J.D. Power.

Taxes and fees aside, the report has good news on customer satisfaction. “It is notable that the three highest-ranked rental-car companies in 2009 also have the fewest customer-reported problems,” says Sonkin. On average, satisfaction among customers who experience a problem is nearly 140 points lower than among customers who have a hassle-free rental-car experience.

The study, based on over 12,900 evaluations from business and leisure travelers, also finds that providing a highly satisfying rental-car experience has a strong positive effect on customer loyalty levels. Among customers with satisfaction scores averaging 900 or higher, about two-thirds indicate that they “definitely will” recommend the rental-car company to others and rent from the same company again.