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J.D. Power hearts rental car companies

By Claes Bell, CFA · Bankrate.com
Saturday, December 4, 2010
Posted: 8 am ET

Millions of people will be hitting the roads this holiday season, and at least some of them will be doing so in a rental car. Taking road trips in a rental car can really make a lot of financial sense; it's a great and much cheaper alternative to buying a new car to replace your clunker that's not quite up to making long trips reliably anymore.

But, let's face it, rental car service can be pretty terrible. Luckily, J.D. Power recently released their customer satisfaction rankings for rental cars to help us separate the good guys from the reservation losers and surcharge adders. Enterprise ranked highest for the seventh year in a row, garnering perfect scores in all categories, but J.D. Power was pretty bullish on the industry's customer service overall:

"Improvement in the rental car industry occurs across all aspects of the customer experience," said Stuart Greif, vice president of the travel practice at J.D. Power and Associates. "By quickly improving their operations as the market started coming back, rental car companies started reversing the negative impact on satisfaction that cuts and deferred investments had during the downturn.  Satisfaction snapping back in 2010 is a testament to the industry doing its best to balance the tension between customer satisfaction and hard economic realities during this period."

Translation: When demand for rental cars cratered like everything else during the first year of the recession, rental companies responded by cutting staff and refusing to buy new rental cars, forcing people to put up with longer lines, less availability and higher prices to rent older, crappier cars. Unsurprisingly, people didn't like that. But now that demand has recovered somewhat, the rental car companies stopped and now everything is ok.

Overall, the industry's incidence of reported problems decreased to 9 percent in 2010, compared to 11 percent in 2009. The two biggest problem areas were pick-up and billing, which isn't surprising if you've ever shown up to pick up a reserved car that doesn't exist or been charged $100 for not filling up even though you did.

The other companies that did well in the survey were Hertz and National, which each got a 4 out of 5 rating. The cheapskate brands (in other words, the ones I always check prices on first), Budget, Dollar and Thrifty, all did pretty terribly, each receiving a 2 out of 5 in overall customer satisfaction.

I haven't rented a car in a little while, but J.D. Power's assessment of the industry seems pretty sunny. What do you think? Have rental car companies improved in the last few years?

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1 Comment
Dane
December 04, 2010 at 2:45 pm

I rent cars often, and I have definitely noticed a trend toward newer cars and more streamlined service in that past few years. However, I think one problem with rental car companies has definitely not improved, which is that there's no stability to their value-for-the-dollar. Every time you rent a car, you have to compare all the available companies, because prices vary so much depending on when you rent, how many days at a time you rent, and what days of the week you rent. You can never just know that, say, Alamo is going to give you the best price. I think the pricing schemes are intentionally confusing -- that's what I'd like to see changed.