Drive an electric car without buying one

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Now that there are a handful of electric and plug-in hybrid cars on the market, it seems this type of environmentally friendly vehicle is here to stay. And now, some car-rental and car-sharing companies are offering them in their fleets, giving consumers the opportunity to take an extended test drive in an electric car or plug-in hybrid without buying one.

Here’s the lowdown on where you can find one to rent.

The Nissan Leaf, a four-door hatchback electric car with an array of comfort and convenience features and a $32,780 MSRP, has the widest availability across the country. It is offered at Enterprise Rent-A-Car locations in Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz.; Knoxville and Nashville, Tenn.; Los Angeles and San Diego; Portland, Ore.; and Seattle. Hertz currently offers the car through its Connect by Hertz service in New York City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., as well as on some U.S. college campuses. The Leaf has about a 100-mile range and can be charged using a standard household outlet.

The new Chevrolet Volt, an electric car that won the prestigious North American Car of the Year award in January, will be available as a rental by Hertz in New York City and Enterprise in Los Angeles at select locations. The Volt, which retails for $40,280, is a four-door sedan that switches over to a gas-powered generator when the electric charge runs out. As a result, the total range is about 375 miles.

The Smart fortwo electric-drive car, which is not currently available for consumer purchase in the U.S., will be available for rent by Hertz in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. The tiny two-door has a 63-mile range and is charged with a standard 220-volt outlet. Pricing will be announced later in the year, as the electric car is slated to go on sale to consumers in late summer.

The Toyota Prius PHV, or plug-in hybrid, is now offered via Zipcar, the car-sharing network, to its members in Boston, San Francisco and Portland, Ore. These cars are part of a pilot program as Toyota rolls it out. More cars will be available commercially later this year and next. Toyota has not announced when the Prius PHV will be sold to consumers. Hertz also has plans to offer the Prius PHV later this year.

Hertz and Enterprise will be adding the CODA Sedan electric car this year. It’s a five-passenger, midsize sedan that will retail for $44,900 when it is sold to consumers, also late this year. It has a range of about 100 miles and can be charged with either a 110- or 220-volt standard household outlet. Other cars that Hertz says it plans to offer as rental include the Mitsubishi i-MiEV as well as the Tesla Roadster, which will be available only to Prestige Collection rental customers.

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If you have a car question, e-mail it to us at Driving for Dollars. Read more Driving for Dollars columns and Bankrate auto stories.

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