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ROAD & TRAVEL Auto Advice: Car Rental Study

Enterprise Ranks Highest in Satisfying Rental Car Customers

Good news for travelers: people renting cars at airport locations record significantly higher customer satisfaction levels with rental car companies now than they did in 2005, according to the J.D. Power and Associates Rental Car Satisfaction Study for 2006.

The study finds that customer satisfaction with rental car companies has improved 3 percent from last year, citing improvements in all six factors used to determine overall satisfaction: costs and fees, pick-up process, rental car, return process, reservation process and shuttle bus/van.

“This has been a good year for the travel industry in terms of customer satisfaction, as each travel-related segment we measure has experienced improvements, including airlines, airports, hotels and now rental cars,” said Jim Gaz, senior director of travel and entertainment at J.D. Power and Associates. “However, the rental car industry may face challenges in the future as domestic manufacturers consider pulling back on fleet sales to focus on their more profitable retail sales. This has the potential of leading to higher rental car rates and an aging fleet of cars.”

Enterprise ranks highest in customer satisfaction among rental car companies for a third consecutive year. Enterprise performs particularly well in five of the six factors: costs and fees, pick-up process, return process, reservation process and shuttle bus/van. Enterprise is followed by Hertz and National, respectively.

The study finds that only 29 percent of customers waited to pick up their rental car, however, the average time it takes to pick up the rental car is 21.5 minutes. This is an area the industry needs to address since overall satisfaction drops below the industry average with any wait time that exceeds five minutes.

“Once arriving at the airport, travelers are already in an impatient mood,” said Gaz. “Having to wait more than what they feel is a reasonable amount of time to receive the rental car is not a good way to start their rental car experience."

The study also finds that customers are increasingly renting full-size and sport utility vehicles. While the vast majority of vehicles rented are mid-size cars (42 percent) or compact cars (14 percent), the rental share of full-size cars has increased to 12 percent, while sport utility vehicles has increased to 11 percent.

The Internet continues as the method of choice when making reservations. Overall, 69 percent of customers reserve a vehicle online — 42 percent at the rental car company Web site, 21 percent at an independent travel Web site, and 6 percent through a corporate self-booking site.

(Source: JD Power)