Rental car agencies ‘sold out’ due to Sandy

Enterprise's website shows that there are no cars available to rent.
Enterprise's website shows that there are no cars available to rent.
Posted: November 14, 2012

Chalk it up to another casualty of Hurricane Sandy - auto rentals.

It has been tough to rent a car in the City of Philadelphia, or anywhere on the East Coast due to unprecedented demand and the storm damage.

Websites for the four largest companies - Enterprise Holdings, Hertz Global Holdings, Avis Budget Group Inc., and Dollar Thrifty - showed "sold out" Tuesday at key locations, including Philadelphia International Airport and 30th Street Station. Orbitz, Expedia and Travelocity also had no rental cars available here on Tuesday.

The shortage can be traced to consumers renting replacement cars for their own storm-damaged vehicles and emergency responders and local utilities needing cars and trucks for the recovery effort.

"Although we are working hard to increase our local fleet as quickly as possible, there are still significant waiting lists in some communities where residents are requesting replacements for their damaged vehicles," said Matt Darrah, executive vice president of North American operations for Enterprise Holdings.

"Despite our best efforts to be prepared, the magnitude of the storm has simply outstripped our resources and manpower in some locations."

The good news is: there will be some rental cars available for the Thanksgiving holiday. AAA said Tuesday that 43.6 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, an uptick of 0.7 percent over the 43.3 million who traveled last year.

Carmitta Myers, retail manager of AAA Mid-Atlantic's Center City store and travel agency, said she checked several car rental websites for Nov. 19 to Nov. 26 and found cars available at Philadelphia airport.

"It has a lot to do with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, where people with damaged vehicles had to find alternative transportation, and rental cars are it," said Fred Lowrance, analyst with Avondale Partners who covers the travel industry.

"From Washington, D.C., to Boston, there are just a lot of damaged vehicles that are in the shop getting fixed. In the meantime, insurance companies are putting people into rental cars at Hertz, Enterprise and other places, as a replacement vehicle," Lowrance said. "That is where the supply is going. And some of the rental cars themselves also got damaged."

Enterprise, which owns Enterprise Rent A Car, National Car Rental and Alamo Rent A Car, said at the peak of the storm, the company closed more than 400 branches on the eastern seaboard and nearly 1,000 vehicles were damaged. Since then, the company has reopened offices and relocated more than 12,000 vehicles to the New York metro area alone, some coming from as far as Colorado.

Enterprise, which operates more than 6,000 neighborhood and airport branch offices, said it was "diverting" more than 27,000 vehicles, previously slated for other parts of the country, to New York and New Jersey.

Even before Sandy made landfall, Enterprise received requests for cars and trucks from government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Urban Search and Rescue and local utilities.

Hertz spokeswoman Paula Rivera said the stock was depleted by the hurricane and because this is traditionally the busiest week in November for business travel.

"You have a dual impact - a very busy business travel week and obviously the impact from Hurricane Sandy," Rivera said. "We are expecting after Thursday, when the business travelers start returning cars, our fleet will become available again across the Philadelphia market."


Contact staff writer Linda Loyd at 215-854-2831 or lloyd@phillynews.com.

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