Renting a Car? Here’s Why the Prices of U-Haul Rental Cargo Vans Are Soaring Post-Pandemic

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When you think of traveling around the country, you likely picture an RV or an Airstream. So, what do U-Haul cargo vans have to do with summer vacation? While a cargo van may not be part of your holiday Pinterest board, U-Haul rentals have become increasingly popular among travelers as of late. 

No, renting U-Hauls is not the latest trend TikTok trend or #aesthetic. Instead, it’s a matter of practicality. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many folks are looking for safe ways to travel, and taking a road trip, camping or staying in an Airbnb seems like a plausible solution to most. However, in the same way there’s a shortage of Airbnb rentals — or, at least, affordable ones — it seems the rental car industry simply can’t keep up with the insatiable demand. 

So, how can you avoid this issue on your next trip? U-Haul rental cargo vans might just be the answer — even if that sounds a little silly at first. 

Why Is There a Rental Car Shortage?

The car rental industry is certainly a big part of the larger travel industry — which, of course, came to a screeching halt during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to a lack of customers, car rental companies also suffered a lack of space. Many of these companies only have a corner of an airport parking lot to call their own. Some are so often booked up that they don’t normally stock enough spaces for their whole fleet of vehicles. With little revenue and no space, many companies sold off cars during 2020. 

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Now, it’s not so easy to restock. Car lots are offering hefty bonuses for used car trade-ins — and it’s not (entirely) a gimmick. COVID-19 lockdowns stopped used-car auctions, which is where car dealerships and rental car companies often buy the bulk of their inventory. While other rental car companies prefer to buy newer cars, that’s also been something of an issue due to pandemic-related supply shortages. 

With millions of fully vaccinated travelers eager to make up for lost time, car rental agencies across the country are simply struggling to keep up with demand. And not only are travelers having trouble renting cars from most of the major companies, like Hertz and Alamo, but those who are lucky enough to book a rental are paying higher-than-average rates.

How Do U-Haul Cargo Van Rentals Fit into the Equation?

The tourism industry is bustling all across the United States — and Hawai’i is no exception, even though many locals wish tourists wouldn’t book a getaway to the islands during the pandemic. Since tourists need a way to get around on the islands, many have found an unusual solution during the times of rental car shortages: U-Haul cargo vans.

U-Haul cargo vans and pick-up trucks are usually booked for “small jobs,” but they also have enough space for a few passengers and their luggage. Although most travelers would only book a cargo van out of necessity, it’s also a bit cheaper than a rental car at times, namely because U-Haul rentals generally cost a flat fee of $19.95 plus mileage. Perhaps surprisingly, this is significantly cheaper than the $100+ per day that rental car companies charge for their most compact, basic offerings. 

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If U-Haul van rental is not available, Enterprise, more commonly known for smaller car rentals, also offers cargo vans. Enterprise cargo van rental can be a little more expensive than U-Haul’s, but it is an option for desperate travelers. If a person is traveling with a large group, renting a cargo van from Enterprise may actually be the right-sized choice; Enterprise offers travel-friendly 15-seater vans.

Make no mistake about it: renting a cargo van from U-Haul is not a recommended option. While it may seem cheaper on paper, the logistics of long-term U-Haul rentals are not so simple. Since U-Haul is a moving company, the very interface of the website lends itself to renting by the hour and returning vehicles the same day or the very next day. Moreover, the total expenses can really add up if you tack on enough miles to that base fee. 

As noted in the The Washington Post, higher-ups at the company have said that U-Haul has no plans of changing the setup to make things easier on vacationers using the trucks for non-moving reasons. So, while you won’t be questioned by U-Haul booking agents, you shouldn’t expect any discounts or leniencies when it comes to using cargo vans in an unconventional way. 

Alternatives to Renting a Car (or U-Haul Van)

Hawai’i may have plenty of U-Haul rental cargo vans to go around, but that may not always be the case for other tourist destinations. Fortunately, using a rental car company — or moving service — isn’t your only option. For starters, Uber, Lyft and other rideshare services are becoming more and more prevalent, even in small towns and cities. But that’s not where the options stop.

Turo, for example, is the Uber of car rentals. Through this platform, private car owners have a safe interface through which to rent out their cars to other people. From antique cars to fun convertibles and run-of-the-mill mini vans, Turo often has a unique selection, all dependent on who’s renting out their personal vehicles in your area, of course. For a daily rate, you can rent a car via Turo for long trips and short jaunts alike. 

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Another option? Treat yourself to a luxury car rental. While this option may not be available in all cities, these cars are less likely to be completely booked. Far fewer people are willing to pay for a Maserati or Lamborghini rental, but if you want to go big after sheltering in place for a year, now’s the time. 

On the other side of the coin, you could also use the lack of rental cars as an opportunity to make decisions that are better for the environment — and your wallet. Most major cities have robust public transportation systems. Taking buses, trains, and trolleys around the area you plan to visit can not only save you a lot of money, but using public transit can also have environmental benefits, namely because you’re cutting down on the number of vehicles on the road. 

Of course, many of these alternatives are dependent upon the place — or places — you plan to visit. Smaller towns or off-the-beaten-track locations might not have rideshares or public transit readily available. All of this to say, be sure to do your research. This is a rather unusual year when it comes to travel, and while, at first glance, rental cars and roadtripping may seem like the easiest (and safest) option, you might need to do some creative problem-solving.