One of the first general customer queries I saw at AutoSlash was:
"If my confirmation says ECAR, is it electric?"
It's an excellent question and we can say - without a doubt - that an ECAR would not be an electric car. Nissan Leafs and Tesla vehicles are offered by some companies, and the Toyota Prius is offered by more. If a member of the AutoSlash team were offered one of those at an ECAR rate, we would quickly accept the offer. The code ECAR is the four-character industry shorthand for economy (E), 2-4 door (C), automatic transmission (A), unspecified fuel with air conditioning (R).
The reason we're able to quickly affirm an "ECAR" is non-electric is the same reason we are able to code specific vehicles like a 2-door Jeep in Hawai'i (IJAR) or a standard station wagon with manual transmission and air conditioning in Europe (SWMR). Travel services use ACRISS codes to communicate clearly and effectively as to specific vehicle types, allowing companies to make reservations on six* continents every day.
*Antarctica sadly gets left out.
What is ACRISS?
ACRISS is The Association of Car Rental Industry System Standards . The major European rental car companies decided - in the late 1980's - to develop standards that allowed booking agencies to communicate in a common framework with all the member companies. The immediate benefit of these standards was "to develop standards to avoid misleading information when making a car rental booking online or via any electronic means."
Clearly and effectively communicating car types sometimes requires the help of others, and we're available every day of the year. Car types are labeled based upon a matrix and ACRISS admits there are more than 400 vehicle categorizations used around the world due to that matrix. We see many of those types on a daily basis here at AutoSlash.
Every Car Type has a Classification Code
The greatest aspect for renters is the ACRISS coding gets done behind the scenes . When reserving a Standard SUV in the Continental U.S., the automatic transmission with air conditioning is standard practice - the renter just says a "Standard SUV" is desired and receives a price quote. When traveling through the rest of the world, manual transmissions, diesel fuel, and vehicles without air conditioning all become possibilities, and we'll end up modifying a number of search strings to find automatic transmissions or air conditioning for customers.
Every vehicle manufactured in the world gets condensed into a four-character code in the ACRISS matrix. As the organization states:
- 1st character denotes the vehicle category - based on size, cost, power and luxury factor
- 2nd character defines the vehicle type - chassis type (van, SUV, wagon, convertible….)
- 3rd character defines the transmission and drive - automatic / manual & 2WD / 4WD / AWD
- 4th character defines the fuel type (petrol / diesel / hybrid…) and whether air conditioned
Fun Fact: From the beginning of ACRISS until 2006, the fuel type wasn't even specified when renting a car. Nor was 4WD or AWD. The members of ACRISS really did make a major advancement in helping customers a decade
Even a Classification Matrix gets Manipulated
Rental car companies occasionally use company-specific codes
behind the scenes in order to describe a product. If a vehicle's text
description starts with "Special Special" (which translates to an
ACRISS code of XXAR), a customer might think it's their lucky day! In reality,
it's the lucky day for the manager of the local rental car location, who gets
to assign any vehicle typically "Compact or larger". This is
variously called a Manager's Special, Wild Card, or Lock Low & Go.
Seasoned rental car location managers tell us "Compact or larger" basically
means it's a way of getting those vehicles they might have an overabundance of
off the lot, which many times may be a Minivan, Pickup Truck or anything else
under the sun. Bottom line, it can be a good deal if you are flexible on the
type of vehicle you receive.
Dollar and Thrifty have made an intentional decision to list the same vehicles under two different codes. It's primarily a marketing ploy to enter more price options into the booking services. We're able to catch when the companies list a "Dodge Charger or similar" at two different rates; customers shouldn't pay more for the same car.
* We do hope Dollar and Thrifty have stopped still leasing Ford Crown Victorias and Lincoln Continentals; both ended production with the 2011 model year.
ACRISS Codes for Consumers
The options you select when requesting a car get converted into ACRISS codes behind the scenes. If the ACRISS code doesn't work when you do a search due to a failure of one of the parameters, we personally get involved here at AutoSlash. Looking for:
- A convertible in the Northern U.S. during the winter?*
- Only cars with automatic transmissions in Europe, Latin America, and South America?
- A compact car with air conditioning in Ireland?
* We get this question more often than most would suspect (every single day).
Many times these types of searches will return no results because of lack of availability, but by adjusting the parameter of the ACRISS code on our side, we can often try to search on your behalf for non-standard or limited availability vehicles in many cases. We just can't make the rental car companies ship a convertible to Albany, New York in January unfortunately.
There's a high probability the vehicle types you reserve frequently at home may not be available abroad. In Europe, there might be dozens of options for vehicles but none with an automatic transmission. On some Caribbean islands, a renter can have any desired vehicle provided it's a Jeep. The ubiquitous minivans of North America are surprisingly rare everywhere except the U.S. and Canada.
Europe does have a fantastic selection of stations wagons, including BMW 5 Series, Volvo V90's, and Audi A6 Avants with manual transmissions. Those rentals are definitely going to be one of my gifts to myself on future trips!
Sleepless and want to learn more about ACRISS and ACRISS codes? There's a real organization based in Europe that has removed the guesswork out of booking rental cars worldwide.