rental car categories explained

When you rent a car, you might have noticed that rental car companies will typically offer an example of a car make and model in each category. For example, reserve a compact car from Avis and you might be promised "a Ford Focus or similar." Or, if you reserve a full-size vehicle, you might be promised "a Chevrolet Malibu or similar."

The two most important words are "or similar." The company isn't promising you that you'll get a Ford Focus or a Chevrolet Malibu, just that you'll get a vehicle that shares many similar attributes.

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Rental cars are categorized with a four-letter code that can provide you with a clearer idea of the vehicle class and characteristics. Knowing a little bit about how cars are classified can help you make sure your car rental will meet your expectations.


The Meaning of Rental Car Codes


Rental car companies rely on four-letter classifications from ACRISS, the Association of Car Rental Industry System Standards. This system has been in place since the late 1980s, when the major European rental car companies decided to develop standards that allowed for a common framework with all the member companies. The immediate benefit of these standards was "to avoid misleading information when making a car rental booking online or via any electronic means."

The ACRISS car codes are based on a matrix of 400 vehicle categorizations used around the world.

The beauty of the ACRISS coding system is that it standardizes features across the globe. If you reserve a standard SUV in the Continental U.S., automatic transmission with air conditioning is expected. But in another country, manual transmissions, diesel fuel, and a lack of air conditioning might be the norm. (In that case, AutoSlash can modify a number of search strings to find automatic transmissions or air conditioning for our customers.)

With ACRISS, each character in the code has meaning:

  • 1st character denotes the vehicle category size and luxury factor
  • 2nd character defines the chassis type and number of doors
  • 3rd character defines the transmission and drive
  • 4th character defines the fuel type and whether the vehicle has AC

Over the years, the ACRISS codes have adapted to a changing industry, adding additional diverse chassis types and different fuel types. There's been an increased differentiation between 2WD and 4WD SUVs, and an overall large amount of information for consumers to make an informed choice when making a car rental booking.

Common codes include:

  • ECAR: Economy, 2-4 door, automatic transmission, with air conditioning
  • FDAM: Full-size, 4 door, automatic transmission, hybrid with air conditioning
  • CDMR: Compact, 4-door, manual transmission, with air conditioning
  • PDAR: Premium, 4 door, automatic transmission, with air conditioning

What to Know About Rental Car Codes


When you look for a rental car, your request gets translated behind the scenes into an ACRISS code. If you have an unusual request, a search might yield no results because of a lack of availability, but AutoSlash can often adjust the parameter of the ACRISS code to find non-standard or limited-availability vehicles in many cases. We just can't work miracles. For example, we can't make rental car companies ship a convertible to Michigan in January.

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Be aware that a car category that you reserve frequently at home may not be available abroad. In Europe, for example, it can be tricky to find a vehicle 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 else.

In practice, rental car companies will not guarantee that you will get the specific make and model of car that you choose because their fleets can change frequently, but you can be guaranteed to get a "similar" car.


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