We get the question often -- what size vehicle should I pick if I have (insert number) travelers. If the number of occupants is more than seven, there's only one possibility; a full-size van. Although we know the reason renters want large vans, we say possibility because full-size vans can be somewhat rare in the rental car fleet. At my hometown airport (Nashville), Hertz Global Holdings (including Dollar, Hertz, and Thrifty) doesn't even offer the possibility of a full-size van!
When full-size vans are available, they tend to sell out quickly. Not only are they very popular for large families and groups of friends going on road trips, but they are also heavily used by schools and sports teams. We recommend planning ahead and booking as early as possible, especially during periods when families might take trips -- holidays, long weekends, and summer vacations. Sometimes availability may be better at off-airport locations, while other times airport locations may be the only option. It's always best to check both since pricing and availability can vary widely.
What if the Full-Size Van is Unavailable for Booking?
If the rental car companies have no full-size vans available, that means the best possible alternative is likely a minivan seating seven. If a high-capacity van is absolutely needed for a trip, a delayed booking might result in the need for two vehicles when one might ordinarily suffice. Additionally, it's important to keep in mind that full-size vans are almost never available for a one-way rental. Rental locations tend to want to keep those vehicles local for various reasons. If you need a one-way rental for more than 7 people, you'll have to manage with multiple minivans and/or cars for better or worse.
How Do I Know my Reserved Van's Capacity?
A renter seeking a large van will truly want to pay attention to the vehicle being booked. We know it sounds silly, but we encounter AutoSlash users on a daily basis who ask questions that are included on the vehicle confirmation screens! For instance, Budget offers no vehicle class above a 12-passenger van, so a user would want to review the listed capacity at the time of booking. The rental car companies issue the confirmations you receive, so it's the responsibility of the rental car company to deliver the promised capacity.
Budget's offering seats 12 while Alamo's (in this case) seats 15.
Safety Concerns over Passenger Vans
NHTSA (the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) expressly talks about the safety issues inherent in 15-passenger vans. Two different government agencies made me go through training on driving the vehicles -- primarily telling me to slow down around corners and to use my mirrors -- but the NHTSA guidance includes far more components. Drivers are expected to be trained and frequent drivers of the vehicle type, check the tire pressure and tread every trip, and follow specific guidance on how to load any passengers and cargo.
Sadly, these high-capacity passenger vans are more dangerous when there are more occupants.
"NHTSA research has shown that 15-passenger vans have a rollover risk that increases dramatically as the number of occupants increases from fewer than five to more than ten. In fact, 15-passenger vans with 10 or more occupants had a rollover rate in single-vehicle crashes that is nearly three times the rate of those that had fewer than five occupants."
Why? Each passenger added to a 12-15 passenger van raises the vehicle's center of gravity and moves the center of gravity to the rear. Risk consulting groups and insurance companies still make frequent recommendations against 12 and 15-passenger vans, despite improvements made by the manufacturers; there's disagreement whether the decrease in accidents is based upon increased safety or fewer miles driven. We're surprised that the rental car companies offer 15-passenger vans at all.
Where Might I Find a 12- to 15-passenger van?
Driver licensing in the United States is far more lenient than in the rest of the world -- the ability of a driver to rent a 12- to 15-passenger van at the nearest rental car site is an exception globally. A 12+ passenger van might be found in the United States and many Mexican resort towns but the maximum capacity available in Europe is likely to be nine. And all vehicles seating more than 12 passengers are considered commercial vehicles in Canada, not ordinary passenger cars. A driver with a high-capacity van and no commercial drivers license won't be able to cross the U.S. / Canada border.
Any Stumbling Blocks when Seeking 12- to 15-passenger vans?
Of course. Given the legal liability associated with these large vehicles when things go wrong, there are a number of restrictions. The rental car companies will not rent a 12 or 15 passenger van to a driver under the age of 25, no exceptions. These vehicles also frequently come with limited included miles and can't cross international borders. Then there's insurance -- personal automotive policy and credit card CDW coverage is very likely to exclude this type of vehicle.
School-age populations also introduce additional restrictions. Are you old enough to remember school field trips and sports teams in 15-passenger vans? The K-12 school -- public or private -- can't use the vehicle unless the van was originally badged as meeting school bus standards (and a rental van won't be). Trying to rent in California for a public college or non-profit? The driver will need a passenger transport endorsement as well as a Class B license.
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