Wondering which rental car companies stand above the crowd and which don't make the grade? You've come to the right place.
Every week at AutoSlash, we gather feedback from thousands of customers across over dozen car companies. Over the years, we've developed a pretty good idea the good, the bad and the ugly.
Before we dive in, we want to point out that there are always exceptions—star employees, an awesome free upgrade, or big misses from normally excellent companies. These ratings below are averages—a summation of the feedback we've collected over the years. They are, of course, subjective and could change over time.
You'll notice that we rate things a little differently than the big names in travel awards, such as JD Power and Travel + Leisure magazine.
AutoSlash Car Rental Company Rankings
When you receive a set of quotes from AutoSlash, you'll notice star ratings next to each company name. We advise renters to heed these ratings, which can be a harbinger of what your rental experience may be like with a given company.
Our rating system for the major car rental firms is based on two factors:
- Our subjective perceptions based on thousands of interactions
- The number of official customer complaints to AutoSlash
Note that our star-rating system does not factor in price.
We rate the major rental companies on a five-star scale (shown on our quotes) and break them into four tiers:
Car Rental Company Tiers
With a Tier 1 company, you're highly likely to have a fast, problem-free experience—especially if you're a member of the frequent rental program, where you can usually just walk straight out to the lot to your car and drive off without ever speaking to an agent. National gets extra kudos for its industry-leading Emerald Aisle car selection, although Hertz is showing a lot of promise with its Ultimate Choice service. You'll often pay a premium (but not always) at these companies.
The Tier 2 companies represent a solid value. Most are run pretty smoothly, though you may encounter a hard sell for extra options like insurance or upgrades from highly-commissioned sales agents, fees even for spouses to drive, and lines can sometimes be long at peak times. You should join the company's frequent renter program to minimize the wait.
Cars are generally of good quality and often shared with their respective Tier 1 brands (all of the second-tier brands are owned by the same larger companies as the top-tier brands). Rentals at Tier 2 corporate locations are generally unmemorable (but in the rental industry, unmemorable is a good thing), while the service level at franchises can vary. For renters trying to balance price and experience, Tier 2 is a good compromise.
A special note about Enterprise: Enterprise is routinely ranked at the very top of rental car rating by JD Power, Consumer Reports, Travel + Leisure and others. However, especially at off-airport, neighborhood locations, we have heard about—and experienced ourselves—reports of:
- Lengthy pick-up lines
- Extremely pushy sales agents
- Sketchy car availability. Plan to drive a car that's seen better days, significantly larger (or smaller) than you reserved, and given to you with barely a quarter tank of gas (which you'll have to return at the same level).
Yet one thing Enterprise gets right is customer service. Their overly-highly-motivated cadre of all-college-graduates does a good job of taking ownership of issues and making sure you're "completely satisfied." That's the key to its success in the rankings.
The Tier 3 brands are smaller players in the market and often cater towards the extreme discount seeker. Along with their low rates, though, comes a mixed experience with lots of restrictions. Expect longer lines, older vehicles in mediocre condition, a shuttle to your vehicle in many locations (instead of being on-site at the airport), an extremely hard sell for extra options and other sometimes onerous limitations. Beware that they are often sticklers for damage, even though the car might have a ton of pre-existing damage.
Come prepared with a printout of your reservation from the rental company's own website, just say no to extra options, check your rental contract carefully before you leave the rental counter, and don't hesitate to ask to speak to a manager if your total price is different than reserved, and you'll probably be fine with a Tier 3 company.
We created a separate Tier 4 after hearing complaint after complaint after complaint about Payless. But Payless may be poised for a big improvement now that the company is owned by Avis, which seems to be getting rid of poorly managed franchises. Still, for now, we generally do not recommend renting from Payless.