Patience tested as travelers delayed by rental car shortage

The line at a rental car counter at the Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport.
The line at a rental car counter at the Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport.(WTOC)
Updated: May. 6, 2021 at 5:41 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - A nationwide rental car shortage has sidelined plans and delayed trips as more people begin to travel.

It has left visitors with one less option to get around once they arrive by plane.

Stranded. Hot. It’s how Kathy Murray described feeling after she arrived at the Hilton Head Island Airport to pick up her rental car.

“I booked the car. Got a confirmation and when I got here, I got dropped of here by a friend and there were no cars,” she said.

The situation last Thursday somewhat complicated her leisurely trip to the Lowcountry from Long Island, New York. She booked the car online earlier that morning and received a confirmation only to learn about the cancellation when she arrived.

The shortage of rental cars in the U.S. is a source of concern not only for leaders at the Hilton Head Island Airport, but also the Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport.

“From what I understand this is happening everywhere,’ said Jon Rembold, director of Beaufort County Airports. “So, it’s not just happening here, but everywhere is experiencing that shortage.”

The supply and demand problem started with the pandemic shutdowns last spring, and it’s something Rembold has closely followed working in the travel industry.

“The rental cars needed to liquidate a lot of their assets in order to kind of survive through COVID and a lot of other industries did that as well,” he said.

At the same time, there was a demand in chip technology as more people began to work from home.

Chips are tiny pieces of semiconductor material used to operate smart phones, computers and cars. The chairman of the global chip manufacturer TSMC explained in an interview with 60 Minutes how once the company is caught up to fill car chip orders, it won’t immediately resolve the car shortage.

“There is a time lag. In car chips, particularly, the supply chain is long and complex. This supply takes about seven to eight months,” said Mark Liu, Chairman of TSMC, in the interview.

Some industry experts predict it will take as long as two years for car manufacturers to catch up to the current demand. The shortage has created a ripple effect outside of the travel industry.

One extreme example: Tourists in Hawaii have resorted to renting U-Haul pickups and even box trucks to get around once they’ve arrived the island.

Car rental company Enterprise Holdings, which owns several rental car brand names, explained in a statement what it’s doing to meet customer demand.

“We continue to work closely with our manufacturing partners to secure additional vehicles to meet the ongoing increase in demand.”

Back on Hilton Head Island, Murray tried to order an Uber and called a taxi company, but received no guarantees.

“I guess we have to wait in line for a cab and hope one comes,” she said. “It’s crazy. I just don’t understand the lack of Ubers or cabs even.” She waited about 10 minutes before a taxi arrived, and then a very New York thing happened. She split the cab with a man who was in line ahead of her.

  • The key is to plan ahead and make car rental reservations well in advance, according to rental car companies.
  • Also, flexibility on dates and the location for where you pick up a car is another way to secure a rental. Even then, expect to pay more and wait once you arrive at the counter.

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