How to Rent a Tesla from Hertz – a CX Case Study

July 7, 2023
13 min read

Or how renting a Tesla at Hertz made a believer out of me

I'm not new to electric vehicles. We bought our first, a Ford Mustang Mach E GT Performance Edition, in April of 2022 (a story for another post). Before that, I wanted a Tesla for quite some time. I always assumed our next vehicle purchase would be a Tesla.

We did a work field trip in Seattle back in January of 2020 to see first hand a number of best-in-class customer experiences. A Tesla Store visit was in order because it's the anti-dealership experience. I'll cover the purchase experience in another post (prepare for that recurring theme).

Me sitting in a Tesla Model 3 on our customer experience field trip in 2020.

I soured on Tesla as Elon Musk continued to show us who he really was, but when it was time to replace my 2008 Nissan Altima, I knew it was going to be with an EV. I spent lots of time researching what EVs were available at the time (early 2022), which ones were top-rated, which ones met our needs as a family of five, etc. Then it was time to start test driving and seeing what I liked.

Our path to electrification

Before the purchase of our Mach E, I test drove everything I could get my hands on, which wasn't everything I had hoped to try. The combination of the microchip shortage and automakers inability to mass produce batteries continued to keep inventories low. I started with Tesla, test driving the Model 3, Y, and S. I liked them, but the test drive experience left something to be desired. It wasn't as memorable or impactful as I expected.

I spent some good quality test drive time with the Volvo C40 and XC40. I really liked the XC40. It topped my wish list for some time. Next was a Kia EV6. I liked it. I didn't love it. I also couldn't see spending $65,000 on a Kia, which is what the Wind trim with dealer markup cost.

Back in 2022, I wasn't able to test drive a VW ID.4 yet, because the Russian invasion of Ukraine was in the very early stages and production of the ID.4 in Nashville, TN hadn't started yet. It was also near impossible to find an Audi e-tron and dealerships in Missouri weren't yet certified to sell the Hyundai Ioniq 5, so it wasn't until much later that I was able to try those - well after purchasing our first EV. The Mach E was the last I test drove before a purchase. A few drives in the Mach E and I was sold and started our journey to full electrification.

Minneapolis and LA, here we come

Fast forward to March of 2023. My daughter Fiona has a volleyball tournament in Minneapolis the weekend before Spring Break. We planned a Spring Break trip to Universal Studios Hollywood and the newly opened Super Nintendo World. Because we'd be leaving from Minneapolis to get to LA, we flew into Minneapolis and I decided to rent a Tesla for our weekend there.

Mega Hertz

Hertz had by far the most EV options for rental. EV pricing at Hertz was comparable or cheaper than any Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) gas-powered auto they offered. That combination made Hertz the best choice at the time. I wanted All Wheel Drive (AWD) because it's Minneapolis in early spring (at best). I figured there was a better than even chance we'd have others riding with us to and from some of our non-volleyball destinations. That made the Model Y a logical choice. I had also already made up my mind I was ready to audition the Model Y as a replacement to Amy's Pathfinder.

I booked a Model Y for our Minneapolis trip and because we'd want a rental car in LA, I booked one for that leg of the travel as well. That would give us a solid week of time with the Model Y in two drastically different climates. I couldn't think of a much better way to audition a car before committing to the purchase.

Tell them what you're going to tell them

Say what you will about Hertz, but when you rent an EV from them, they make sure you're prepared for it. Hertz sent SO MANY emails between rental confirmation and rental pickup. They provided links to videos and training on how and where to charge the Tesla, how to operate the Tesla (for the uninitiated, most everything runs through the touchscreen or is controlled via voice controls), and pretty much everything you'd need to know on how to pick up your car and get on the road.

What I'm really curious to find out is if the next time I rent an EV from them, will their communications be tailored to the fact that I've rented one before and won't need the primer? Spoiler alert, I ignored all the pre-pickup communications because I already owned an EV. That turned out to be a bad choice, a story I'm not proud of and will get to shortly.

Long story short on the communications, Hertz did everything you could want and more to empower you to be ready for what might be your first time in an EV. What you choose to do with that information is up to you.

Pickup time

Fast forward again to when we arrive in Minneapolis. One of Fiona's best friends and teammates traveled with her and I. The three of us got our luggage (Fiona and I packed for Minneapolis and LA, and we did NOT pack lightly) and made our way to the Hertz counter. Being a Gold Plus Rewards Member provided my favorite perk of renting through Hertz; the ability to skip the counter, find the board with my name and parking spot on it, and head straight to the car. We found my name, walked maybe 100 feet to the white Model Y waiting for us, and then pretty quickly got the car loaded up and ready to go.

The first (and only) real trouble ensues

Subtitle = Being a know-it-all is a good way to nearly get yourself into an accident, or worse.

We're in the car, the Tesla starts automatically as Teslas do, and I give a glance to the screen to make some adjustments to mirrors, seats, steering wheel position and the like, and decide to get moving. We're ready to check into our hotel and find some lunch. What I didn't do was learn how to activate the windshield wipers!

This is important because we exited the parking garage only to find that a combination of sleet and freezing rain was coming down and causing major visibility issues. It didn't start until we had turned onto the highway, and by then we were moving with traffic and up to the speed limit. This is probably the most worried I've been when driving any vehicle, compounded by the fact that it was 100% avoidable, 100% my fault, and I had my daughter and her friend in the car with me.

We survived the scare

I was watching traffic and not really honing in on the touchscreen UI or the few physical controls present in a Tesla. I didn't realize the button on the left stalk activated the wipers. After some trial and error, Fiona used her phone to look up the manual and how to activate everything my stubborn ass ignored to begin with, and we voice-activated the wipers and defrost. This happened just in the nick of time, because any longer and we probably would've been in an accident. There was no shoulder to pull off to as we were trying to get away from the airport and to the first main highway of our journey. Not my proudest or smartest moment.

Everything else, for the most part, went smoothly

Despite taking a little longer to get used to how Tesla navigation presents the next steps (and not updating the setting to get voice prompts), we get to our hotel safely. We checked in, found a good location for lunch (Brit's Pub - be sure to check them out), and then went about our day. We took a trip to the Mall of America to kill some time. We met up with the team for dinner at The News Room. I'm not-so-secretly in love with their website that's designed like an old-school newspaper, but I digress.

Minneapolis is COLD

Captain Obvious here, reporting for duty. The next Tesla-specific event happened the following day. We had lots of time to kill because the girls' first game wasn't until the afternoon session starting at 2. Some of us decided to meet up at the Mall of America again because we needed an indoor venue to entertain us.

We walk out to the car. Wind chills were below -20F. The door handle stuck a little bit, but then we got right in and the car started right up like it hadn't been sitting in an open-air parking garage in in sub -20F temperatures. Defrost cleared the windshield in a jiffy, and we were off to the mall. There's nothing Tesla or rental experience related left to share about Minneapolis, until the night before we leave.

My first Tesla Supercharger experience

After the tournament was over for Fiona and her team, we had ourselves a fun day finding cool places to visit and spend our time in and around Minneapolis. We had an extra night in the hotel because we weren't meeting Amy and the boys in LA until the following day. We had dinner at The Local as a way of asking my Irish family members for forgiveness for dining at The Brit on St. Patrick's Day.

After dinner we found the nearest Supercharger. This particular Supercharger was in a Hy-Vee parking lot. We backed into a charger parking spot, started charging just by plugging it in, and made our way into Hy-Vee. We spent about 20-ish minutes in Hy-vee picking up a few things for the flight the next day and to get us through the night. We made our way back to the car and it was at nearly 85% charged from only 23% when we went in. That's much faster than I'm used to in our Mach E.

The speed of charging at a Supercharger and the ease of plugging it in and going was a game changer. No waiting for an app to sync/authenticate. No waiting for the charging stall to recognize the car. No waiting at all. Just plugging in, walking away, and coming back to a car that was almost charged as much as I wanted it to be.

Next stop, Hollywood!

Or LAX to be exact. We flew out the next morning on a direct flight on Spirit Airlines (my first Spirit experience and another I'll probably write about because it was awesome!). We arrived in LAX, got our bags, and again made our way to the Hertz counter. Again my name was on the board with our parking spot. We walked to our spot, find our (again white) Model Y, and loaded up. We knew everything we needed to know to start this trip. Even so, I was pleasantly surprised to see a card with a QR code that took me to all the Tesla tutorials.

Highway driving in LA.

We made our way to the hotel. After getting settled, we found a spot for dinner, then went back to the hotel to wait for the rest of the crew to arrive. We had a blast in Hollywood and at Universal Studios, but I'll get to that story in another post.

Nothing crazy to report Tesla-wise from LA

The climate in LA/Hollywood is what you would expect, with the exception being it rained more than normal. Good thing I knew how to turn on the windshield wipers, huh? We put a good 400 miles on the Model Y over the 4 days we were in LA. It comfortably fit all five of us plus our abundance of luggage from traveling separately and meeting up. It was exceptionally easy to find charging locations near us because Tesla's and other EVs are so common in California. There were absolutely zero complaints about the Model Y leaving 5 impressed and happy Bennett's that we rented one.

Renting a Tesla from Hertz sold me on Owning a Tesla

Considering that I'd been driving a Ford Mustang Mach E GT Performance Edition for the better part of a year, I wasn't expecting the Tesla rental experience to wow me. After a week of driving two different Model Ys in two drastically different climates, I was sold on the Model Y. It would be a perfect replacement for the Pathfinder, giving up a little extra space for tons more convenience and practicality, not to mention the cool factor.

I wound up buying a Tesla the week we were back in St. Louis, but that's a story for another post.

Some CX Recommendations for EV rentals

Based on our experience renting a Tesla from Hertz in Minneapolis and LA, I'd recommend the following CX upgrades to Hertz, Tesla, and any other rental partners that may experience the same challenges.

Tesla in-car experience
If you're going to be selling hundreds of thousands of cars to rental companies, your software user experience needs some updates. You need a way to identify the car as a rental and present specific UI enhancements that would benefit a renter and potential first-time EV driver. The tutorials you present the first time someone buys a Tesla from one of your stores should be made available to rental customers upon first entry at the time of pickup. This could be toggled on/off as part of the rental return and prep for next rental process.

Having used numerous navigation apps, most recently Waze, Google Maps, Apple Maps, Ford Sync's proprietary system, and becoming pretty dependent on Apple Car Play to switch between a number of those navigation apps, Tesla's navigation takes a little getting used to. The proximity of the current instruction and the next instruction and the Information Architecture of those details is a little confusing until you get used to how Tesla wants to present the info to you.

Premium connectivity should be activated for all rentals. Not having access to all of the things that makes a Tesla unique or at the very least the best software user experience in a car is a huge miss. This cost could easily be passed on to the rental company and covered by a nominal fee to the renter. I'd pay for it without question.

Tesla app experience
There needs to be a version of the Tesla app for renters (or ability to add a rental profile) that provides the same functionality the app does to an owner, so the renter isn't dependent on the key card for starting the car. This also allows the renter to access all the user-friendly functionality in the Tesla app, like unlocking the charge port, comfort settings, trunk/frunk access, etc. It also familiarizes the renter with the app and prepares them for a potential transition to Tesla ownership.

Our Minneapolis experience was nearly flawless, only missing the card in the car that provided a QR code and link to tutorials and other helpful information that might have helped me avoid my know-it-all problems. I only knew this was a miss because such a card was in the Model Y we picked up at LAX. The only knock with the Hertz in LA is the Model Y we rented is that it was dirty, but Hertz made up for it by giving us enough rewards credits for a future rental.

Recommendations for other EV manufacturers

While Tesla was the most prominent EV rental option, Hertz also had other EV options including the Polestar 2 and Kia EV6. The selection was otherwise pretty limited. This is a huge opportunity to educate the public on the fun and convenience of driving an EV. With a little bit of planning around charging, coordinating that with stops to eat or run other errands, the experience can be an improvement over an ICE vehicle in more ways than EVs being fun to drive. Add that to the reduced carbon footprint and what's not to love?

Tagged: case study · CX · electrification · hertz · tesla · travel

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