In Hawaii, Rental-Car Demand Skyrockets, Sending Tourists to U-Haul Rentals

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Sebastian Blanco\

  • The Pandemic hit the rental car industry hard last year, and many companies sold off excess vehicles.
  • Now, with vaccines available and travelers returning to places like Hawaii, rental-car lots are pretty empty, which means surprisingly high prices. A Toyota Camry cost $700 a day on Maui last month, and even now, it’s difficult to find any rental car for under $200 a day in Honolulu.
  • The solution, some travelers have discovered, is U-Haul, which will rent you a pickup truck for under $20 a day plus mileage.

That’s the word from Hawaii News Now and also reported by Carscoops. The Hawaii news site said that demand for the limited supply of rental cars on Maui drove the price of a Toyota Camry to over $700 a day in March. The situation hasn’t improved in April, and prices are still high compared to pre-pandemic prices, so the next best thing, for some, is a rented moving van.

HNN reported on the trend on Maui, but it’s possible on other islands as well since a little bit of Internet searching proves that the economics pan out. Rental-car options in Honolulu are indeed limited right now. We were able to find one—yes, just one—vehicle available for pickup this weekend at Honolulu International Airport from Budget. The single choice? A”GMC Yukon Denali or similar” for the low, low price of $171.99 a day. Using a broader search tool, in this case Expedia, returned a total of 29 cars, with the lowest price for a one-day rental pegged at $238. But when we looked into renting a U-Haul from a location just a few blocks from the airport, we found out you can get a pickup with an eight-foot bed for $19.95 a day, plus 89 cents a mile.

The fact that we’ve come to this odd stage of the pandemic could have been foreseen. As they dealt with the pandemic early last year, rental-car companies Hertz  and Advantage filed for bankruptcy, and many companies got rid of excess supply at a time when few people were traveling and demand dropped. Local resident David Morrell of Kihei told Hawaii News Now he worries anyone who actually needs to rent a truck to move something could be out of luck right now.“I think it’s kind of weird because there were so many of them about six to eight months ago, they couldn’t find places to park all the rental cars,” he said.

It’s unlikely that rental cars will return to two-digit prices in the near future. The supply of new cars remains limited by lower auto production caused by the worldwide semiconductor shortage. Locally, Hawaii residents are preparing for tourism numbers to return to normal, or at least to increase, in the near future, with state rules for coronavirus testing and vaccinated travelers are about to ease up a bit. Put all this together, and deciding to rent a U-Haul instead of a $700-a-day Camry ends up being some sort of logical move.