No one likes renting a car. Yes, it's nice to have a set of wheels when you're on vacation, but the process of standing in line, uncovering unexpected charges, and debating how heavy to ladle on the extra insurance can put a damper on anyone's day.
And let's not forget, there's no requirement that rental companies repair recalled cars in a timely fashion -- a legal loophole that can yield disastrous results.
For 18 years, J.D. Power has been polling the public on its attitudes toward rental car companies. The good news is that Power's latest survey of 12,382 auto renters puts satisfaction rates at a new high. The bad news? There's still plenty of room for improvement.
Here are some of the major findings from the 2013 North America Rental Car Satisfaction Study:
- Choosing a rental company based on price is a bad idea. Renters whose primary criteria was price tended to have the lowest satisfaction scores: 756 out of a possible 1,000. Not surprisingly, those who picked a company based on strong customer service were most pleased with their selection: 828 out of 1,000.
- Speed is everything. Respondents rated companies with counter-bypass options considerably higher than their stand-in-line competitors: 820 to 770.
- Smiles matter. Customers were significantly more satisfied with rental companies whose staffers greeted them with a smile, giving them a score of 693. In places with at least four smiling employees, the average was a whopping 835. Non-smiling outfits earned a much, much lower 635.
On the whole, customers scored rental companies at an average of 775. That's six points higher than last year, and according to Power, it's the highest average score recorded since the firm updated its survey methodology back in 2006.
That said, of the country's eight major rental companies, only three scored better than the industry average. Those scores are:
- National 809
- Enterprise 799
- Alamo 782
- Industry average 775
- Hertz 773
- Avis 770
- Budget 764
- Thrifty 751
- Dollar 743
Bottom line: it's clearly not the rental cars themselves that make consumers happy, it's strong customer service. Perhaps some of Power's lowest-ranking companies should follow Chevrolet's example and send their teams to Disneyland.