Tim Whalan of Dollar-Rent-A-Car gets his customers from the gas lines. "I'm out at the gas stations telling people 'Hey, I'll give you a full tank of gas and a discount if you rent one of my cars." And business has never been better.
Dollar-Rent-A-Car, like most of the car rental dealers in the Washington area, is leasing its cars with full tanks of fuel, and not only tourists but natives are renting. One dealer tells a story of a man running out of gas on the highway and in a fit of desperation renting a full-tank car. Some are even playing dirty. "We've had instances where a customer has rented a car and siphoned out the gas and returned the car," explained Ed Cohen, general manager of Budget.
But what's bad for the patron is bad for the peddler. Rental dealers' gas allocations have been cut up to 25 percent and some are worried they may not have enough to last the summer. Budget is one company that is looking ahead. Last week they became the first agency to "go gasahol," as Cohen terms using a mixture of 90 percent gas and 10 percent alcohol. "Gasahol is easier to get, it's less polluting, more expensive . . . But there is a significant increase in gas mileage," he added.
Other companies have adopted fuel-efficiency programs and have increased the number of compact cars in their fleets. Budget passes out to tourists short-cut directions to local monuments.
Listed below is a summary of what a few local car rental agencies are doing to cope with the gasoline shortage:
Ajax - Now named Rent-A-Car, Ajax began filling their fleet of 100 cars with half a tank of gas (instead of the full tank) a month ago when the allocation was cut. Business has decreased Washington, Maryland and Virginia did not make provisions for rented automobiles in their even/odd number license plate rationing program. To alleviate some of the problems, Ajax no longer charges for mileage and has advised visitors to use public transportation while touring the city. Bill Schroff, the general manager, says he hears of at least one customer a day who rents from the National Airport location for the gas alone.
Americar - Automobiles are sent out with full tanks of gas (as long as it is available," said a spokesman. There is no refueling policy, because fuel has been cut back 10 to 25 percent. However, the company expects there to be adaquate fuel to last the summer. There has been no change in maintenance schedules; cars are turned just as frequently as before the squeeze. The only advice given to renters is cut back on the air conditioning to save fuel.
Avis - Occassionally deliveries of fuel have been late and Avis has been compelled to reduce the usual full-tank policy. There is no refueling polcy, but "in certain market areas we will supply gas in an emergency situation," said a company spokesman. A "14-point conservation program" has been established - rather than move the cars to the mechanics, mechanics are moved to the cars, cars are inepcted and serviced after each rental and an Autosense mahcine has been installed at all major licensees. The autosense is a computerized device that provides printouts on each car that pinpoints which areas may need to be serviced.
A flat trailer is also used to move cars to another area. When the car is loaned, Avis includes a tip sheet on how to conserve fuel on the rental car, personal car and at home. Avis has also purchased 6,000 gas-efficient X-body cars with front-wheel drive to add to their 1980 fleet.
Budget - Despite the purchase of gasahol, general manager Cohen explains that in some locations they may have to limit the usual full-tank policy. Customers are also requesting smaller cars with a higher miles-per-gallon ratio, making the Phoenix and Citation the most popular models. To comply with Budget's "gasoline fitness plan" tires are inflated more, making a bumpier ride but increasing mileage. Local rentals have picked up "because people feel they can get gas from us. So why stand in line?" said Cohen. "However, it is not a bottomless pit. We will have to tighten, but there is enough gas to last until the end of July," he added.
Colonel Clunker's Rent-A-Junker - Here you are left to fned for yourself. No private pump, which means no gas with the car. Just an old American guzzler.
Dollar-Rent-A-Car - "We don't have a license to sell gas. It's illegal for us to do that, but the first tank's free," said an employe. Business has been so good that on the day we called only two cars remained out of 180 on the lot.
Econo-Car - Full tanks are now being provided, "but by the end of the month we are going to be out of gas," said Bob Lerner, the Washington manager. Most of Lerner's customers are requesting cars with larger gas tanks rather than compact models. Econo will call out-of-town franchises and attempt to secure refueling for its rentals, but they will refuel cars rented in Washington.
Hertz - All cars are fully fueled, and in an emergency situation (if the gas lines are prohibitively long or stations closed) customer can get a refill. Business has increased since the gas shortage and there is some evidence that people are renting (while on vacation) rather than using their own cars. "We are not discouraging this," said a Hertz spokesman. Since the gas shortage in 1974, Hertz has purchased gasoline on the international spot market (gasoline not allocated or contracted to any of the large oil companies). "We have developed an in-house expertise to deal on this international market and have been paying up to $1.40 a gallon for it."
National - As in the case of most of the other rental agencies, customers are requesting smaller cars with better mileage rather than luxury models. Cars are sent out with full tanks, but there is no refueling policy. Business has not been affected either way by the shortage. No special conservation programs have been enacted nor has the regular maintenance program been changed.
Sears - "Gas is very tight," said a spokesman. However, it is not uncommon for people to rent just to receive a full tank. When asked about the refueling situation (if a customer could pick up a car in Washington, drive to Chicago and refill) the reply was, "I seriously doubt it." All Sears car rentals are owned by Budget and follow their guidelines.
Thrifty - Bob Pendergrass, vice president for licensee operations, said that people are no longer driving long trips. They are more apt to fly and rent a car at the otherend. Thrifty has the same amount of business as before the shortage and emphasizes that local business has not picked up and has heard no instances of people renting just for the gas. Cars are going out with a full tank and will continue to do so. Compact Chevy Citations have been their most popular fuel-efficient car."We are looking at it from day to day. The best we can do is get things moving," said Pendergrass.
Value - There will be enough gas to fill cars leaving the lot until the end of the summer. One out of 25 rentals have been to get the gasoline rather than the car and most cars have been returned empty.