Disappointing Hertz EV rental

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Hertz did not cover itself in glory in a recent EV rental.  The roadside assistance was clueless, the Hertz EV Trip Planner gave false information about charging locations, the charge-level-upon-return policy was customer-hostile, and the car that Hertz actually gave me had a shorter driving range than the car I had reserved.  

Hertz roadside assistance was clueless.   I picked up the rental car and drove it a couple of hours to my first stop which was a restaurant for dinner.  At this point the battery was at about 50%.   When dinner was over I returned to the car and it was impossible to get the car to shift into “drive”.  The error message that popped up again and again was what you see above, namely:

START | Car start | System check, wait | OK

I went through several cycles of clicking “OK” at this error message, followed by yet another attempt to shift into “drive”, followed by this same error message.  (This was in a Volvo C40 EV.  I should mention that for my rental dates and rental location, Hertz had no Tesla vehicles available.  I was stuck choosing from among the non-Tesla vehicles offered by Hertz for this rental.)

I then placed a telephone call to Hertz Roadside Assistance.   The call was answered by a screener.  The screener placed my call into the queue for a roadside assistance representative. I then had to wait more than twenty minutes to reach a human being.  (In my view, twenty minutes is unacceptable as a wait time for a roadside assistance representative.)

The roadside assistance representative asked for my rental agreement number, which I provided.  He asked if the rental vehicle was a Volvo C40 and I confirmed that it was. The representative then followed what I imagine was a script. It was clear from the first three questions in the script that the representative assumed that I had driven the car too far and had run the battery down to zero. Over and over again the representative tried to get me to admit that I had done this. Over and over again I tried to read the text of the error message to the representative, but he wasn’t having any of that. Over and over again I tried to explain that the battery was at 50%, not zero, but he wasn’t having any of that. Eventually the representative proposed to open a ticket and have someone call me back.  (In my view, this is unacceptable quality of service. The representative should have made use of the text of the error message that I kept trying to provide.)

At about the fifteen-minute mark of waiting for the Hertz roadside assistance representative to pick up the call, another member of my travel party was able to find a telephone number for Volvo roadside assistance. That call was answered instantly. The Volvo representative was a good listener, unlike the Hertz representative, asking for and listening to the error message text. The Volvo representative knew exactly how to fix the software problem. It involved a sequence of steps that the Hertz representative did not suggest.

Some time later I plugged the text of the error message into Google, which of course is one of the things that the Hertz representative could have done. It turns out this is a known problem with Volvo C40s that can be fixed by carrying out a software update that Volvo released some time ago.  (In my view, the Hertz representative ought to have been ready to provide to me the same software fix that the Volvo representative provided to me.)

The Hertz EV Trip Planner gave false information about charging locations.  On the day before the rental, Hertz sent me an email entitled EV as easy as 1-2-3. Let’s Go! The email message urged me to plan my trip using the Hertz EV Trip Planner. The Hertz EV Trip Planner defaulted to a vehicle type of Polestar 2 Standard Range. When I looked for a charging location, the Hertz Planner told me that I could charge at a Tesla supercharging station.

This is simply false. The only EV makes that can charge at a Tesla supercharging station right now in March of 2024 are Teslas, Fords, and Rivians. It is impossible to charge a Polestar vehicle at a Tesla supercharging station.  (Yes I know there are half a dozen so-called “magic plug” Tesla charging stations in the US at which a Polestar EV could charge.  This was not the case for the locations in the Planner that I am talking about.)

Within the Planner, I tried plugging in the vehicle type that I had actually reserved – a Chevy Bolt. Again the Planner falsely listed a Tesla supercharging station as a place to charge the vehicle.

Drawing upon some measure of experience, I knew that the Planner was giving false information. So I knew not to drive to a Tesla supercharging station with a low battery, relying on the ability to charge the vehicle.  Another Hertz customer, however, might not know this.   Hertz could have a very unhappy customer with a run-down battery at a Tesla charging station, expecting Hertz to pay for a flatbed tow of the vehicle to some other charging station.

Two action steps are available to Hertz on this. A first action step would be to shut down the Planner so that it will not provide this false information. A second action step would be to correct the Planner so that it would take proper account of the vehicle type. Right now in March of 2024, for a Chevy Bolt, the Planner must not list Tesla supercharging stations. At some future time it is likely that the driver of a Chevy Bolt, if equipped with the relevant charging adapter, will be able to charge at Tesla supercharging stations. Hertz would need to provision the rental vehicle with such an adapter, if at that time  Hertz were to wish to list Tesla supercharging stations in the Planner for such vehicles.

The charge-level-upon-return policy was customer-hostile.  Hertz’s recharge policy requires the customer to “return the vehicle at the same charge level it had at pick-up”, or pay a $25 or $35 penalty. This is hostile to the customer.

As anyone with experience driving EVs knows, DC fast charging is only fast during the time that the driver is charging in a range of 0% to 80%. As soon as the vehicle reaches 80% charge, the DC charging slows to a snail’s pace. In my particular situation, the rental vehicle was given to me with a 99% battery level.  When the time came to return the car, I proceeded to the charging station that was absolutely the closest fast DC charging station to my return location. The only way to satisfy the requirement of returning the vehicle at 99% would have been to charge the vehicle to 100% and then to drive extremely slowly to the return location.

But that last 20% of charge, from 80% to 100%, would have taken over an hour. It is unreasonable to put the rental customer in the position to having to spend an hour watching the “percent” number incrementing about every eight minutes for each one-digit bit of charging progress.

Hertz cannot claim to be unaware of the importance of this 80% number. Hertz’s own email to me the day before the rental, entitled EV as easy as 1-2-3. Let’s Go! says:

EV batteries work best between ‍80‍-‍20‍% charge, so we strive to have our EVs at 80% at pickup.

Hertz’s policy should call for the customer to “return the vehicle at the same charge level it had at pick-up, or at 80%, whichever is lower.” Such a policy would avoid forcing the rental customer to spend an hour or more at a fast DC charging station, waiting for the charge percentage to creep very slowly from (in my case) 80% to 100%.

Last-minute switch to a vehicle with a shorter driving range.  The vehicle I reserved (a Chevy Bolt) had a driving range of 253 miles.  When I got to my parking space, I learned that Hertz had switched it to a vehicle (a Volvo C40 EV) with a driving range that was 10% shorter, a mere 226 miles.

I was able to accommodate this switch for my planned driving itinerary, but another customer might not be able to accommodate such a switch, and could end up with a very disruptive rental experience. I was on a tight schedule and I would not have been able to invest half an hour or more to renegotiate for a vehicle with the promised driving range. Hertz’s in-person rental counter had a very long line, extending out the door. I was stuck with the poorer driving range. As I say, fortunately I was able to accommodate this in my own planned driving itinerary. Another renter could have ended up with a very disruptive rental experience.

Hertz needs to pay close attention to this issue. Maybe Hertz needs to check with the customer before switching the car type to one with a substantially shorter driving range.

Failure to carry out software update. A software update kept popping up at inopportune times during the rental. I suspect that if Hertz had carried out the software update on that Volvo C40 EV, then the software failure-to-start problem described above would never have arisen.  Hertz ought to carry out software updates on its electric vehicles. It should not be left to the rental customer to try to find a time slot within which to carry out the update.

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