As gasoline prices climbed across the country in recent months, local car rental companies saw increased popularity for their more fuel-efficient and economical options.
At the pump, the national average for regular gas was $3.55 on Tuesday, according to AAA. This number jumped almost 40 cents in recent weeks from last month's average of $3.17, and this year's gas prices skyrocketed above last year's average of $2.82. AAA reported the price of regular gas in Indiana averaged $3.58 on Tuesday.
Anthony Travel representative Kayleen Carr said car rental rates jumped significantly in certain areas of the country over the past year. Renting a car in Florida for one week, for example, once cost $100 to $150.
"Now we would be lucky to find something under $300," she said.
Rental rates increased more at popular vacation destinations than in most areas of the country, she said.
"We have noticed car rental rates overall have been higher over the past year," she said. "Not nationwide, but definitely in certain areas. ... Florida is more of a leisure market, and people almost always rent a car when they go there."
Despite this increase elsewhere in the country, local rental companies remained consistent in their rates over the past months.
Mark Vaughters, the group rental manager for northern Indiana at Enterprise, said higher gas prices did not affect the company's rental rates at all.
"Our rates are consistent compared to last year this time and last month this time," he said.
Enterprise offers the largest fuel-efficient selection in the car rental industry, Vaughters said, and these vehicles are increasingly popular when gas prices drive spending at the pump higher.
"We do carry a number of hybrids ... the Toyota Prius is particularly popular," he said. "They usually don't stay on the lot very often."
Enterprise representative Lisa Martini said the demand for sustainable cars prompted Enterprise to open 100 locations around the country for solely hybrid cars.
"We have seen really a gravitation towards people asking more questions, looking at their options and renting those (fuel-efficient) vehicles compared to what they were driving," she said.
As large families make spring and summer travel plans, Vaughters said, increased fuel prices might turn families away from airplane travel to car rental for their trips.
"It might actually drive more business in our doors," he said.
Hertz representative James Swartz also said the company's rates remained consistent over the past months as gas prices rose, but clients tried to make more economical decisions.
Customers request more economical cars when they rent, Swartz said, and they prefer to rent smaller cars, such as a Toyota Corolla, over an SUV.
"People are more concerned about the type of car they rent," he said. "They may not want to take an SUV, but they are still going on vacation. Every time gas prices go up, people worry about the type of car they rent. ... People call and say, 'I want the most economical car you've got.' "
Karen Hailey, manager at the Lincoln Way location of Affordable Auto Rental, said increased gas prices did not affect the rental side of the business, but did play a factor in the company's spending overall.
Gas prices are "not affecting car rental at all," she said. "Just car sales for large cars, bigger SUVs."
Hailey said Affordable Auto Rental is spending more to buy new cars, but is not buying fewer cars despite this price increase.
Despite the added expense, Carr said, higher prices at the pump and at car rentals in other areas of the nation typically do not hold travelers back from their plans.
"If people have to go somewhere, they are going to go anyway," she said. "They may shop around a little first, but they will go."Staff writer Megan Doyle: email@example.com 574-235-6359