By various estimates, Superstorm Sandy destroyed as many as 200,000 cars when it swept through the Atlantic Coast three weeks back. The impact could be felt not only by those who’ve lost their wheels but by countless thousands of travelers who will struggle to find a rental vehicle over the holiday weekend.
Despite shifting tens of thousands of cars to the tri-state New York area and other of the hardest-hit regions, rental firms are barely keeping up with demand for local residents who need temporary transportation. It is even more difficult for those who’re dropping in for the holidays.
“Tight availability is typical of any holiday weekend,” explained Paula Rivera, a spokesperson for Hertz. “For those who haven’t made reservations, the availability is extremely tight at this point in time. So the probability of securing a car for travel over Thanksgiving weekend is slim,” she told the NPR-affiliated Transportation Nation.
Various news reports have suggested that key rental firms have already run out of stock even before the final rush to turkey dinner, and some firms that have vehicles available are tacking on significant premiums. An Associated Press report said one company was charging $350 a day.
“It’s an unusual situation,” Neil Abrams of the Abrams Consulting Group, which focuses on the car rental industry, told the AP. “Unfortunately, you can’t go out and buy cars for a demand spike. You don’t know how long it will last.”
Avis, Hertz, Budget and other major rental firms insist they are not gouging prices though strong demand has made it almost impossible to find any discounts during a period when there were relatively few offered anyway.
The companies have been shifting vehicles in from all over the Atlantic region, primarily to New York, new Jersey and Connecticut, where the worst flooding and most serious vehicle losses occurred. Rental conglomerate Enterprise Holdings reportedly shifted 17,000 cars to the East, Avis Budget likewise moved 6,000. Hertz not only shifted vehicles but held onto older vehicles it had planned to sell off once they hit a specific age or mileage.
Online searches reveal slim pickings at midday Wednesday.
“We’re suggesting for people who have not made a reservation at this juncture to maybe look outside of New York City… where it might be a little bit better,” Hertz spokesperson Rivera told Transportation Nation.
But that may not help. In some cases, the realignment of stock is expected to impact motorists in other parts of the country where vehicle stocks were drawn down to support East Coast operations.
With so much confusion as the clean-up from Sandy’s damage continues, insurance companies are still struggling to add up all the vehicle claims they’ve received – different reports placing the numbers at anywhere from 35,000 to 50,000 so far. Experts anticipate that number will grow as many homeowners remain focused on simply restoring their homes to some semblance of livability and have not yet addressed their transportation issues.
Meanwhile, many more brand new vehicles were destroyed in dealer or port facilities – including at least 14,000 reportedly ruined at the Port Elizabeth facility outside Newark.
Industry analysts, such as Black Book’s Ricky Beggs, forecast that the anticipated surge in demand for replacement vehicles in the NY tri-state area could drive overall U.S. used car prices up by as much as $600 a vehicle, on average, in the months ahead.