Western MT’s car rental shortage has dealers and private car owners shifting gears


MISSOULA – People can finally travel again, and for a lot of them that means hopping on a plane and heading to the great state of Montana.

Tourists can get here, but finding a reliable set of wheels once they get here has become another unexpected product of the pandemic.

“We have tons of people moving to this area and tons of people vacationing here,” said Audrey Knight, General Manager of Clark Nissan.

“They are coming from out of state and they are desperate, the airport does not have any more rentals until August,” echoed the general manager of Missoula Nissan, Justin Sinclair.

With names like “Big Sky Country,” “The Last Best Place” and “The State Treasury,” can you really blame tourists for wanting to visit Montana?

The answer is no, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating when you’re trying to book a rental car and nothing is available.

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“We have a shortage of cars across the country and the car rental companies are not getting their fleet numbers than they normally do,” Knight told MTN News.

According to local car dealers, the problem started when COVID ended travel plans last year.

Car rental reservations have been canceled, employees made redundant and companies forced to downsize their fleets.

Now, as the country reopens and families reschedule these vacations, fishing trips and glacier trips, the rental car industry is feeling the pressure.

“There is a huge demand and a really very small supply,” Knight said.

The traditional car rental business may not get you on the road this summer, but there are alternatives that are escalating.

Car rental

MTN News

“We currently have 30 rental cars and plan to install about 20 more,” Sinclair said.

Nissan dealers in Missoula and Kalispell both predicted this shortage in rental cars, they started leasing cars from their own fleets, something they have done on a much smaller scale for many years.

“What we have always done is that Nissan, the manufacturer, offered us the possibility of renting vehicles. Normally we keep a small fleet for rent to customers who have their cars in store or in service or get a warranty repair or something like that, so this is a program that Nissan has had for a long time. – Clark Nissan GM Audrey Knight

Viewing this shortage as an opportunity, Nissan of Missoula and Kalispell both jumped at the chance to expand their retail leases, a facet of business that is sure to stay and that other dealers may try.

“I’ve had a few phone calls from dealers, and they ask me what we’re doing because they’ve heard about it,” Sinclair said.

“We saw a kind of opportunity to expand this program and push a little bit to help our community and help the tourism industry here,” Knight confirmed.

In addition to dealer rentals, a new company called Turo allows private car owners to lease their vehicles.

Similar to the Airbnb business model, customers can download the Turo app, search for the desired location, and choose from local tenants. Most vehicles cost around $ 150 per day.

Car rental

MTN News

A less conventional option, but an option nonetheless, has been spotted as tourists take advantage of moving companies like U-Haul, renting a truck for the day as they tour the state.

Whether you fancy marking Montana off the to-do list or you’re a local, a new way to rent may be the only way to travel in Treasure State this summer.

Even as car rentals catch up with demand, Sinclair says, “I think our tourism is here to stay, really.

Some tips:

  • Book your rental well in advance!
  • Consider Uber or Lyft if you don’t plan on driving a lot to your destination.
  • If you are going to a resort or hotel, shuttles may be available.
  • Check in on public transport.

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