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Renting a car this summer? Plan ahead — and watch out for sticker shock

If you’re planning on vacationing in Nova Scotia this summer, don’t expect to get much of a break on car rental pricing – that is, if you’re able to rent one at all. 

Mike Cybulski and his wife, who live in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont., had already plotted out their itinerary for a long-awaited trip to the Maritimes this August, including stops in Lunenburg, Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island, when they finally got around to booking a rental car.

But after finding out the cost of a two-week rental would run from $2,000 to $3,000 after taxes, they cancelled the trip. 

“We’re not going. It’s that simple.… I’m not going to pay $2,000 for a car rental,” said Cybulski.

CBC News reviewed pricing for a two-week rental on both Expedia and directly from major rental companies Hertz, Avis and Enterprise and confirmed prices were in line with the ones Cybulski cited. The cheapest rentals came in at just under $2,000.

As Nova Scotia’s tourism industry continues to rebound from the pandemic, Cybulski’s worried about how it will be affected if more people follow his lead and cancel their trips.

“My big concern is for all the business owners in the Maritimes, Airbnbs and restaurants and so forth.… People will not pay those car rental prices.”

Supply still not meeting demand

According to the Consumer Price Index, rental car prices in Canada increased nearly 50 per cent from from 2019 to 2022.

A bar graph shows the change in rental car pricing from 2010 to 2022. The price of rentals has increased in each of the last two years.
Rental car prices are up nearly 50 per cent since 2019, according to Statistics Canada. (Statistics Canada)

Expect prices to stay high and supply to remain tight this summer, says Craig Hirota, the vice-president of government relations and member services for Associated Canadian Car Rental Operators

“Atlantic Canada struggles to find cars even in the best of times during the summer season,” he said.

“I could definitely see situations where the pricing for vehicles is reaching extremely high levels simply because there’s not enough cars to go around even to meet the normal local demand right now.”

According to Hirota, many car rental agencies are still trying to rebuild their fleets after downsizing in 2020, but automobile manufacturers haven’t been able to supply enough new vehicles to meet demand.

Higher maintenance costs have also contributed to the increase in rental prices, he said.

Book early, shop around often

If the cost of renting a car is out of your budget, Stephen Olmstead with the Canadian Automobile Association’s Atlantic region says there are other options.

“If you have the ability to be creative and take some time to do a little bit of extra research, you’re usually going to be rewarded,” he said.

A line forms to rent cars inside an airport.
If you want to guarantee your rental this summer, it’s a good idea to reserve it in advance. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Consider alternatives to traditional rentals, including car-share options like Communauto and Turo, or reaching out directly to local dealerships to see if they offer rentals, said Olmstead.

Booking far in advance is also a good way to secure your vehicle, says Olmstead, and doesn’t prevent consumers from shopping around for more affordable options.

But some, like Cybulski, have already called off their trips altogether.

He’s now thinking that if he and his wife want to come to Nova Scotia, they might have no choice but to make the long drive here instead.

But as for this year, they’re now planning to stick around Ontario.

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