Bayou City

Need a Car? Rentals May Not Be an Option

Nearly half a million people could be in need of new cars because of Tropical Storm Harvey.
Nearly half a million people could be in need of new cars because of Tropical Storm Harvey. Photo by Jack Gorman
The Avis car rental outlet off Richmond near the 610 Loop is mostly an empty parking lot after days of rainfall from Tropical Storm Harvey.

The location didn’t flood, and opened Wednesday unharmed after remaining closed for a few days. But at the moment, the store has just six cars available and a growing list of customers.

“We’ve made calls, but they’re not picking up,” Avis employee Allyson Ezike said about customers who rented cars before Tropical Storm Harvey landed in Houston.

Nearly half a million cars could have been destroyed because of Harvey, meaning thousands of storm victims will likely turn to rental car companies for help.

That could be a problem. Calls to rental companies in the Houston area showed that many are still renting out vehicles, but those that offered more information painted a bleak picture.

An Ace Rent A Car near William P. Hobby airport said most of its renters aren’t returning phone calls, and the cars that have returned have come back damaged from water. Those can be added to the defunct vehicles that were ruined when the store’s lot flooded over the weekend. At an Avis along Interstate 45 near Greenspoint, rentals are returning, but most are in bad condition. The store has only two or three cars available as of Wednesday evening.

Lisa Martini, a spokeswoman for Enterprise Holdings, the parent company for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, National Car Rental and Alamo Rent A Car, said most of the incoming reservations for cars at the company’s Houston sites are from insurance companies in anticipation of customers needing vehicles. She said it’s too early to assess the total impact of Harvey – to evaluate damages to cars at stores, but also by retrieving cars that have not been returned because of they were stranded or flooded out.

As of Wednesday evening, about 30 of Enterprise Holdings’s 185 locations in Houston were still closed, but stores at both of the city’s airports – which both opened for the first time since Sunday with limited domestic flight service – reopened Thursday morning.

For those in need of a car now, they’ll likely have to wait. Employees at a Hertz near the West 610 Loop could be heard telling callers they’ll have a two-day wait to rent a car. At Avis, Ezike already had a list of 20 reservations for the few cars remaining. Most were seeking cars because of flood damage, she said, but many were seeking one-way rentals to cities like Dallas, presumably to find refuge from flooding.

Ezike, like many of her customers, is handling the aftermath of the storm with one thing.

“Patience,” she said with a laugh.
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Joseph Fanelli is a reporting fellow at the Houston Press with an interest in education, crime and eccentric people everywhere.