Still smoking? Be careful before you rent a car


Whether they smoke or not, most travelers are used to the fact that smoking is no longer an option in the air. But, while it’s received less publicity, most rental car companies in the U.S. have quietly followed suit. Avis-Budget, Alamo-National-Enterprise and most recently Dollar-Thrifty, have all moved to a non-smoking fleet.

Of the major domestic companies, only Hertz still officially allows smoking; however, not in all vehicles.

Now, this is a policy that makes sense in a lot of ways, not just health-related. It saves rental car companies a lot of cleaning costs to have non-smoking fleets. (Indeed, companies with a non-smoking policy now charge up to $250 to clean the car if they determine a renter has violated their rule.)

I’m a lifelong nonsmoking. But, while I’m not not particularly sensitive to cigarette smoke, like most travelers I do have a couple memories of renting cars where it was particularly noticeable. (One PT Cruiser from Dollar a few years ago was like driving in an ashtray, although by the time after a late arrival that I realized just how bad it was, I decided it wasn’t worth the time to go back to the airport.)

On the other hand, I do have clients and friends who smoke. This post was inspired by a client who asked if there was a way to specify a smoking car.

As it turns out, Hertz is the only company that officially allows smoking. They indicate that while travelers can make requests, there is no way to guarantee either smoking or nonsmoking vehicles.

Avis-Budget and Dollar-Thrifty are very specific about their non-smoking policies and fines. Although with Alamo, National, and Enterprise, all owned by Enterprise Holdings the simply policy states, “All vehicles are considered non-smoking. Additional cleaning fees may apply if a vehicle is returned in a condition where it needs to be extensively cleaned and deodorized due to smoking.”

My sense is that for most travelers these policies are a good thing. Nicotine addicts certainly have the option with a rental car, unlike on a plane, to stop the car at their leisure and take a smoking break. Although, I am not without some sympathy for smokers on long evening highway drives.

What do you think, Consumer Traveler readers? Would you like the whole rental car industry to go smoke free? Or, would you like companies to keep smoking cars around as an option, possibly for an additional cost. For that matter, what do you think about the scented deodorizer many companies use? Some travelers complain that they smell worse than smoke.

Photo: superfantastic, Flickr Creative Commons

  • Matthew in NYC

    I have very little empathy for smoking, and am revolted by the smell of tobacco smoke. I loathe walking down wind from someone smoking on the street and it was a very happy day for me when indoor smoking was practically banned in NYC. I love the fact that Marriott is non-smoking and am glad most rental cars are too (even though Hertz is my preferred car rental company, I have never noticed tobacco smoke in one of their cars). Most smokers I know don’t smoke inside their own homes or cars, so probably wouldn’t in a rental either.

  • Kairho

    The market should decide. If there is sufficient demand for smoking cars, and a company can reasonably manage what is essentially a separate fleet, then go for it.

  • JoeInAtlanta

    I disagree with Matthew only in that while he says he has “very little empathy for smoking” I have absolutely none at all. Smokers (1) pollute the air with their smoke, (2) pollute the ground with their butts, and (3) run up the health insurance premiums for all of us with the long-term effects of their self-destructive habit.

    Smokers indulge in a dangerous, vile, and selfish activity. Anything that can be done to make smoking more difficult or unpleasant is a benefit both to the would-be smoker and to society at large.

    Hertz has been my preferred company in the past, but the information provided above will definitely prod me to re-consider my allegiance to them.

  • Alex

    It’s easy to get away with, just roll down the windows, hang the cigarette outside and turn up the vent. I’ve been smoking in non-smoking rental cars for years and have yet to get caught.

    Unless there’s smoke pouring out of the car as you’re returning it, the agent isn’t going to care. Hell some of them smoke in the cars too.

  • PauletteB

    @Alex: Your attitude is disgusting . . . but then you ARE a smoker. I hope you get caught soon and the cleaning fee puts you over your CC limit!

  • Needs a Vacation

    Why can’t y’all just get along? Have a few cars for smokers and the rest of the fleet smoke-free. If you hate cigarette smoke, then you can rent a smoke-free car. End of problem. (By the way, I don’t smoke, and don’t allow people to smoke in my house or car. I just don’t understand all the vitriol.)

  • dcta

    Wow Alex! I can tell you’re a big time smoker. You strategy doesn’t work and someone used to a smoke free environment will smell the smoke even if you had the windows down and the vent open. What a shame. You probably aren’t aware that the smoke sticks in you hair and on your clothes and that everyone who comes in contact with you can tell you’ve been smoking. Smokers don’t notice it because they are around it all the time. It’s a shame really.

  • JohnH

    I feel this could be a way for rental companies to extract additional $$ from their renters. After the rental return, who performs the inspection and makes the determination that smoking has occurred? And, was it done by the most recent renter or a previous renter? How can the renter refute the accusation? During the Olympics in Salt Lake City we stayed in a B&B and our friends (non smokers) were accused by the owner of smoking in their room. Neither was a smoker and there was no smoking done, but the accusation was still made and made for a rather nasty situation. There was no fine but, if there was such a policy, how would the “proof” be made?

  • Sylvia7890

    I will not be renting anymore cars.

  • Cadillac7195

    I’ll take a taxi–it’s also cheaper

  • Askirtandapulse

    You can smoke all you like, believe me, they won’t know. You buy some paper towels, Windex and Febreeze. You wipe down the car (where you see ashes) with the Windex and then squirt a lot of Febreeze everywhere. Bring your own little ashtray. End of story. I’ve never been caught and don’t intend to be. These rules are ridiculous. I smoke in non-smoking hotels, also…there ARE ways to get away with it. :)

  • Guest

    Next thing you know you won’t be able to take a crap in public because someone will be complaining about the smell. There are things in life we just have to deal with. I’m not even a smoker, but all of this exercising control over the lives of others is starting to get a bit out of control.

  • Tinapo85

    I smoke while I drive, I tend to have serious PTSD related issues in cars. I’m taking a trip in a few days and renting a car I don’t really have a choice we have to go farther than is economical or practical for a taxi or public transport. I think we might be stopping a lot so I can pull over and smoke….

  • Beeracuda

    This is a ridiculous policy.  All of the other non-smoking rules were to “protect” the health of non-smokers – a very flimsy argument to begin with.  Now they’re going to protect the “smell” too?  I can understand charging for cig burns in the upholstery, etc.  However, each day I run into people wearing heavy cologne, some of which literally makes me gag.  Should we ban cologne as well?
    Recently, I rented a car with a No Smoking rule.  When I got to my destination, I checked into a motel and found out they had no smoking rooms as well.  This is getting really out of control now.

    For the record, I didn’t smoke in the motel, but I did smoke in the car.  Luckily it was summer, so I drove with the windows down.  Before returning the car, I sprayed Febreeze throughout the car, and vacuumed the front and back seats, floors, and crevices.  They didn’t say anything when I returned it, and they did inspect it inside and out.  Seems to me that if they tried to charge me for smoking, they’d need a LOT more proof then someone’s sniffer as evidence.  After all, I know my clothes smell like smoke, so they’d have to prove that it wasn’t actually my clothes they were smelling.

  • T Myers7987

    I think it’s a bunch of CRAP!!! I’m so sick of being told when n where you can smoke! There need’s to be more laws passed regarding drinking! People still get to drink their beer, etc., everywhere! I smoke, but I don’t drink! Yes, there should be smoking, and non-smoking rental cars!

  • frequenttraveler

    I do the same although I don’t use an ashtray. I always keep the windows down (regardless of outside temperature), clean up well and spray the air freshener before returning the car. I’ve never had a problem not been charged extra. I DO NOT smoke in hotels. I try to stay where I have an outside entrance or balcony.

  • Lovebug101410

    I think smoking or non smoking cars should be an option for drivers.

  • Lovebug101410

     Because, some customers might find this policy to be stupid (for lack of a better word) … I think it’s the drivers choice especially depending on how long the drive is & maybe they don’t have the time to stop every 35 mins for 10 mins to smoke. Some customers might not use rental cars as much with that policy. I think it’s a good idea to not smoke in the car when the drivers have children with them, but other than that, I think it should be optional.

  • Michael

    They should all set aside a couple dozen to be able to be reserved by smokers. Note: I AM a smoker but I refuse to smoke indoors ANYWHERE, even where permitted (I live in Las Vegas) and I NO LONGER smoke in my last two new vehicles (gotta love the new car smell.) However, it took considerable effort because most smokers will tell you that a cigarette when you wake up, after any meal, after sex, and while driving are the hardest habits to break. Make renting those particular vehicles set aside for smokers for a slight up charge maybe. And if you don’t smoke and those are the only vehicles left…. well at least you got a vehicle. I would say offer a discount for non smokers who are forced into that situation but some smokers may act like they don’t in order to obtain the discount, although it would require a perfect scenario where they didn’t ask for a smoking vehicle and just happened to get stuck with one, so the discount thing could possibly still work. Since that would be rare, the increased revenue should offset the loss in resale value, or be used to thoroughly clean the vehicle before putting it on the market to be sold. Bottom line, Hertz has it right, although I never argue for smokers rights, because I hate the smell myself, but this is the only situation where I would think it would be a win-win for all involved. Charge extra for burned upholstery if you have to. Just a thought… a long thought.

  • ebonystone

    Nor I. I was thinking of a vacation in Hawaii, but with a little googling I found that the rental car companies virtually all do not allow smoking in their cars, and that virtually all the hotels are completely non-smoking ( the few that do allow smoking allow it only in their most expensive category of room), and that even smoking outdoors is prohibited on the beaches and in the parks. So I gave up on the Hawaii idea. I don’t go on vacations to concentration camps.