After two straight years of significant declines in customer satisfaction, rental car companies got a lukewarm endorsement Tuesday from customers: They didn't get a lot worse in 2009.
All major domestic brands except National Car Rental scored slightly lower in the latest J.D. Power and Associates survey of 13,000 consumers who rented vehicles at domestic airports. Enterprise Rent-A-Car took the top spot for the sixth consecutive year, followed by National and Hertz. Payless Car Rental pulled up the rear.
Rental car companies staged a financial turnaround this year by putting off buying new cars, selling into a strong used car market and keeping remaining vehicles longer.
Service improved as companies bolstered their bottom lines, said Paula Sonkin, vice president of the travel practice at J.D. Power.
They did better at beating minimum acceptable times for check-in and check-out. But one in 10 customers still reported a problem, most frequently over the bill.
But Neil Abrams, a Purchase, N.Y., consultant who tracks rental car rates, pointed out that prices shot up early this year and remain higher than in 2008. "Why would that increase customer satisfaction?" he asked.
Steve Huettel can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3384.