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Car Rental Insider: the Difference Between Economy and Compact

By SHANNON KELLY

Is it an economy or compact? Answer: it's both (Photo: Yaris Nederland)

Ever wonder what the difference is between an economy- and compact -class vehicle when renting? The answer, it turns out, is nothing. Except maybe the price.

The six major car rental agencies we surveyed said there was no difference between the two classes. Accordingly, most showed little to no difference in price or car models.

We wondered, though, if by renting a compact you’d have a better chance of a free upgrade—not necessarily a good thing if you want the low-end car to save on gas. But the answer seemed to be no. Upgrades, a Budget agent told us, are more a factor of what’s available on the lot when you arrive.

She also told us that they used to have two-door vehicles that were considered economy but that she hasn’t seen one “in a long time.” An Alamo desk agent said while there’s really no difference between the two classes of cars anymore, it used to be the case that the economy car might not come with power windows or locks. But now these features come standard on most new, low-end cars that agencies stock.

An Enterprise desk agent told us that they no longer stock what they considered economy cars: two-door hatchbacks. When we pointed out that despite this, a compact car was listed for $2 more per day than an economy on their Web site, the agent was surprised—and advised opting for the economy. (Well, thanks.)

Thrifty made the situation clear on its Web site by listing the exact same car (a Toyota Yaris) as the model for economy and compact for a sample mid-July reservation.

Hertz is the only company we found that eliminates the economy class altogether.

Word to the wise, however: economy/compact cars did vary between agencies. Enterprise, for example, says most compacts don’t have cruise control while Budget says almost all do.

Related: 5 Reasons to Rent a Car on Vacation, Even if You Own One

 

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