How to Start a Car Rental Business

If you’re considering starting a business in the auto industry, you have a lot of choices, including starting a car rental business. But what exactly do you need to do to get this type of business off the ground? There are a lot of moving pieces to consider, but if you take the time to prepare and follow your state and local guidelines, your road to a successful car rental business will be smooth.

To help you prepare, we’ve created this guide on how to start a car rental business. Read on to learn everything you need to know.  

Step 1: Pick a Type of Car Rental Business

Before you can start your car rental business, you need to know what type of business you want to own. You might want to own a franchise, build your own brand, purchase an existing business, or work with a car dealership.

Each type of car rental business has its pros and cons, you just have to find the one that’s right for you. Let’s take a closer look at some of your options.

Franchise

If you decide on a car rental franchise, you will purchase the rights to use the brand name and business model of an existing car rental business. Options for a car rental franchise include Hertz, Dollar Thrifty, Enterprise, Budget, and many others.[1] There are disadvantages and advantages to franchising that you’ll want to consider before taking the leap.

One of the benefits of starting a franchise is the simplicity of setting up the business. While there might be a higher cost to entry, you get the added support of a well-known and successful brand name, as well as guidance as you launch and grow your location. Plus, you have franchise financing options to help relieve some of this burden.

The drawback to owning a franchise is that you lose some autonomy over your business and you may face some higher costs—the initial franchise fee alone can be tens of thousands of dollars. As well, the franchisor will have a degree of control over your business decisions, since each franchise location will more or less follow the same model.

Dealership

Another option for how to start a car rental business is to set up an agreement with a car dealership to offer rentals to customers who bring in their cars for repair. 

This type of car rental business offers a very limited pool of customers to work with, but it also means that you don’t need a large fleet of cars to get started, which can lower the initial cost of starting your business.

Independent Small Business

One of the advantages of starting your own small business is that you’re not beholden to anyone. You get to make decisions that are best for you and your business. With that added power, comes added responsibility, though. If you’re the sole owner of your business, you’re also on the line for any problems the business has.

You’ll need to build your brand from the ground up and find customers while competing with the big names (like the franchises we mentioned above). Plus, you’ll need a substantial cushion of cash to support your initial purchases and operations.

Existing Business

If you don’t want to build a business from the ground up, but you don’t like the restrictions that come with a franchise, you might consider buying an existing independent car rental business whose owners are looking to sell. 

The benefit of buying an existing rental car business is that many of the basic business structures are already in place and there’s likely a loyal customer base as well.

One of the pain points of purchasing an existing business is the research it requires. Plus, you’ll need to figure out if the business is successful because it fills a market need in an otherwise underserved market, or if its success depended on relationships built by the previous owner.

Step 2: Determine Your Target Audience

Another factor you need to consider when thinking about how to start a car rental business is what type of customer you plan to serve. 

The target audience of your rental car business could be:

  • Tourists
  • Loaner cars for a car dealership or auto mechanic
  • Long-term rentals
  • Short-term rentals for business travelers

Ensuring that there is, in fact, a market need for your business is the first step. And beyond that, you can determine who your target demo is by looking at your location and needs of the local population. Once you have this demo in mind, you can better inform your business plan, marketing efforts, and more.

Step 3: Write Your Business Plan

Now that you know what kind of car rental business you plan to start and who you’ll serve, you’re ready to write your business plan. A business plan is essential for both you and any potential investors or partners you may work with down the line. 

When writing your business plan you’ll want to lay out a plan for how you will transform your idea into a profitable company. This will involve detailing the type of car rental business you’re starting, what products and services you’ll offer, what fees you’ll charge, how much of your own money you plan on putting into the business, how much funding you’ll need, an outline of your marketing plan, and financial projections for the next few years. By taking the time to think through all of these steps, you’ll essentially create a roadmap that you can consult throughout the startup phase of your business to help keep you on track.

Step 4: Register and License Your Business

With this internal work completed, it’s time to complete some external processes to legally create your company. This includes choosing a business entity and registering it with the state in which you’ll operate your car rental business. The specific registration process will vary depending on your state, but this can typically be completed online through your secretary of state or chamber of commerce by filing the appropriate forms and paying a nominal fee.

Common business entities include sole proprietorships, LLCs, and corporations. While a sole proprietorship is the easiest entity to set up (as it does not need to be registered at all), this is likely not the best choice for a car rental business, as you will be exposing your personal assets to any legal action taken against your business. An LLC or corporation will lower this risk and separate your business and personal assets.

Next, you’ll likely need to obtain the appropriate business licenses and permits through your state and local agencies. If you have not consulted with a business attorney yet, this is a good time to do so to ensure you’re properly licensed to operate a car rental business. You should also obtain the appropriate business insurance to make sure your business will be covered in the event of accidents, natural disasters, and more.

Step 5: Get Your Finances in Order

You’re almost ready to open your (car) doors, but before you do that, you’ll need to get your finances in order. Different types of business require varying amounts of upfront costs, but in the case of a car rental business, you will likely have steep startup costs, from purchasing a fleet of cars, to leasing the lot and storefront, to employing mechanics, to insuring the entire operation. 

Open a Business Bank Account and Credit Card

Even if you’re using your personal money to fund the launch of your business, you’ll still want to open a separate business bank account and credit card. Once you’ve done this, make sure to only conduct business-related transactions with these accounts. Not only will this make things easier come tax time, but it will also reinforce the separation of your business and personal assets in the event of a lawsuit.

You will likely also want to obtain an employer identification number, or EIN, which is like your business’s version of a social security number. This number will be used to open your business bank accounts and will also help you start to build business credit, which will be necessary if you seek outside funding.

Look for Outside Funding

In addition to the startup funding that you might have saved to start your car rental business, you can look for outside funding to supply additional money. There are many different types of business loans to choose from—from term loans to lines of credit to equipment financing—so be sure to find the one that’s right for you.

A business auto loan can help you finance your fleet of cars, while more broad equipment financing may help you finance the computers and other equipment your business will need to operate. This type of financing is generally easier to qualify for since the equipment you buy with the loan also serves as collateral.

Step 6: Find the Right Location

Once you’ve organized your finances, it’s time to find where you’ll operate your business. There are several factors to consider, chief among them being the size of the property and its proximity to other businesses or services. For example, if you’re looking to work with business travelers, you need to be located near the airport. 

Step 7: Create a Rental Contract

One of the most important documents for someone who will be operating a car rental business is the rental contract

The rental agreement is a contract between the rental car company (you) and the customer who is renting the car. This contract will cover liabilities, what happens in the case of an accident, and an explanation of who is responsible for what. To make sure your rental contract is fully protecting your business and your customers, you should run this by a legal professional who has experience with businesses in the car rental industry.

Step 8: Build Your Operations Team

Once you have a space to operate your car rental business, you need employees and a support system to operate the business. You might need employees to run the front office and answer phones, an accountant to track your numbers, and mechanics to maintain your car fleet.

Beyond finding the right people, you will also need to understand your responsibilities as an employer, including what types of insurance (like workers compensation and unemployment) you’ll need to obtain. 

Step 9: Create an Online Presence

A must-do for any business is to establish an online presence so customers can discover your business. In addition to a business website, you should consider setting up pages on business review sites such as Yelp and Google, as well as social media pages where customers can contact your business with questions and leave reviews for other potential customers to see.

This will both establish your business’s brand, as well as attract new customers. After all, if no one knows your company exists, you can’t expect to have much business.

Step 10: Provide Exceptional Service

All of your planning and preparation may be behind you, but your work is far from over. In order to make your business profitable you need to attract and retain customers. To do this, you’ll want to provide your customers with a high-quality product, stellar customer service, and build a strong relationship with your local community.

If you provide an exceptional service that people can trust, word will soon spread and you’ll be turning a profit in no time. 

The Bottom Line

When you’re just learning how to start a car rental business, the number of steps that you need to take and details that must be accounted for can feel overwhelming. With some patience and attention to each, though, you’ll have your car rental business up and running before you know it.

Article Sources:

  1. Franchising.com. “Automotive Franchise Opportunity Guide

Page Grossman

Page Grossman is a small business owner and freelance writer. She writes about living an intentional life through curating your finances, harnessing your entrepreneurial spirit, finding work-life balance, and seeking wellness.

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