Ways to Improve Design of Car Rental Facilities


Improve Car Rental Facility Design

Whether stand-alone services or consolidated arrangements, all car rental facilities share integral design aspects. However, discovering them and identifying their optimization potential is only one stage in the process. Improving the design requires understanding what the facility is, how it works, and what it can become. A design based on that knowledge can enhance efficiency and appeal to customer desires.

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Importance of Car Rental Facility Design

Before finding ways to improve car rental facilities' design, it's critical to understand the essential elements that make a design successful. These facilities must be self-contained with sufficient space for all required areas, and the design must appeal to all types of customers. If the facility will be a consolidated rent-a-car (ConRAC) service, it's also vital to consider balanced business dynamics.

The Facility Is Self-Contained

A successful car rental facility has all the tools and technology necessary to serve its customers, clean and maintain its fleet, and facilitate efficient pickups and returns.

Everything from customer service areas to washing and refueling to the rental cars themselves should be within the same footprint. The design should make it as easy and efficient for employees to move vehicles from one stage to another as it is for customers to pick up and return their rentals. A well-designed facility's different areas are close to each other, and the routes between them are clear and easily traversable.

The Facility Has Sufficient Space

For a facility to have everything it needs in a single centralized location, it must have adequate space to work with.

Compromising on space might mean giving one portion of the facility less than it needs to run smoothly and efficiently. A well-thought-out design maximizes what's available without shorting one area in favor of another. Nevertheless, it's vital to be aware of the facility's minimum spatial requirements during the design stage.

The Facility Has Customer Appeal

The facility design must appeal to the travelers using it.

Heat and Sun Damage

The design must keep navigation, comfort, and accessibility at the forefront in all areas. Many car rental customers have already spent a portion of their day traveling and want the facility to anticipate that. Design should prioritize appeal on a visual and user level. It should consider walking distances, ease of navigation, amenities, and aesthetics. Appealing designs create a facility that customers regard as a place of welcome respite from the larger travel experience.

The Facility Facilitates Balanced Business Dynamics

Designing ConRAC facilities presents an additional challenge, as the designer must also consider the balance among multiple car companies.

With several rental agencies working under one roof, the design must consider how to balance things fairly to allot all agencies equal space and access. In using some aspects to offset others, the designer may give more space or proximity to amenities to a station with less direct customer access. They must balance every undesirable aspect of an allotted space with a desirable one.

Steps to Design a Car Rental Facility

Many decisions must occur during the design process, especially when designing consolidated rental car facilities. Parking, maintenance, fueling, offices, and rental agency spaces are all crucial considerations when allocating space. Dividing the different aspects of the facility by purpose allows a thoughtful approach.

1. Enhance Customer Service Areas

As part of the rental industry, a ConRAC's success hinges on its customers. Designers must make choices for customer service areas with comfort and convenience in mind.
  • Customer service buildings: At a minimum, these buildings should have seating, bathrooms, and internet access available. Those with the space for it can also offer food and beverage options and business centers for their customers.
  • Counters: Customer service counters can be in a straight line or in separate areas for each rental agency.
  • Pedestrian paths and walkways: The design should minimize pedestrian and vehicular traffic crossover. Exterior paths should have lighting and weather protection, and all walkways should be wide enough to accommodate people walking with luggage.

2. Optimize Ready/Return Areas

Customer Service

The ready/return area is the hub for rental car pickup, dropoff, and storage. It is also the only other section of the facility customers will directly interact with, so its design should be easy to navigate and include intuitive wayfinding.
This portion of car rental facility design should include distinct areas for each rental agency, with dedicated parking areas for:
  • Customer pickups
  • Customer returns
  • Unwashed returns
  • Clean returns
Depending on available space, small washing and refueling stations can also be part of the ready/return area.

3. Organize Quick Turnaround Areas

The quick turnaround area's purpose is to process returned vehicles as efficiently as possible. The QTA should be the primary zone for cleaning and refueling and should include:
  • Fuel stations
  • Car wash tunnels
  • Garbage and recycling disposal with adequate space to accommodate garbage trucks entering and exiting
The QTA will also need to include administrative and employee areas, such as manager offices, restrooms, and break rooms with personal storage spaces.

4. Establish Storage Areas

Finally, a car rental facility design must include storage and administrative areas, with spaces designed for:

  • Administrative offices
  • Maintenance garages
  • Storage for vehicles undergoing lengthy maintenance
  • In-fleeting processes such as plate installation, interior and exterior preparations, and quality control checks
  • De-fleeting processes such as inspections, plate removal, and reporting

Ways to Improve Overall Car Rental Facility Design

Designing future car rental facilities means going beyond the basics. The design must anticipate tomorrow's changes while still fulfilling today's needs. 

Understand the Motivation

There may be any number of reasons behind creating a car rental facility, whether a ConRAC or otherwise. Limiting curbside congestion, repurposing formerly occupied spaces, or purely improving traveler experience could all be the motivating drive. However, administrative personnel must communicate that motivation to receive a positive reaction from customers and associated rental companies.

Customers often view efficiency-driven changes as warning signs of inferior customer service. Facility managers must communicate new methods or designs in terms of how they will improve the overall user experience.

If the new design is for a ConRAC, owners should also share the motivation for the change with the rental car companies meant to share the facility. While they may initially oppose sharing space with their direct competitors, communicating the underlying motivation and explaining how the move will benefit them can significantly ease the way.

Most importantly, it is vital to understand the problem the new design aims to solve and keep that solution in mind as the design process continues. If the goal is to improve the traveler experience, customer service areas should receive extra attention. If insufficient parking has been an issue, the new design should have a significant focus on that improvement.

Anticipate Change

While it is necessary to focus on creating a design that solves today's issues, it is also critical to consider tomorrow's challenges.

When Hertz announced it was adding 100,000 Teslas to its U.S. fleet, it instantly prompted changes to rental car facility designs nationwide. In addition to having to add charging stations at all Hertz facilities, ConRAC designs suddenly needed several updates as well. ConRACs will draw a more substantial power supply to accommodate the electric charging stations. Hertz must now separate their charging stations from the rest of their refueling to avoid clogging communal QTAs. Staff increases are also likely, to cover the split QTA process.

The designers who originally built these ConRACs likely presumed the same standard operations that had been in place for years. Now, those designs need an overhaul to adapt to this change.

The future remains impossible to predict, and new designs cannot accurately anticipate every potential change. However, today's designers should expect the facility's needs to evolve and strive to make that change as painless as possible.

Embrace Efficiency

All stages of the car rental process — from customer pickup and arrival to counter transactions to quick-turns and maintenance — take time. The longer one step takes, the less patience renters will have for the others. However, it is easy to turn small gains into significant savings. There were 38.5 million car rentals in 2021 in the U.S. alone, about 105,500 per day. If each process' efficiency improves by only a few seconds, the total gain will be immense.

Review any feedback and metrics from the previous design when modifying or creating a new car rental facility. Identify which areas are chokepoints and any spaces that have more room than they need, and use that information to improve flow in the next design. The balance can shift between areas — reducing the size of administrative offices to increase space for the QTA — or within an area — removing excess fuel pumps to make room for more car wash tunnels.
Updated airport designs incorporate technology that improves efficiency and customer experience. Designers can adapt some of these new solutions for use in car rental facilities as well. Studying related industries' modifications will provide new ideas for higher efficiency.

Consider the Customer

As for any customer-focused business, the most critical aspect of improving car rental facility design is to create a customer-first layout. Distances between the areas renters need to visit should be short and easily traversable. The customer service building's exterior should be easily identifiable, and routes drivers must take to return their rental cars should have unmistakable markings.

At a more granular level, the design of the customer service building's interior and the ready/return area should have multiple foot and vehicular traffic flows in mind. Intuitive wayfinding is an essential component, making it easy for travelers to navigate from one area to another. In ConRACs or other rental facilities tied to airports, there should be graphic consistency with airport signage for greater ease of understanding.
While many travelers planning to rent a car make their reservations ahead of time, some have a last-minute change of plans or prefer to wait until their arrival to book a vehicle. In a ConRAC, the rental counters' arrangement should make it easy for customers to shop the different rental companies.
Aspects of Car Rental Facility Design
If the facility has exterior parking, it's vital to consider the impact of the sun and weather on customer experience. Adding shade structures to the design allows rental fleets to stay cool even during extremely sunny days.

Benefits of Shade Structures for Car Rental Facilities

Adding protective parking structures to a car rental facility design has the benefit of helping keep the vehicles in good condition, while providing an impressive visual impact.

Shielding From the Sun

Heat and sun damage are the two most prevalent issues car rental facilities face with exterior parking.

The sun's UV rays lead to oxidation, making a vehicle's paint fade, flake, and peel. UV rays will also bleach or fade the interior and overdry plastic and leather to the point of cracking. Extended sun exposure can make even newer cars look old, damaged, and worn. Installing shade structures will block those UV rays and protect vehicles from sun damage.
In addition to protecting the paint, shade structures can also keep vehicles from overheating in the sun. That is especially valuable for cars with leather interiors, which can reach temperatures of 148 degrees Fahrenheit in the sun, hot enough to cause a severe burn in less than five seconds of contact. With shade structures, customers can enter their rental cars safely and comfortably as soon as they reach them.

Protecting Against Hail

Along with daily damage and discomfort from the sun, these structures can also help prevent damage from damaging hail.

Hailstorms form in thunderstorm updrafts. By the time hail reaches the ground, it can reach speeds of over 100 mph. If it hits a vehicle, hail can cause scratches or dents, chipped paint, and chipped or even shattered glass. Hail damage costs a car rental facility directly for repairs or replacements for any damaged vehicles. It also causes an indirect financial burden, as an insurance adjuster must evaluate an insurance adjuster before approving repairs or replacements, potentially causing a loss of business.
Protective structures made with high-quality material help shield vehicles from hail damage and sun damage. Avoiding that risk also helps guard against supply chain disruptions that would otherwise leave a fleet understocked.

Additional Visual Appeal

Exterior parking equipped with protective structures immediately communicates a focus on care and comfort, which can appeal to customers at first sight.

ConRACs can also use parking structures in their facility design. The structures help provide a cohesive, professional look while differentiating between separate rental agencies' areas. Customized colors and designs allow customers to distinguish between associated areas and easily find their way to where they need to go. Adding upgrades like lighting elements to the structures will further enhance their visual appeal.

Browse VPS Shade Structures

VPS is the leading supplier of parking protection systems perfect for helping to protect against damage caused by sun and hail.

We offer a range of structures to shield vehicles while allowing people and vehicles to move freely through the area. Available in various designs and colors to complement any exterior, our steel structures can last far longer than inexpensive wood or flimsier framing materials associated with temporary structures.

To discover everything VPS can offer your facility, contact us for a free quote today!