In the not-too-distant past, rental counters and indeed the entire rental transaction looked quite different than it does today. Crowded rental counters, face-to-face interaction with customers, and high-touch check-outs and check-ins which were the norm are now often entirely free of contact.  Quick-turn rental vehicles were cleaned but perhaps not sanitized to the standard they are today.  Perhaps the biggest change, the happy, smiling faces that greeted customers at the counter are now behind a mask.

How businesses respond to COVID-19 and how they operate in the months and years ahead are of great interest to the public and to the rental industry itself.  New protocols are required to help ensure safety.  Many rental car companies promote their COVID protocols in advertising, online and on their websites.  Websites offer consumers the ability to research cleaning and safety protocols used by rental car companies.  The more information you can offer consumers about steps taken to ensure their safety, the further you will go in helping customers feel comfortable doing business with you.


Establishing priorities is critical.  Most would agree these are the top 3:

  1. Protect the customer;
  2. Ensure employees are safe;
  3. Maintain inventory to recognized standards for cleaning and disinfecting.

Each item above has some impact on the others and is part of a formal program to prevent the spread of the coronavirus among customers and employees.

Protecting the Customer

As important as is it to protect your customers, it is as important to educate and inform customers about how you’re protecting them.  Many large rental companies publish their safety protocols, “promises” and “pledges” to communicate the ways in which they are keeping customers safe. 

Of course, cleaning and disinfecting every vehicle before it goes out is extremely important and a visible sign of your commitment to keeping customers safe from COVID.  In a recent article published by MIT Medical, Is it safe to rent a car?, MIT provided a detailed response to concerns about contamination from surfaces inside a rental vehicle.  MIT stated that, while customers “seem particularly concerned about contaminated surfaces inside the rental vehicle, that mode of transmission is unlikely, especially given the enhanced cleaning and disinfecting rental car companies now claim to be doing. But even if the car was not thoroughly cleaned, there’s a low risk of becoming infected from a contaminated surface inside the car.”  MIT further stated:  “Remember, virtually all COVID-19 infections are spread from person-to-person, so your major risk in renting a car would be related to interactions with a rental agent or contact with other customers. So, look for a company that has modified its workflow to make the rental process as contactless as possible.” 

To minimize contact in your operation: 

  • Use online reservations as much as possible
  • Counter agents and lot employees wear masks and disposable gloves
  • Equip the counter with Plexiglas shields
  • Provide hand sanitizer stations for both employees and incoming customers
  • Ensure social distancing for waiting lines at counters
  • Eliminate the need for customers to check in at the counter – provide direct access to vehicles
  • Use virtual contracts and email whenever possible – avoid paper and use of pens
  • Don’t forget that cleaning and sanitizing shuttle buses and transports are equally important

Employee Safety

Making sure employees are healthy and safe helps to ensure customers are safe as well.  Some of the essential elements of an employee safety plan include:

  • Employee screening and prevention policies
  • Physical distancing in the workplace
  • Personal protective equipment
  • Cleaning and disinfecting plans (for the workplace)

In addition, the following resources can help you to develop a formal program to protect employees from the coronavirus:

Cleaning and Disinfecting Vehicles

At this time there are no “industry standards” for cleaning and sanitizing rental vehicles.  Each company is developing their own cleaning procedures, with most focusing on a thorough interior cleaning, including use of an “EPA-approved disinfectant” as outlined in the CDC document titled “Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting Public Spaces, Workplaces, Businesses, Schools, and Homes (cdc.gov)." This document provides a general framework for cleaning and disinfection practices, based on doing the following:

  1. Normal routine cleaning with soap and water will decrease how much of the virus is on surfaces and objects, which reduces the risk of exposure.
  2. Disinfection using EPA-approved disinfectants against COVID-19 can also help reduce the risk. Frequent disinfection of surfaces and objects touched by multiple people is important.
  3. When EPA-approved disinfectants are not available, alternative disinfectants can be used (for example, 1/3 cup of bleach added to 1 gallon of water, or 70% alcohol solutions).

It’s important to thoroughly clean and disinfect the “high touch” areas inside the vehicle, including the steering wheel, shifter, console, dashboard controls, door handles, etc.  Although it does not specifically address rental cars, additional guidance can be found in the CDC document Cleaning and Disinfection for Non-emergency Transport Vehicles | CDC.

Perhaps as important as cleaning and disinfecting the vehicle, is alleviating the customer’s concerns about the cleanliness of the vehicle they’re climbing into.  It may be a good idea to “advertise” your cleaning procedures with a printed flyer placed in or on the vehicle proclaiming “Cleaned and sanitized for your protection” so the customer knows every precaution has been taken to ensure their safety.  Posting similar information at the counter, in the pick-up area, and even on the shuttle can help “spread the word”.


Chances are you already have a post-COVID plan in place and are using it now.  Bear in mind that medical information about COVID-19 is fluid and we seem to learn something new about the virus almost every day.  Recommended practices on how to best deal with the virus are also evolving, therefore it is a good idea to review your policy on a regular basis to ensure your practices are current.

December 2020
The Zurich Services Corporation
Risk Engineering
1299 Zurich Way, Schaumburg, Illinois 60196-1056
800 982 5964 www.zurichna.com

The information in this publication was compiled from sources believed to be reliable for informational purposes only. All sample policies and procedures herein should serve as a guideline, which you can use to create your own policies and procedures. We trust that you will customize these samples to reflect your own operations and believe that these samples may serve as a helpful platform for this endeavor. Any and all information contained herein is not intended to constitute advice (particularly not legal advice). Accordingly, persons requiring advice should consult independent advisors when developing programs and policies. We do not guarantee the accuracy of this information or any results and further assume no liability in connection with this publication and sample policies and procedures, including any information, methods or safety suggestions contained herein. We undertake no obligation to publicly update or revise any of this information, whether to reflect new information, future developments, events or circumstances or otherwise. Moreover, Zurich reminds you that this cannot be assumed to contain every acceptable safety and compliance procedure or that additional procedures might not be appropriate under the circumstances. The subject matter of this publication is not tied to any specific insurance product nor will adopting these policies and procedures ensure coverage under any insurance policy. Risk Engineering services are provided by The Zurich Services Corporation.

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