Los Angeles

By | 16th January 2018

Should you rent a car in Los Angeles?

Do you need a car in Los Angeles > Should you rent a car in Los Angeles USA > Los Angeles ( LAX ) Do you need a car in Los Angeles? Is it worth hiring a car in Los Angeles? Should you rent a car in Los Angeles?

Los Angeles Car hire summary


Overall drive rating

Based on a weighted score across all cost and quality factors. [Full notes - drive rating]

20%

  • Price alone isn't the only factor in determining whether or not it's worth hiring a car in Los Angeles but clearly it's an important one. See our "why" section for more figures.
  • Cost factors include - price of car hire (peak and off peak season), car hire extras, fuel, tolls and parking costs.
  • Quality factors include - scenic drives, road quality and upkeep, general safety and congestion levels.
  • A complete index of all 10 factors will be uploaded shortly.

Cheapest rate for one week

Based on cheapest economy car hire deal with no added extras. [full notes - basic costs]

€140

 #164/300

  • This is the very lowest price we could find for a one week car rental period in Los Angeles during the quiet season.
  • You will almost always end up paying more than this figure, but any extra costs or supplementary charges are usually determined by the renter, so we cannot easily compare like with like.
  • In many cases, rental companies will offer a cheap rental and then expect you to take out expensive insurance waivers. There are always ways to avoid this!

How much should I expect to pay in the peak season?

Based on cheapest deal during the summer holiday season. (Unless otherwise noted) [full notes - seasonal variations]

 €230

153/300

  • During the peak holiday season, public transport is often better value, as many train and bus fares are fixed throughout the year. See our "why not" section for more suggestions.
  • For most featured destinations, the peak season will be during the summer, typically July and August for northern hemisphere destinations. However, peak demand might occur at different times, for example in some ski resorts or winter sun destinations etc.


Free parking score

Based on the number of hotels which offer free parking. Total 1391 - of which 663 have free parking. [full notes - parking]

48%

#133/300

  • Free hotel parking is very useful to have when you are hiring a car, and it's always worth checking ahead beforehand.
  • If free hotel parking is not available, you might want to consider renting a car for a single day, rather than for your whole trip.
  • The availability (or lack of) free hotel parking can be a really important factor in determining whether or not it's worth hiring a car in Los Angeles, as it can be a significant extra daily cost which you won't usually be paying at home!
  • Parking costs play a very major part in our consideration of whether or not it's worth hiring a car in each destination.
  • By using public transport, walking or hiring a bicycle, you can avoid having to worry about parking charges altogether! See our "why not" section for more suggestions.

Los Angeles public transport quick facts

Train score

Higher scores go to the systems which don't just take you to the most amazing places, but also to the ones which are easy to use, fast, reliable and frequent. A good train system on its own is usually enough to determine that you don't need to hire a car in many destinations.

10%

  • [full notes trains]
  • Trains include all kinds of urban rail system from trams up to metro and suburban networks.
  • Trains also include mountain railways and cable cars.
  • Generally, places with a good rail network will automatically mean that you don't "need" to hire a car, but you can still might find that on balance you are better off by having one.

Water travel score

This is a general rating for all types of water travel, including scheduled ferries, sea / rivers cruises and excursions in Los Angeles

10%

  • [full notes - water score]
  • The water score looks at means of transport on water - it does not consider water based activities like surfing or kayaking.

Overall public transport score

This is a more practical rating based on bus and rail travel, and also including ferries and other boat services, where they are part of the public transport network.

30%

  • [full notes - overall transit] buses | trams | metro | local & regional rail | national rail
  • Is public transport in Los Angeles good value, or is it worth hiring a car just because it is cheaper overall?
  • Even if public transport is cheap and reliable, you might still feel that you should hire a car in Los Angeles because it will still give you more flexibility to reach out-of-the-way places, especially in rural areas.

Walking and Cycling Overview

Active travel score

This overall rating considers walking and cycling in and around Los Angeles. It includes factors such as the quality of the street environment, and whether you are likely to feel safe walking or cycling, together with the availability of bicycle hire and the ease of linking walking or cycling routes with public transport.

20%

  • [full notes - active score] walking (city) | hiking | cycling (city /  country).
  • A high active travel score means that you might not need a car in Los Angeles, because you can see everything you need to see using a combination of your own two feet and the public transport system.

Car rental in - Los Angeles Need v worth & should!

Whether you have come here asking "do I need a car in Los Angeles", "is it worth hiring a car in Los Angeles", or whether or not you "should" hire a car here, these are all slight variations on a similar theme. Here we break each one down according to the criteria we use for each question. This is a weighted score based on the values above. These are explained further in the text which follows - [#why] [#whynot]. Do you need a car in Los Angeles?

Do you need a car in Los Angeles?

This is essentially based on whether or not public transport and other "non car" options are good enough to get around and beyond the city. For the lowest "need" score, the destination should have a combination of excellent all-round public transport, great opportunities for walking and cycling, together with poor value car hire or generally poor quality roads. 
  • In destinations where both public transport and car hire options are excellent, the verdict for "do I need a car in  Los Angeles " will swing towards a strong no, because you can do absolutely fine without one).
Is it worth hiring a car in Los Angeles?

Is it worth hiring a car in Los Angeles?

Is car hire good value, especially during the peak season? How does this compare with transit fares? This question mainly looks at issues of cost and practicality.
  • In destinations where both public transport and car hire options are excellent, the verdict for "is it worth hiring a car in  Los Angeles" will swing towards whichever option offers the lowest overall cost for a group of 2-4 people travelling together.
Should you rent a car in Los Angeles?

Should you rent a car in Los Angeles?

Weighing up the above questions, if you are here for the first time AND asking about hiring a car, is it a good idea?
  • The final "carometer" swing is much more opinion based, and it takes into account which options will give you the truly best travel experience (n our humble opinion of course). Where a destination offers an excellent score with or without a car, the swing will go towards whichever option we feel gives the most truly unforgettable experience.
  • Ultimately, it's your choice whether or not you rent a car here. We're trying to give you something that's sufficiently far enough away from a "maybe" to help you make that choice. Ultimately, people only come to us because they are uncertain, but we don't really know what each person's preferences are. Whether we say you should or you shouldn't rent a car in  Los Angeles, you might also want to look up some of our other cities to see how  Los Angeles compares with other destinations in  USA or  North America.
  • By using public transport, walking or hiring a bicycle, you can avoid having to worry about parking charges altogether! See our "why not" section for more suggestions.


What does everyone else do?

Do most people hire a car in Los Angeles?

This is based on our observations of (a) car rental facilities and (b) what we think most people will do here. It's not an exact figure, just an estimate of how likely people are to get hold of a rental car here.
  • his is based on the percentage of people "in the market" who we think are likely to hire a car. This includes anyone arriving on holiday here who would usually hire a car on their travels, so it doesn't include people who don't usually drive (or don't drive), people staying with friends etc.

20%

Visitors per year (million)

  • Cities with more visitors are more likely to have more complex airport car rental arrangements, and generally they will also have better public transport, but this is not always the case, especially in North America.

2

  • [full notes - do as everyone else does?]
  • You may wish to go with the flow, or you might prefer to avoid doing the most popular or obvious option. This will vary according to the range of choice available. This tends to be much higher in destinations which are closer to the middle of the car or no car scale.

Who is travelling?

Your group size and travel budget has a major impact on whether or not getting a rental car is good value compared to using public transport as your main means of getting around. Ultimately, these are all "worth" questions:

Is it worth renting a car in Los Angeles if I am a solo / budget traveller?

Generally, hiring a car is not good value for solo travellers for multiple reasons, especially as most of the costs of renting apply to the car, not the occupants. With public transport, the reverse is usually true! However, there are always some places where you will need a car, simply because they are almost impossible to reach using public transport.

Is it worth renting a car in Los Angeles for 2 people travelling together?

A rental car can be good value for couples or for friends travelling together, but since most cars come with at least four seats, it's often still better value to use public transport. However, if you prefer to keep yourselves to yourselves, then you might still want to rent.

Is it worth renting a car in Los Angeles for families?

Families of groups of 3-4 people travelling together will always get the best value from a rental car. However, you may also be burdened with extra costs for car seat hire, and you well also prefer to use local trains and buses, if they are quicker than getting stuck in heavy traffic.

Where are you staying?

The place you are staying, together with the sort of places you want to see, will have a large impact on whether or not you "need" to rent a car:

Do you need a car in Los Angeles if we are staying in the city centre / main resort area?

Most large towns or purpose built holiday resorts will have some kind of public transport, whereas parking provision will vary greatly from one place to the next. 

Do you need a car in Los Angeles if we are staying on the edge of the urban area?

Typically you may be staying in an apartment or hmall house on the edge of a resort or urban area. These places usually have some level of public transport, but not as much as city / resort centres.

Do you need a car in Los Angeles if we are staying in a rural area?

Rural proprties might include larger villas or apartments, but they can still be within a short walk of a bus stop or local railway station, and the opportunities for hiking and cycling might also be substantial, depending on the destination.

What is your attitude towards driving?

We can give you suggestions based on whatever we consider to be a "typical" visitor to Los Angeles, but ultimately your decision is also going to be influenced by whether or not you ususally prefer to hire a car in the first place.

Should I hire a car in Los Angeles if I prefer not to drive?

This is especially the case when there is only one main driver in the group, and it's based on the attitude of the driver rather than their passengers! The main driver may also simply prefer to use public transport, or they may prefer to take scenic train journeys where available.

Should we rent a car in Los Angeles if we are easy either way?

This is more aimed at the typical visitor who isn't that bothered about how they get around, as long as it is the most convenient / best value option.

Should I rent a car in Los Angeles if I prefer to drive?

For people who usually prefer the freedom and flexibility of having a hire car. Is it still best to rent a car in Los Angeles, or are there good reasons not to?

Los Angeles is known to many people as one of America’s great car cities, although this is not always the same thing as being completely car dependent, a label that would be far more easily applied to any of the Sunbelt cities like Phoenix or Houston.

Do you need a car in Los Angeles? Introduction

When someone asks "Do you need a car in Los Angeles?", this often breaks down to two key questions:
  1. Can you actually get around using public transport, or is a car all but essential?
  2. Is it worth hiring a car in Los Angeles? Is it good value for money, compared with non-car options?
Over the next few sections, we wil look at the pros and cons of driving in Los Angeles as a tourist, and ultimately weigh these up, so we can answer the key question of Should you rent a car in Los Angeles?
Why? Why not? Ratings Comments

Why should you rent a car in Los Angeles?

What are the main reasons for hiring a car here? Do you just want to drive locally? Do you want to go further afield, or should you even look at taking a road trip? In terms of factors like the cost of the hire itself, fuel costs, road tolls and parking charges, is it worth hiring a car in Los Angeles?

  1. City of cities — when you visit Los Angeles, you really aren’t just visiting one city. The greater Los Angeles area is actually made up of no less than 83 separate incorporated cities, although a city in the American sense can be a great deal smaller than the British definition. Naturally, with so many different constituent parts, Los Angeles often viewed as somewhere that has no distinct centre. Whilst that notion can easily be challenged, the fact that there are so many different places to visit, with no one place dominating, has made it much harder to plan and build a workable public transport system….
  2. Los Angeles Metro — normally, we would list a metro system as a reason not to get a hire car, but in Los Angeles, it is the other way around. Plagued by years of legal challenges over rights of way, the Los Angeles Metro still only has four route lines, despite serving a city region with a population well over 10,000,000. Whilst this sort of system might be adequate for a city around one 10th of the size of Los Angeles, it only has limited use in a city like LA. Although the metro is supplemented by buses, journeys that might take a few minutes in cities like New York or London can take the best part of an hour in LA.
  3. Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Mulholland drive — there aren’t many suburban roads that become the subject of films, but Mulholland drive is one of many fascinating places to visit which are connected to the Hollywood film industry. Whilst you get to Hollywood itself without needing a car, to appreciate this area properly, you will either have to take a prepackaged guided tour or travel around in your own car. If you are independent minded, the choice here is obvious.
  4. Pacific Coast Highway — the Pacific coast highway, and especially the stretch between Los Angeles and San Francisco, is rated as one of the most scenic drives in the USA, if not the world. Allow several days to do this properly.
  5. Desert drives — head beyond the San Gabriel Mountains which overlook Los Angeles, and you will hit the Mojave Desert. From here you can continue onwards towards death Valley and Las Vegas. Make sure you are well stocked up with water and other reserve supplies!
  6. Grand Canyon — head east out of Los Angeles and into Arizona to visit the Grand Canyon via Flagstaff. Please see our Phoenix and Las Vegas car hire advice pages for more suggestions about visiting the Grand Canyon and other scenic areas in Utah and Arizona.
  7. One way Los Angeles car rental — depending on who you hire your car from, you should be able to arrange a one-way deal, with San Francisco and Las Vegas being the most obvious options. As there are usually plenty of drivers who want to make the same trip but in the opposite direction, you should usually be able to arrange a one-way rental to either of these cities without paying any extra charges. The same should also apply to San Diego or Phoenix, but you can expect one-way drop-off fees to be applied to anywhere beyond this, as there is much less two-way traffic outside this area. You should also be able to arrange open jaw flights from Europe, providing you stick within the same airline Alliance group. For example, an outbound flight to Los Angeles with Air New Zealand (Star Alliance) could easily be combined with a return trip home from San Francisco with United (also Star Alliance). However, the only airline offering flights to Phoenix from Europe is British Airways (OneWorld; from Heathrow), so you would either need to return back with British Airways or their OneWorld partners American Airlines, or you would need to take a connecting flight. Of course, if you are visiting Los Angeles from elsewhere within the USA, taking two separate one-way flights with a low-cost airline like Jet blue, virgin America or Southwest Airlines should not be a problem.
  8. Triangle drive — if the open jaw option doesn’t suit, you could easily pick up a hire car in Los Angeles and travel in a triangle, for example out towards Las Vegas and then back via San Francisco.

Why not? Visiting Los Angeles without a car

What is public transport like in Los Angeles? What about local conditions for walking or cycling? Can you rely on public transport and maybe a few taxis for most or all of your trip? Are there some times of year when it's easier to get by without a car than others? When should you rent a car in 2?
  1. City attractions — despite being such a sprawling mess, Los Angeles is still home to a vast array of cultural attractions, where we hope you would spend as much time inside as you would getting there! The most famous single attraction is the huge Getty Museum complex, where many people spend a whole day inside.
  2. Hollywood and tours — although, as we say above, a hire car is going to give you the flexibility of touring around the various Hollywood related attractions at your own pace, if you want to hear all the gossip, then a guided tour is a much better option. There are three main types of places of interest, which often overlap with each other — the studios themselves, locations which have been used in Hollywood blockbusters, and the mansions of the stars.
  3. Traffic — public transport in Los Angeles may leave a lot to be desired, but it is still vastly superior to what you will find in cities like Dallas or Atlanta. If you try to drive around Los Angeles, you can expect to spend a lot of time sitting in stationary or very slow moving traffic. It is estimated that the average Los Angeles resident spends upwards of four hours each day in traffic. If you hire a car in Los Angeles, you are only contributing to this problem, yet alternatives are still available. For the uninitiated, travelling around Los Angeles by public transport will take a bit of planning, but this can be made a lot easier by downloading or acquiring a printed copy of the relevant public transport maps.
  4. Pacific Coast by rail — whilst the Pacific coast highway makes for a great drive, this route can also be taken by train, both as an amazing trip in its own right, and also as a way of reaching San Francisco. A slightly faster route exists via Bakersfield and Emeryville, but this is nothing like as scenic.
  5. Multiple city by air, rail or coach. Whilst the car is good for accessing scenic areas outside Los Angeles, you could just as easily spend a few days in the city of Angels and then head off to some of the other major cities in California or nearby states. Travelling by train, you can also head down to San Diego, or across into Arizona. The closest the train will take you to Phoenix is Maricopa, from where onward buses are available. You can also alight at Flagstaff for coach transfers towards the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
  6. Disneyland California — why not visit the original Disneyland, which is in this city of Anaheim? Plenty of public transport options are available for getting here, and this is one of many places where there really isn’t much point in having a hire car, as it is only going to spend all day in the parking lot. Other Californian theme parks include the six flags in Santa Clarita, or Legoland in Carlsbad, which is between Los Angeles and San Diego.
  7. Channel islands National Park — when Americans refer to Jersey, we know that they don’t mean the island of Jersey, and any mention of the Channel Islands in California is going to about the beautiful islands of San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz and Anacapa. As there are no major roads on these islands, there is no point in having a car to visit them. The fairies are available to each of these islands from Port Hueneme.

Ratings

Our slider ratings range from 0 (it isn't even possible to hire a car, e.g. Hong Kong) through to 10 (you really must rent a car here, e.g. Phoenix, Tampa). However, most places are somewhere inbetween these extremes, and this is where it gets more interesting! Further ratings breakdowns, including a much more detailed public transport rating, are currently being added. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.

Verdict

What is our final score for Los Angeles on the Carornocar scale?

Remember, this isn't so much a rating of the road network, or a score for what we think of the buses or trains, but it's simply a scale showing the swing between whether or not we think a rental car is a good idea here.

6


Should I hire a car in Los Angeles, and contribute to the local traffic and smog problems? That’s a bit of a philosophical question, but one which is worth considering in a city that is so wedded to the car. If you can go through the list above, and see what you want to see, then why hire a car? But if you want to see more places beyond the city, then you might be placing severe limitations on your trip. Do you need to hire a car in Los Angeles? Not in the absolute sense – there’s more than enough to see without a car in LA, but you just aren’t going to get the same range of places that you might get to see with one.

If you are planning your visit to Los Angeles for the first time, it is easy to automatically assume that a hire car is essential. We certainly don’t think that is the case — there are numerous options for getting around Los Angeles without a car, but having one will undoubtedly give you a great many more options.

Would you hire a car in Los Angeles?

Have you driven in Los Angeles? Do you agree with our advice on whether or not it's worth hiring a car in Los Angeles}? Do you need a car in Los Angeles? For some or all of the time? Tell us what you think using the comments section below:

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