ACE Rent A Car may not be the best-known player in the car rental industry, but it's best in class for many travelers, a new survey finds.
The Indiana-based company was tops in the J.D. Power and Associates 2011 North America Rental Car Satisfaction Study, released Tuesday.
ACE received particularly high marks for its prices and shuttle service.
Enterprise was in second place, performing especially well among leisure travelers. National ranked third in the study.
The survey measures satisfaction with car rental companies in six categories: costs and fees, the pickup process, the return process, the rental car itself, the company's shuttle bus or van, and the reservation process.
Travelers' overall happiness with rental car companies increased for a second consecutive year, the study found.
"As positive as this increase in satisfaction is, there remains ample opportunity for rental car companies to further delight their customers in the future," said Stuart Greif, a vice president at J.D. Power and Associates.
Those improvements could include companies digitally measuring gas tank levels for more accurate charges, retrieving mileage and gas information digitally as customers return cars, and giving real-time estimates of shuttle van arrival times, he said.
Meanwhile, a big issue continues to be the amount of time it takes customers to pick up their cars.
The average wait time now is 17 minutes, the study found. That's an improvement from 20.5 minutes in 2010 but still way too long for many people.
Satisfaction drops considerably among travelers who have to wait more than five minutes to get their car.
"The culture of immediacy creates expectations around timeliness of service that can be challenging to meet," said Jessica McGregor of J.D. Power and Associates.
The company advised travelers to use kiosks -- if available -- instead of waiting in line at the counter.
Very few rental car customers now use kiosks, but those who do tend to be more satisfied with the experience overall, J.D. Power and Associates said.
The 2011 North America Rental Car Satisfaction Study is based on more than 12,500 evaluations from business and leisure travelers who rented a car at an airport location.
The survey was conducted between January and September.