Lots of people smoke in their cars, especially with increasing bans on indoor smoking or public smoking. And most rental car companies have a strict no-smoking policy. But can you vape in rental cars? The short answer is no since smoking bans typically include vaping, even if they don’t directly mention vapes. But it’s a tricky question so let’s look a little deeper.
Can You Smoke/Vape in Rental Cars?
1. The Difference Between Smoking and Vaping in Cars
Buying a car from a smoker can be a nightmare because the smell seems impossible to get out! That’s because scent is particulate, so that smoky smell comes from tiny particles of tar, tobacco, and nicotine that have spread all over the car. These particulate scents sneak into the leather, fabric, and rubbers on the seats, carpets, roofing, steering wheel, and other parts.
Some may even get into the ventilation system. And apart from the smell, nicotine and tar can stain your surfaces. Over the years, stains and particles pile up, making them harder to get rid of. The most effective way to clean a smoker’s car is to use an ozone air purifier. The ozone attaches to bacteria and smoke particles, disinfecting them and snuffing out all aroma.
On the other hand, vaping produces vapor instead of smoke. Vapor is more like steam, so it dissipates within minutes and is sometimes gone in seconds. Vapes often have nicotine, but it’s largely synthetic. And even when a vape uses regular tobacco nicotine, the vape warms the e-juice rather than burning it, so the vape won’t release any tar to stain your surfaces.
For this reason, vapes won’t soil your car in the way that cigarettes will. And since most of the vapor is gone in seconds, it won’t leave much of a smell in the car either. That said, car rental companies don’t always distinguish between smoke and vapor, so if they have a no-smoking policy, it’s illegal to vape inside their cars and they can charge you an extra fee.
2. Smoking and Vaping from the Outside
When someone watches you vaping, they’ll see these hugely dramatic plumes of ‘smoke’ and maybe smell a distinctly chemical flavor. These vape variants range from candy and incense to tobacco and booze. So someone familiar with vapes will recognize the scent, but even a novice will notice the air around you smells odd, even if they can’t quite tell what it is.
Take this up a notch and consider someone vaping in a car. If their windows are closed, you’ll see the fumes building up inside. And if the windows are open, you’ll spot those puffy clouds floating out of the car. In that scenario, no one will stop to check if that’s real smoke or vape fumes, especially if you’re parked in a no-smoking zone, or if your rental is being monitored.
In that context, vaping in a rental car can be just as detrimental as smoking in a rental car. And while the smell of the vape won’t linger as long as cigarette smells, the staff at the car rental will detect the scent of your vape flavor, even if you get the car detailed. You might get paranoid and take the rental to an ozone deodorizer, but the cleaner might report you.
After all, the car will clearly be marked as a rental, so high-end detailers probably have rules about disclosure. Also, the cost of cleaning the car may be higher than the vaping or smoking fine from the car rental company. That said, consider that some states have anti-smoking laws that have been updated to specifically mention vaping, so you could be risking a felony.
3. The Question of Third-Hand Smoke
In cigarettes and tobacco products, second-hand smoke is what you blow out. It affects the people around you and has been proven as carcinogenic. Second-hand smoke is the basis for anti-smoking laws and indoor smoking bans around the world because it potentially harms the health of non-smokers. But with vapes, second-hand smoke isn’t as much of an issue.
This is because tobacco smoke can stay in the air for up to an hour but vape fumes are gone within a few minutes. But with both tobacco and the synthetic nicotine in vapes, you have to consider third-hand smoke. These are the scent particulates that get into fabrics, walls, and surfaces. They can stain walls and turn them yellow, or they can make your car smell weird.
Car rental companies can detect the third-hand smoke from vapes, so even if it’s not as harmful as tobacco, it can still cause issues. Another matter that comes up around vaping in rental cars is the internal temperature of the car. When you charge your vape on the car charger, or when you leave it in the car unattended, it becomes a hazard due to the lithium.
Remember, vapes aren’t allowed in the cargo bays of airplanes because the lithium could explode. And this same thing could happen to a vape left in a car for a few hours, especially in an enclosed parking lot or on a hot day. For the record, many planes will allow you to carry a vape in your hand luggage, though your e-liquid is still likely to leak due to cabin pressure.
4. Localized Vaping Policies
In April 2022, Congress passed a law restricting synthetic nicotine, and this regulation directly affects the sale, distribution, and usage of vapes. Outside of this legislation, many states and counties have their own rules regarding smoking and vaping. So when you hire a rental car, you need to be careful about the terms at your departure point and destination.
You may be driving from a state that has no problem with vape mods, pods, and pens, but if your target state or county has harsher rules, you could get yourself into some trouble. Even if you can work your way around the car rental agreements you signed, a traffic check or a nosy bystander with a smartphone camera could get you busted if the vaping rules are strict.
For this reason, it’s smarter not to vape in a rental car because you’re never sure how far you’ll drive, where you’ll end up, when you’ll be tempted to take a detour on your road trip, and what the vaping restrictions are at the next gas station or parking lot. Lots of top car rental companies have state-wide representation so you can visit any branch in any state.
But because they operate across state lines, their anti-smoking and anti-vaping policies may be tighter. This ensures they stay compliant in multiple counties. And while it’s a hassle for you, it’s more efficient than having a separate rental agreement for every jurisdiction, then trying to mix and match as drivers cross state lines. Rental companies prefer consistency.
5. Think of the Children!
Even people who are liberal towards vaping get squeamish about the kids. Recent anti-vaping laws restrict the legal purchasing age to 21, and many vape stores will card you at the door. Also, retail stores are restricted to mint, menthol, and wintergreen flavors since kids avoid these variants. But what does this have to do with vaping in rental cars? Everything!
You probably don’t vape around your kids. But in a rental car, you don’t know the next person that will use your vehicle. And while vape fumes fade into the open air in minutes, they stick around longer in a car because some of the scents and flavors will get into the car upholstery. This essentially means any kids riding in that car after you will still be exposed.
This could be the biggest argument against vaping in rental cars – the possibility of harming kids that get into that car once you’re gone. Remember, even ozone deodorizers may leave traces of nicotine in the car, so there’s no guarantee the residue won’t hurt kids’ health. Plus it’s really just bad manners to involuntarily impose your vape fumes on someone else’s child.
While vapes are said to be less toxic than tobacco products, the chemicals in strong vape flavors can still be triggering to young respiratory systems. Especially if the kids already have ailments like asthma and allergies. Also, kids are sensitive to smells and finicky about the ones they don’t like, so some fussy child is sure to throw up when they smell kiwi custard.
6. Smoke Detection in Cars
Yes, some newer cars do have hi-tech features including remote sensors, air quality monitors, and smoke detectors. If these devices have ionizers or optical equipment, then they can spot cigarette smoke as well as vape fumes. This means the rental company can tell you’ve been smoking or vaping long before you hand over the car, and they’ll charge you extra.
It should be pretty clear by now, but in case you’re still wondering, can you vape in rental cars? If they have a no-smoking policy, no, you can’t. Even if the papers don’t specifically list vapes. It’s much smarter, safer, and cheaper to step out of the car and take your vape to an open-air smoking zone. And don’t leave used pods in the car either – they might explode!