Rental cars often get a bad rap: since drivers are only borrowing the vehicle for a short period of time, conventional wisdom goes that they won’t treat the car very well. So most would think that purchasing a questionably treated rental car is a poor financial decision. While a privately owned used car might have had to contend with one person’s driving quirks (or at most, one family’s), rental cars are driven by all types of drivers (one a hard braker, the next a fast accelerator, and so on). But some argue those fears are largely unfounded, “Cars are so well engineered these days that it really doesn’t matter,” Philip Reed of Edmunds.com told Kiplinger. So does it — or when does it — make sense to buy a rental car?
When you’re in the market for car, and you don’t mind doing a little extra research, you might be surprised to find a former rental car offers savings (even over identical used cars) as well as peace of mind.
Your Guide for Purchasing a Former Rental Car:
Shopping for a used rental car is a lot like shopping for a used car, which we’ve covered in detail. With rental cars, you’ll still want to remain practical and skeptical, but it’s prudent to take a few additional steps:
- Determine the fair market value of the car make, model and year and compare it to the rental car company’s price. Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds.com both have great resources.
- Before visiting a mechanic, look over the car. Test drive it yourself, look for any signs of body damage both inside and outside the vehicle and listen for unusual noises. And always request a vehicle history report from the seller, or you can choose to run one yourself from: AutoCheck, Carfax or the federal National Motor Vehicle Title Information System.
- Be sure to have a pre-purchase inspection done by an independent party so you’ll have an accurate picture of current and future problems. You’ll also want to have a mechanic certify that the car isn’t wearing prematurely.
Pros & Cons: Is a Rental Car Right for You?
- Rental car companies keep close tabs on their fleets, making repairs when necessary and sticking to maintenance schedules.
- Lower-than-market price options are (usually) available because rental car companies buy vehicles in volume so their resale prices can be lower.
- Most used rentals for sale are only one or two years old, so most of their warranties are still at least partially in effect.
- If you’re buying from a rental company, they’ll provide a third-party vehicle history report (usually for free).
- The purchasing experience should be simple. If you buy from a rental car company, most sales are negotiation-free, which can be a relief for people who don’t like to haggle (something experts recommend doing on every new and used car lot).
- Certain large rental companies, such as Avis, Enterprise and Hertz, have fixed pricing, financing and a wide inventory listed on their websites.
- Some rental car companies let you take the car for several days on an extended test drive: “Rent2Buy at Hertz and the Ultimate Test Drive at Avis/Budget let you browse the fleet online, pick the model that you want, and take it for an extended test-drive (up to three days) from many of their rental locations. During the car’s tryout, you can have a mechanic look at it, if you like,” writes Kiplinger. Enterprise, they add, doesn’t let you take it for a multi-day test drive, but they’ll buy it back within seven days if you’re not happy.
- Not all rental cars finished with their hustling days go on to be sold through the rental company’s sales division: only the best-maintained cars are sold to consumers while the rest, writes Kiplinger, go to auction or elsewhere (good news for buyers).
- While you can find a good range of options, from budget to luxury vehicles, with a rental company, the cars are often base models with fewer amenities and advanced safety features, and you can’t upgrade.
- The stigma of lots of people having driven your car is real, as is the fear that those strangers didn’t care as well for the vehicle as a private owner might have.
- Many former rental cars have more scratches and interior damage than privately owned used cars.
- You can’t know what every driver did with your car, and you might not ever know the full history. “When looking for records of accidents with a retired rental car, buyers should be aware that a rental may not have the same records as a private vehicle, John Nielsen, managing director, AAA Automotive Engineering and Repair, told MSN Autos, adding that because rental companies have their own insurance, not all accidents will have a claim on record,” writes US News.
Where You Can Buy A Rental Car:
The major car rental companies in the U.S. also have sales divisions. You can purchase used rental cars from:
How Much You Can Save:
Used rental cars aren’t the absolute lowest prices out there–they aren’t as cheap as what you might find at auction, for instance (though cars bought at auction are definitely riskier buys, on a whole), but you can still get a great deal. Edmunds compared prices on a rental agency’s used car lot and found them to be very competitive with dealer retail prices, and Kiplinger
That’s still the case today,” writes Edmunds.com
“We compared prices for that automotive commodity, the Toyota Camry, at Hertz, Avis/Budget and Enterprise,” writes Kiplinger. “As a benchmark, we used the Kelley Blue Book Fair Purchase Price—what you might expect to pay a dealer—for a good-condition 2014 LE model with about 25,000 miles on it, which in late April was $17,716.
The lowest price was at Hertz, where our Camry went for $16,000. It was $17,600 at Avis/Budget and $17,999 at Enterprise. Prices for some other vehicles we checked, including the Hyundai Elantra, Mercedes C250 Sport sedan, Nissan Rogue and Ford Expedition, in a variety of trim levels, also showed savings—sometimes slim, sometimes huge. The Elantra at Hertz had 35,000 miles and was 15% below the KBB Fair Purchase Price.”
True Stories: “I bought a rental car”
Deidre Woollard, from Los Angeles, bought a former Enterprise rental car, back when they were all the same shade of green. She bought a Ford with 30,000 miles on it and opted for the complete extended warranty. “It seemed pricey at the time but turned out to be worth it because approximately six months later the car had a breakdown on the highway. It turned out to be a cracked engine block and was covered by the warranty,” Woollard says. “The car went on to live many more happy years until it was totaled when rear-ended in a crash. I would buy a rental car again, but I would get the warranty too.”
Nedalee Thomas, from Orange County, California, purchased a Kia Amanti from a dealer a few years ago and was told it had been a rental car. The car was two years old and had 22,000 miles on it. The dealer told Thomas the car would get 19 miles to the gallon, but Thomas never got more than 11, which she found quite disappointing. The biggest issue, though, was with the structure of the car. “The car had apparently been in an accident and would never stay in alignment,” which, she says, caused greater wear on the tires so she had to replace them more frequently.
To really know how much you can save, you’ll have to comparison shop between rental car sellers, used car dealers, and private owners (if you like)–and always get a third-party vehicle report before purchase. While a former rental car might not end up being the best option for everyone, we think they have a lot of pluses and are certainly worth consideration.