Buying a Rental Car? Here's What You Need to Know


Everyone loves the convenience of a rental car, especially when on vacation. However, tell someone you're thinking of buying one, and you'll likely see a look of confusion — or worse, disdain. Rental cars are driven hard and often not worth the risk. At least that's what people will tell you, but in reality, rental cars are a very prudent buys…if you know what you're getting into. Consider the pros and cons of purchasing a former rental car:

The Pros of Buying a Rental Car

Here's why you might consider buying a rental.

The Car Was Well Maintained

Rental cars are serviced regularly; above and beyond the schedule of a typical car that has been bought or leased. The larger rental companies, such as Hertz and Avis, often employ an army of mechanics to keep the cars in excellent working order. After all, it's a major hassle to deal with a car that has issues after a customer has driven it off the lot. And this means…no lemons. The chance of a lemon car making it through several years of constant rental is almost zero.

The Car Will Be Priced to Sell

Those ads that say "great car, one careful previous owner" obviously do not apply to rental cars. There have been dozens, if not hundreds, of drivers behind the wheel of the car. The rental company or dealership selling the car knows this. They have to tell you it was a rental car, and they know the reaction will be "Oh…that means it has been driven by so many people." Their defense is always "That's why we're giving it to you way below book." And even then, you have a great way to negotiate price. You know it's a car that has had many drivers, and that stands you in good stead. Ask for extras, a free extended warranty, or whatever else you want to sweeten the deal.

The Car Will Look Good Inside and Out

Rental companies and dealerships know the value of the walk around, and therefore, a bunch of dings, scrapes, and a set of bald tires will not help them move the vehicle off the lot. The company will make sure the imperfections and cosmetic issues are dealt with. Cars of a similar age being sold by a private seller will have more dings, scratches, and cosmetic flaws than an ex-rental car. The paint job will look good, the interior will be clean and smell fresh, and things like mats and carpets will be professionally cleaned, or even replaced.

The Car Won't Be That Old

Rental companies don't like having old models on the lot. People want to rent a new, reliable car, not some old junker. For that reason, the cars are swapped out regularly, and the older models are put up for sale. Often, you can get a great deal on a car that's only one or two years old, because the rental company wanted the newer model on the lot. Young cars are usually still in their typical three year/36,000 miles warranty, which will transfer to you (and some manufacturers go way beyond that). You may even find that the mileage is surprisingly low (although that's certainly not guaranteed).

The Car Was Originally Bought at a Discount

Rental companies don't buy a few cars here and there. They buy in bulk from the major manufacturers, and that means huge price breaks. These savings can then be passed on to you when it's time to sell the car. It's simple math. Their original cost of the car was lower than average, and therefore, the price you pay will be lower. They can afford to heavily discount the book price to move the car quickly without losing any profit.

The Car You Want Is Easy to Find

Whatever ex-rental model you're looking for, chances are you'll find it quickly. The big players like Hertz, Avis, and Enterprise have websites stocked with a massive inventory of former rental cars. Not only will you find it easy to find the make and model you're looking for, but probably even the color and options you prefer.

The Cons of Buying a Rental Car

So… you know the ups, but what about the downs? While buying a rental car is a prudent, frugal move, you have to be careful of the following issues.

The Car Has Been Driven Hard

Rental cars have had a lot of different drivers behind the wheel, and that means a lot of different driving styles. Guaranteed, they were not all excellent drivers who were easy on the brakes and treated the gearbox with respect. The number of different driving styles, including people who hammered the brakes, the shifter, and the clutch on manual cars, can take its toll and cause excessive wear and tear on the mechanical parts of the car. These issues may not show up when you buy it, but after a few months you could find parts failing due to the strain of these juxtaposing driving types.

The Car Was Not Loved

Rental cars are not owned in the same way as a lease or purchase. When someone buys a car, it's a lot of money, and it's an emotional purchase. Everything has to be right. When you get a rental car, you really don't care about it. As long as it's the right size, and runs well, you are fine. You'll be returning it in a few days anyway. So, things get spilled. Dings and dents happen more easily. Scrapes are common. While many of these will be caught, and repaired, before the car is sold, the detailing team may not be able to fix everything. Or, there may be a lot of unoriginal parts inside and outside the car.

The Car Probably Has High Mileage for Its Age

Some rental companies swap out cars for new models so often, the cars don't get a chance to be driven over the expected mileage. However, for many rental cars, the mileage goes way over the average, for obvious reasons. A car sitting in the lot is no good to a rental agency, so they do everything they can to make sure every car is used as often as possible. This means discounts, special offers, and coupons to bring in customers. The cars are often rented by people on vacation, and that means a lot of driving, sightseeing, and additional mileage. But, the good news is that cars are so well engineered these days, the additional mileage is not the problem it was 30 or 40 years ago.

The Car Is Being Bought "As Is"

No equipment upgrades. No extras. No frills. Everything you see is what you get, and if you want anything extra (from a roof rack to a tow bar) then you have to pay for it yourself after you buy the car. This is, of course, standard practice on any used car you buy, so it's not a specific drawback to buying a rental car. But still, just remember that when you shop for a used car, it already has the options (or not) that you'll be getting. No more, no less.

The Car May Have Been in an Accident

If the car is in a fender bender, or something more serious, it could all be taken care of outside of the insurance companies and reporting agencies. It can be cost prohibitive for the rental agency to file an insurance claim on smaller accidents, especially if they have a full fleet of expert mechanics ready to repair the damage. This means the accident may not show up on a Carfax report. So, be careful, and get an independent mechanic to check it out.

Have you purchased a rental car? Would you?

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