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Should You Consider Buying a Rental Car?
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Some people drive a rental car like they stole it. But buying a car from a rental company doesn’t have to be as risky as gas station sushi. While used rental cars will likely show some wear and tear, they received regular maintenance and cleanings, which could be more than other used cars can boast.
If you’re game, we’ll show you how you can buy a rental car with confidence.
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Pros and cons of buying a rental car
Like any used car purchase, buying a rental car is “buyer beware.” Major rental car companies, like Avis and Enterprise, have their own used-car lots so you can ask questions and go for a test drive. A used rental car may have been abused by some drivers. On the other hand, it’s a good way to get a relatively new car that’s been serviced and detailed by professionals.
Good cosmetic condition
Potential extra warranty
No-haggle buying process
More wear and tear
Lower resale value
Limited warranty options
Few luxury options
Benefits of buying a rental car
Low prices: Used rental cars may sell at or under market value. The rental car company has already profited from the car and is looking to unload an asset that will cost more to maintain as the miles roll up. Use online guides like NADAguides or Kelley Blue Book to research prices.
Well maintained: Rental car companies are required by law to fix any recalls before renting or selling their vehicles. The cars are typically well taken care of mechanically and cosmetically — regularly serviced and detailed by professionals — as the companies don’t want their renters to break down on the roadside or complain about mysterious stains.
Good cosmetic condition: The cars are inspected after each rental to identify and fix dents, dings and spills, so they’re generally in good shape. Due to COVID-19, rental cars also undergo extra cleaning and sanitization. If you want a top-notch used rental, look for one that’s been through a detail and certification process, kind of like a dealer’s certified pre-owned car program.
Extra warranty. While the car could have coverage left on the factory warranty, certified cars come with more coverage. This extra warranty typically covers the vehicle’s most expensive parts for an additional 12 months/12,000 miles from the time you buy it.
Newer models: Most rental car fleets are only a few years old, so you won’t be looking at cars your grandmother could have driven. Newer cars generally have a high level of standard equipment compared to older cars.
No-haggle buying process: Rental car companies, including Enterprise and Hertz, offer a fixed, no-haggle price. You don’t have to stress about negotiation. They may also make a no-haggle offer for your trade-in and provide a set menu of other add-ons you might want.
Drawbacks of buying a rental car
High-mileage cars: The average U.S. driver racks up 12,000-15,000 miles per year, but a rental car can double that distance in the same time. That means you could start seeing maintenance problems sooner than the average car.
More wear and tear: In addition to the car having higher mileage, some of its drivers likely treated it roughly. Not used to the car or the local roads, a slew of drivers may have accelerated hard and slammed the brakes throughout the rental period. Hard driving can wear out a car faster than the mileage would reflect.
Lower resale value: A rental car can be a great buy if you plan to hold on to it. But the high mileage and stigma of being a rental car could lower the market value if you plan to resell it or trade it in soon.
Limited warranty options: Depending on the age and mileage, some of the car’s original powertrain warranty may remain, but the car’s bumper-to-bumper warranty is probably used up. To compensate, the seller may offer an additional limited warranty or offer a return policy. Here’s how to find the best extended car warranty.
Limited inventory: Car rental companies tend to buy popular, reliable models in bulk. You may not be able to find a specific trim package or rare color in the rental car sales inventory.
Few luxury options: If you’re shopping for cheap luxury, you may not find it on the used rental car lot. While some rental car companies have a few high-end models, the more common rentals are lower-end with cloth seats and fewer amenities. But even lower-end cars may have driver assist and safety features as well as infotainment upgrades like Bluetooth connectivity and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.
Things to do before buying a rental car
As in any car-buying process, you should do your research on the car and your auto loan options.
Get preapproved for an auto loan
Before you go shopping, get preapproved for your auto loan with a bank, a credit union or an online lender. You’ll know how much you can borrow and what your payment and APR will likely be so you’re not scratching your head, wondering about finances as you walk around the car lot. By visiting LendingTree’s auto loan marketplace, you may receive up to five loan offers.
Take it for a test drive
Get behind the wheel and put it through some real-life driving tests. Get it up to highway speeds at least once during the test drive. You may feel or hear things at 65 mph that aren’t apparent at 35 mph. Make sure the car accelerates quickly and stops quietly.
Review the vehicle history report
The vehicle history report (VHR) will have a record of major accidents, previous sales and maintenance records. It should confirm that the car was in a rental fleet and disclose any unfixed recalls. The rental car company may offer a vehicle history report (VHR) for free, or you can buy one from CarFax, AutoCheck or the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System.
Get an inspection from a trusted mechanic
If you have any misgivings or want to be extra careful, have an independent mechanic look the car over. They can identify early warning signs of problems that could become expensive down the road.
Where to buy a rental car
Avis, Enterprise and Hertz have their own dealer-like outlets to sell rental cars after they are taken out of service. You can test drive the car you’d like to buy and even rent it for a trial period — up to three days at Hertz.
Regular dealerships also sell used rental cars, but beware that these might not be the cream of the crop. Rental companies select the cars in the best shape for their own lots and send the rest to wholesale auctions for other dealers to buy and sell.
These cars might be listed as “program cars” to hide their origin. If you’re considering one, take extra care to make sure the car is in good condition and strongly consider getting a used car inspection by a trusted mechanic before you buy.
Frequently asked questions
Used rental cars are sold at competitive prices because they tend to have higher mileage and more wear and tear than other cars of the same model year. Also, rental companies have already made a profit from the vehicles.
Rental car companies keep their cars for one to three years, or up to 50,00 to 70,000 miles.
Car rental companies tend to have no-haggle pricing on their lots, but you could negotiate the price with another type of auto dealership.