Buying a Rental Car: Benefits and Drawbacks

Cole Mayer  | 

Buying a rental car is not too different from buying a used car from a dealer. While you probably won’t have the chance to negotiate a price, you are still likely to get a good deal. Former rental cars are typically sold at auctions to both the public and to dealerships. Major car rental companies like Hertz, Avis, and Enterprise have car sales divisions. You may even be looking at a former rental at the used dealership lot without knowing it. But is a buying a rental a good deal?

Why Rental Companies Sell Cars

Rental companies sell their cars to replace their fleet. They tend to want to keep newer cars to appeal to customers; after all, who wants to rent a 5-year-old car? The cars Enterprise sells, for example, average about 12 months in the fleet before being sold. Many of the cars listed for sale are between 30,000 and 50,000 miles. For any given rental company, the cars will be between a year and 18 months old. If they are no longer fleet-worthy, then they are sold off.

Pros of Buying a Former Rental Car

Detailed Maintenance and Accident History

One of the first major pros of buying a rental car is the detailed maintenance. Rental companies keep working cars in top shape — otherwise people would not want to rent them. They usually have extensive maintenance records by expert mechanics, either in-house or through a dealership. This is also due to the fact that, as a rental car, it will face more wear and tear than the average car.

Because of this, there may be more surface damage. Scratches and dings are not uncommon, but the car itself will still run fine. Rental companies stick to strict maintenance schedules, and will often do a multipoint inspection before taking the car to the market. This means they go through more maintenance than most private vehicles.

Lower Prices

Rental companies are just trying to get rid of cars so they can upgrade. They are not interested in maximizing profit from a sale — they make their money through renting, not selling. This means you, as the buyer, are probably going to get a good deal. Still, you should compare the price using Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds. Hertz, for example, aims to beat the KBB price, often by thousands of dollars. Because they are selling to customers directly, instead of going to auction, they keep the overhead costs down, which in turn saves you money.

As another bonus, most rental companies will include a warranty with the price. It’s usually a smaller warranty than the manufacturer’s warranty, if the manufacturer’s warranty is not extended to you. Hertz, for example, offers a 12 month/12,000 mile warranty, while Avis has the factory warranty and offers extended warranties. If you took advantage of their test drive program, however, Avis also offers a 12 month/12,000 mile warranty plus a year of roadside assistance.

Less Negotiation

Rental companies don’t generally haggle. They offer a single price, which is normally a good deal, and you take it or leave it. While it doesn’t give leeway for haggling, it does make for a less stressful experience.

Longer Test Drives

When you go to a dealership, chances are you’ll have a 15-minute test drive around the block, possibly on a nearby highway. Rental companies, however, have a potential for three days of test driving. Each differs; one might charge you a rental fee for three days, but refund it if you buy, while another might just charge by the day. Think of it like a short-term rental. You may also be able to take the car for a spin for two hours free of charge with some companies.

During this time, you can take it to a trusted mechanic for another opinion. Aside from a expert opinion, you can also have friends and family test drive the car and get their opinions.

Cons of Buying a Former Rental Car

Many Former Drivers

Remember the pro of lots of maintenance? That’s because there will have been quite a few drivers, all with different driving styles. The cars take a disproportionate amount of wear and tear compared to non-rental cars. A person with a proverbial lead foot might work the gas pedal hard one week, while the next has an easygoing, Sunday driver pattern. Cumulatively, the car’s parts wear more.

To combat this, Edmunds has a list of points to check when buying a used car, such as acceleration, braking, and suspension.

Minor Damage

Renters generally don’t take as good of care cars than they would their own, personal car. If the car gets a scratch or ding, so what? They don’t have an emotional investment that come with actually paying for the car, so you might face dents, dings, and minor wear and tear both inside and outside. Most of this doesn’t affect performance, but doesn’t help aesthetics. Rental companies might do superficial repairs if it does not affect the performance of the car, and their detailers do as best a job as they can, but they do sometimes miss small scratches and such.

Because they have in-house insurance, too, some accidents may not have a recorded claim. This is why it’s important to have your own mechanic inspect the car before you decide to buy.

More Miles Than Other Used Cars

People buy cars, but that doesn’t mean they use them 24/7. You might spend a weekend in. You might use a spouse’s car. You might make a short daily commute, but otherwise not get out much. Rental cars, on the other hand, are rented to drive. It might be around a city, or it might be for a longer work or road trip. This means used cars of a similar age often have fewer miles than their rental counterparts. This, of course, usually translates to lower prices on used rental cars.

Limited Inventory

Dealerships try to carry newer models, so selection is slim compared to general used car lots. You are only likely to find models from the past few years, rather than the potential for a 10-year-old cheap car in a regular lot.

The cars themselves tend to be light on the upgrades. You can, of course, find a few different levels of trimmings on offered cars, but the selection won’t be as wide. If you are looking for upgraded speakers, for instance, you might be out of luck.

Should you buy a used rental car? If you are satisfied with a vehicle that has more miles and wear and tear than a similar non-rental car, but at a better-than-average price, then yes. If you prefer a car that hasn’t been in constant use, it might be better to look for regular used cars, or go with a new car.


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A former newspaper journalist, Cole spends his free time reading, writing, playing video games, watching movies, and learning about every subject under the sun. He lives with his wife and daughter in Idaho. Follow Cole on Twitter: @ColeMayer42

This post was updated July 11, 2018. It was originally published July 11, 2018.