• Buying Guides

Should I Buy a Rental Car?

By Autolist Staff | March 12, 2019

They look good and are fun to drive while you are on vacation, but do rental cars make a good buy? Car rental companies such as Enterprise, Hertz, Avis and others regularly sell their rental vehicles and even offer financing and limited guarantees. They also offer a choice of popular makes and models including Kia, Nissan, Hyundai, Toyota, and Ford.

However, because of the harsh way they are used by indifferent drivers, many people question whether a used rental car is worth your money. Here are some pros and cons of buying a rental car as well as what to look for in one.

Pros of Buying a Rental Car

There are several advantages to buying a used rental car that make them an attractive choice if you are car buying on a budget.

Lower Prices
Rental companies purchase their vehicles in large quantities and get a bulk discount from the manufacturer. Car-rental companies are motivated to sell in order to make room for new vehicles on their car lot. Many of these vehicles are at or below Kelley Blue Book value with no-haggle pricing.

Well Maintained
Many car rental agencies have their own mechanics who frequently examine the car closely, especially if there has been a customer complaint. It is essential to them that the customer gets a car in good condition rather than having it break down after leaving the lot.

Newer Models
It is rare to find a car more than a year or two old at a rental car agency; most rental agencies get rid of their cars before they are four years old. Therefore, if you purchase a used rental car, you will likely have a newer model with the most modern safety features.

Excellent Features
While many rental cars have only come in basic trim levels, some have comfort items such as power steering, automatic transmission, and power windows. This is because their customers expect their rentals to have features, especially in higher-end vehicles.

Warranties
Since rental cars tend to be younger, they are often still under the manufacturer's bumper-to-bumper and powertrain warranty, depending on the make. In addition to the manufacturer's warranty, the rental agency itself may offer its own warranty when it sells the vehicle.

Long Test Drives
If you are buying directly from the rental company, then you may be allowed to take an extended, multi-day test drive, rather than the short drive that other used car dealers offer. You may be asked to pay a rental fee, for this time period, however.

Cons of Buying a Rental Car

There are some downsides to buying a used rental car and these are mostly because of the nature of their use.

Heavy Usage
Most rental cars have had multiple drivers at all driving levels; some drivers are rougher than others. Many people don't treat a rental car as nicely as they would their own car. This wear and tear can add up, regardless of whether or not the car has been well maintained during that time.

High Mileage
Rental cars tend to have much higher mileage and more wear and tear for their age than privately owned cars. It's not unusual to see a former rental car have as much as 50,000 miles at just two years old.

Lack of Choice
If you are looking for a specific model with specific features, then you may not find it with a used rental car. In addition, you have to take the car as it is with no upgrades or ability to customize.

Lower Resale Value
Unfortunately, used rental cars have a lower resale or trade-in value than other used vehicles. This is partially due to their high mileage and the reputation of rental cars being heavily and poorly used even if you kept up on your car's maintenance during your ownership.

What to Look for in a Used Rental Car

If you have decided to check out the used rental car market, then you should look for the following features.

Low Miles
Try to choose a car with as low mileage as possible to reduce the chance of your car having abnormal wear or abuse. If possible, limit your search to cars that are less than a year old.

Minimal Damage
Avoid buying a car with large, visible dents or excessive scratches as these might be a sign of hidden or unreported damage. Also check (or have a mechanic check) the body panels to make sure no unreported repairs have been made to them, indicating an accident that was never reported.

No Serious Accidents
Ask for a copy of the car's vehicle history report to check for any serious accidents or other red flags. Since rental cars are often taken to different states when they're auctioned off, try to track down its former locations to rule out things like flood damage.

Good Maintenance
Be sure to check out the car or have the car checked out by a mechanic to make sure that all the required maintenance has been performed. Ask the agency or seller for its service history, if possible.

What You Should Avoid in a Used Rental Car

There are certain features you should avoid or at least thoroughly examine when you are checking out a former rental car. As with any used car purchase, have a mechanic check out any potential purchase and use services such as Carfax or Autocheck to learn about the vehicle's history.

Excessive Mileage
High mileage is expected, but avoid cars with what seems to be excessive miles. Try to aim for a car with low enough miles to still be under the manufacturer's warranty so it has plenty of trouble-free life ahead of it.

Poor Accident History
Do not buy any car that has had a serious accident in which the frame has been bent or the car has been exposed to flooding (though these vehicles usually have salvage titles). In both these situations, it may mean serious problems in the future.

Final thoughts

The process of buying a former rental car is no different than buying any other used car when it comes to financing, trade-in, and warranties even when you buy directly from the rental agency. Make sure you do your research before purchasing a used rental car or any other used car. Buying a rental car is not for everyone, but if you are willing to overlook a few things, you could end up with a bargain that will last for years.