Should I Buy a Rental Car?
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Should I Buy a Rental Car?

By Michael O'Connor | September 12, 2021

Buying a used car can be a difficult process if you don’t know what to look for. There are many factors at play and things that you need to know to ensure you get a good deal. If you aren’t quite sure where to start, it can be very overwhelming. This is why many people are wary of used car sales in the first place, especially on a budget.

Buying a used rental car can be a great way to save some money and get some peace of mind. Knowing the pros and cons as well as what to expect can help make the process a little bit easier.

Where to Buy a Rental Car

Rental car companies regularly sell some of their inventory every year. This allows them to make more room for new models and keep their fleets contemporary. Most people rent cars for vacations or road trips. Because of this, they are more interested in new vehicles instead of cars that are even just a year old. This means that rental companies sell off late-model cars including Kia, Nissan, Hyundai, Toyota, and Ford.

Most rental car companies like Hertz, Avis, and Enterprise will have their inventories for sale online. Some of them even sell cars to dealerships or auction houses. Many people have more than likely bought rental cars without even knowing it. Purchasing a rental car direct from the company cuts out the middleman and saves money along the way. Some rental companies will even deliver cars to you if you purchase from them directly. Many car rental companies also offer financing options if you aren’t looking to pay cash. However, shopping around for lenders is always a good idea no matter where you are buying.

Pros of Buying a Rental Car:

When thinking about a used rental car, knowing what some of the benefits are can help you decide. There are quite a few advantages to this method of buying a vehicle. By considering them all, you can decide whether it is a good choice for you.

Lower Prices
One of the ways rental companies save money when purchasing fleets is by buying in bulk. This lowers the price of each vehicle significantly. When you purchase a used rental car, you get to take advantage of that lower overhead. On top of that, rental companies are highly motivated to sell their cars. This will allow you to buy a relatively new car for far less than the Kelley Blue Book Value. You also get no-haggle pricing which can be a major source of anxiety for some.

Up-to-Date Maintenance
For rental companies to keep their cars in good shape, they must be consistently maintained. Many companies have their own staff on-site that is in charge of vehicle maintenance. You can be certain that a used car from a rental company will be up-to-date on service. Oil and fluid changes, spark plugs, and other important upkeep are an important part of a rental company’s business. Purchasing a used car from an individual doesn’t come with that same assurance.

Newer Models
Most rental companies sell off parts of their fleets every one to two years. It would be exceptionally rare to find a rental car for sale that is more than four years old. This means that you can get new vehicles for a price similar to that of older ones. If it is important to get some of the latest safety features at lower prices, this could be a good option.

Higher-End Features
If you are shopping for a used car on a budget, you might think that you’ll have to sacrifice some convenience. Bluetooth connectivity, infotainment systems, and driver-assist features won’t come with older models. This is especially true with used cars that are at lower prices. However, because rental companies sell newer models, these features will be more common. There is no reason to not get the safety and comfort you want just because you want to spend less.

One of the major benefits of buying a used rental car is that many of them will still be under warranty. A limited powertrain warranty will usually be for at least three years when a car is new. Many rental companies sell part of their rental fleet every year. This means you could be getting a car that is still under factory warranty, which is a very desirable feature. It can give you some peace of mind knowing your new used car is still covered by the manufacturer.

Test Drives
One of the main perks of buying a former rental car is that you can take long test drives. Often, for a small rental fee, you can take a car you are interested in home for multiple days. This will allow you to get a feel for the vehicle and if it will suit your needs in the long run. Most used car dealers will only allow a potential buyer to take a car for a short drive. Having this long test period can help you make the best decision on a car purchase.

Cons of Buying a Rental Car:

While there are a lot of advantages to buying a former rental car, there are some downsides. As with any large purchase, having as much information as possible is key. Knowing what the potential drawbacks are is crucial for making an informed decision.

High Mileage
Any former rental car is going to have higher mileage than a used car that was owned by an individual. Rental cars are used for road trips and vacations where more driving is done in a shorter time. They are also used in situations where there is a lot of stop-and-start type of driving. This can not only put more mileage on the vehicle, but it can also be higher impact mileage as well.

Less Variety
Most rental companies are going to want a consistent fleet that is easy to maintain and reliable. While this can be a positive thing, it also means you have fewer choices when the time comes to buy. If you are in the market for a specific feature or color, a rental company might not have it available. There is also no ability to customize with different colors or trim options. Whatever the company has for sale is what is available. This might not be ideal for pickier buyers.

Low Resale Value
While every car loses some value after it changes owners, former rental cars may lose even more. This is because they tend to have higher mileage than traditionally purchased used cars. Some buyers may also be uncomfortable with purchasing a former rental car. The reputation of rental cars being heavily used and poorly maintained is, unfortunately, very prominent. If you don’t plan on being the last owner of your vehicle, a former rental may not be the best option.

Unknown History
There are all kinds of factors involved with how long a vehicle lasts. Certain specific driving habits can put more wear and tear on a car than others. When purchasing from a rental company, you can’t be certain how the car was treated by everyone who rented it. Buying from an individual makes it easier to assess what kind of a driver they are. With such a wide variety of former drivers, it’s hard to make that call.

What to Look for in a Used Rental Car

There will always be some guesswork when it comes to purchasing a used car. This will be true with buying from a rental company as well. However, there are things you can look for to help you decide if you're getting a good deal.

Low Mileage
Always check the odometer of any used car you are thinking of buying. This is especially important when buying a former rental vehicle. People put a lot of miles on rental cars and this can have adverse effects on their overall quality. Many rental cars can have up to 50,000 miles on them after just two years. This is a lot of extra wear and tear that could lead to problems down the road.

Minimal Damage
Take a good look at any former rental car you are considering purchasing. Take note of any physical damage you can see on the outside. No matter how minimal it might be, it could have a bigger impact than you would think.

Check the body panels and roof for any dents or scratches. Also, be sure to check for rust or paint that has blistered. Make sure that the vehicle is sitting level on the ground. This will give you an idea of what kind of shape the suspension is in. Give the tires a thorough inspection as well to ensure that the wear on the tread is even and reasonable.

Clean Accident History
One of the main reasons you should inspect a car for damage is to determine its accident history. A small dent could be leftover from a larger collision, so it’s important to know about it. Even small collisions can have long-term consequences down the line. Ask the rental company if there have been any accidents or incidents with the vehicle before you buy.

What to Do Before Buying a Rental Car

Before you agree to purchase a used car from a rental company, there are some things you should do. Protecting yourself and your new car purchase is incredibly important and you should do everything you can to be cautious. Taking the proper steps before you drive off the car lot can save a lot of trouble later on.

Have Financing Lined Up
Before you start looking at used cars, have a car loan ready to go. If you have a good credit score, being pre-approved for a loan can set parameters for what you can afford. It can also help narrow down the search, which is helpful in any car shopping experience. This also gives you some time to shop around and get the best possible financing for a new car. There will be less pressure to move quickly if you know you have all the financials taken care of.

Have the Vehicle Inspected
A trusted mechanic is an asset for any car owner or potential car owner. Having someone you can trust who is knowledgeable about the specifics of automobile repair can be incredibly helpful. That way, you know you are getting the best possible information about a specific vehicle and the shape it’s in.

Have a mechanic you trust look over any used car you are considering purchasing. This is an instance where the long test drive periods of a rental agency come in handy. You get more time to take a look at the vehicle and make sure it’s in good enough condition to purchase.

Request Maintenance Documentation
Many rental companies keep detailed documentation when it comes to vehicle maintenance. This helps them keep track of how a car is kept up and what kind of shape it is in. Before you buy a rental car, request that documentation so you can make sure it has been kept up over the years.

Get a Vehicle History Report
Get the VIN for any used vehicle that you are considering purchasing. Then, get a vehicle history report from a company like Carfax. This will allow you to see the complete history of the car and what kind of issues it may have had. It will tell you if the car has been involved in any accidents or if there have been emissions or registration issues. Most rental companies and car dealerships will offer this report for free.

Final Thoughts

The process of buying a car from a rental company is similar to any other car buying experience. The only real difference is the price and the use of the cars before they went up for sale. Make sure you do as much research as you can before you buy any kind of used car. Being as prepared as possible will help you find the best car for you and your needs. It will also ensure that you end up with a vehicle that will serve you for many years to come.