• Buying Guides

What is a Fleet Vehicle?

By Autolist Editorial | May 28, 2019

A fleet vehicle is a car, truck or SUV used by an organization, such as a company or government agency, instead of a private individual. Businesses looking to upgrade their fleets may sell their old cars to help fund new ones.

Many car rental companies resell their used fleet vehicles to save money, sometimes dedicating whole divisions to this purpose. If you're shopping for a used car and hear the term, "fleet vehicle", it's likely been a rental car.

What is a Fleet Vehicle, and What Role Does It Serve?

Any vehicle used for work counts as a fleet vehicle. Fleet vehicles are mainly used to transport people or goods, though branded ones can also serve as mobile advertisements. In addition to rental car companies, police departments, taxicab companies and public utility companies rely on vehicle fleets. Fleet managers use fleet management software to keep track of company cars, typically via GPS, and to communicate with them and time their arrivals and departures from the company premises. Governments and private mail companies rely on large networks of fleet delivery vans or motorbikes to deliver mail each day, and buses are often sold or leased to schools for transporting students to and from home. Although most fleet vehicles belong to the organizations that use them, some are privately owned or rented by employees. Owners of these "grey fleet" vehicles may get cash allowances or reimbursements for fuel expenses.

What Types of Fleet Vehicles Are There?

Some common fleet vehicles include cars, trucks, SUVs, trailers, buses, coaches, rickshaws, bicycles, trains and motorbikes. Farm vehicles, such as tractors and harvesters, and industrial vehicles, such as graders and loaders, also count as fleet vehicles, as do boats and aircraft. Space vehicles are a burgeoning category of fleet vehicles, and towable machines such as woodchippers sometimes qualify as fleet vehicles, too. Used rental cars are some of the most popular fleet cars on the road because rental agencies sell them to the public when replenishing their stock. Such vehicles typically have a lot of wear and tear, as rental agencies prefer to keep the cars in service for as long as possible, and renters can be careless with them.

Like former rental cars, used company vehicles are often sold to private buyers at a low cost. Unlike used rental cars, though, used company cars aren't as common on the road, because many companies — service and delivery ones, in particular — use their vehicles until they're close to breaking down and junk them instead of reselling them. Government fleet vehicles are a different story. When municipal governments in the U.S. want to get rid of used cars, they prefer to sell them at auctions, where they can get a good deal. Another popular type of fleet car is the program car — that is, a car that auto dealers use as a demo model. Dealers sometimes give program cars to managers as rewards for hard work. Also, auto manufacturers typically reserve a fleet of vehicles for test drives, though there are usually hard limits on when these can be sold. Finally, there are pool vehicles. These are fleet cars in which several members of an organization have an ownership stake.

How Are Fleet Vehicles Used?

To keep track of fleet vehicles, many organizations use fleet management software. This software records which members of the organization use each vehicle and when. In addition, the software alerts the organization when the car is due for maintenance, servicing or registration, and it keeps track of which drivers need to renew their licenses. Fleet management software often uses GPS and other telematics technology to provide fleet managers with a real-time map of each vehicle's location, allowing for faster and more precise communication between drivers and managers. Many organizations have private garages or parking lots where fleet vehicles are stored. Rest stations often have particular areas for fleet vehicles to park, and large fleet vehicles such as trucks or buses may require special licenses to drive.

Some fleet vehicles require significant legal oversight to use. For example, the Federal Aviation Administration certifies all personnel and aircraft in the U.S., while the Federal Railroad Administration oversees both passenger and freight railroad use in the country. Fleet management companies sell fleet vehicles to organizations directly, but many traditional auto dealers also have specialists who sell fleet cars. Like any vehicles, fleet vehicles can be leased, and fleet leasing companies typically offer bulk rates when leasing out their fleets and may even provide maintenance and repairs. Many fleet vehicles have signwriting or imagery to advertise the organization to which they belong, though some fleet vehicles, such as unmarked police cars, are indistinguishable from normal traffic. The U.S. moving company U-Haul is famous for its SuperGraphics: large, colorful images splashed across its fleet of moving trucks, usually featuring state-themed landscapes or animals. Historically, military aircraft have often displayed nose art to express each pilots' personality, and civilian airliners such as Virgin Group have adopted this practice for passenger planes.

How Do You Get a Fleet Vehicle?

If you want a fleet vehicle for your personal use, you can buy one from a rental car company, fleet vehicle auction or dealer that sells fleet cars, usually rental cars. To obtain a fleet vehicle for use in an organization, you can buy one from a fleet management company.

Some organizations sell their fleet cars directly. When purchasing a former fleet vehicle, it's always a good idea to get a vehicle history report on the vehicle from Carfax or a similar company to see its ownership, title status and accident history. These reports may not tell you everything, though, because many organizations service their fleets in-house, beyond the reach of vehicle history reporting agencies. You should also get the vehicle professionally inspected in case the organization replaced any parts with inferior substitutes.

Used fleet vehicles are often a cheap alternative to ordinary cars for organizations that can save money by buying or leasing fleet cars from fleet management companies in bulk. Fleet vehicles are significant assets of many organizations, from courier companies to police stations, and they come in every shape and size.

For individual used car buyers, fleet vehicles are typically rental cars and are often good deals since they are relatively newer and many times are manufacturer Certified Pre-Owned (see What Does CPO Mean?).