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Updated on Wednesday, February 20, 2019
Rental cars are usually newer cars with nice features for low prices, so what’s the catch to buying one?
Used cars that were previously rentals probably racked up lots of miles relative to their age, carry the wear and tear of different driving styles and may come in a limited number of colors or styles. We’ll help you decide if such a deal is worth the possible trade-offs.
Pros of buying a rental car
Though there are other places to shop, Enterprise, Hertz and Avis have the largest rental car fleets in the U.S., and each has its own outlet to sell used rental cars after they’ve outlived their rental service age. You’ll find a wide variety of vehicles — but not every vehicle — on these sites.
Here are five benefits to cars you may find:
Price. Former rental vehicles usually have a significantly discounted price, as much as $1,000 or more below other used car prices.
Maintenance. The vehicle was maintained, on schedule, by professional mechanics. Not by a sleep-deprived parent changing his own oil in the garage a year after he supposed to with the wrong type of oil to boot.
Maintenance history. Because the vehicle was professionally maintained, there should be a thorough maintenance record you can see.
Cosmetic condition. Part of the necessary maintenance of a rental car is cleaning it. The car should be in good cosmetic condition, inside and out; rental cars are commonly washed and detailed by car detail professionals.
No price haggling. If you buy a used rental car from a rental car sales outlet, you may not have to negotiate on price. Many such places don’t allow for price negotiation. Rather than potentially set an inflated price with the expectation of a staunch negotiation session, many rental car sales outlets set a nonnegotiable price that they consider reasonable. Like haggling? That’s why no haggling could be a con, too. See below.
Cons of buying a rental car
Former rental vehicles aren’t necessarily all good; they have their share of negative aspects. Here are the most common ones you should consider.
Wear and tear. Rental cars are usually driven a lot during a relatively short amount of time. The more miles driven, the more worn everything will be, from the tires to the radio buttons.
Potential repairs. Due to wear and tear from lots of mileage, things may need to be replaced or fixed sooner rather than later. Repairs and/or replacements may be needed earlier than one would expect based solely on the age of the vehicle.
Limited warranty. Rental cars may have no or little manufacturer warranty left. Most “bumper-to-bumper” warranties are good for three years, 36,000 miles and powertrain warranties for five years, 60,000 miles. If the car is older or has more miles, the bill for any needed repairs will come out of your pocket and buying an extra extended warranty can be expensive and tricky. Warranty companies don’t always have stellar reputations. If you are interested in one, however, read this extended car warranty guide on LendingTree. Note, LendingTree is our parent company.
Lower resale value. When and if you sell or trade in your used rental, it may be worth less than the same type of vehicle that was not a rental car. This may not be a terrible drawback however, given you probably paid less for it in the first place.
Limited inventory at dealerships. If you don’t live near a rental car sales outlet, you may find few rental cars available for sale at regular dealerships.
Is buying a rental car right for you?
If you are looking for a recent used car for a low price, buying a former rental car may be bull’s eye for you. But if all the cons have you thinking otherwise, here are some alternatives.
Buy a regular used car. You might be able to get a great deal on a regular used car. Here’s what to look for when shopping for a used car. If no haggling sounded appealing, there are sites where you can shop for — and buy — a car completely online.
Buy a (cheap) new car. If you think new car prices are out of your price range, you could be looking at the wrong new cars. Dealers often steer buyers to the highest trim levels of a vehicle (aka the most expensive). Ask to see a model with the base trim. The price difference between the highest trim level and the lowest trim level of the same car model can be around $10,000.
- What is a trim level? A vehicle trim accounts for the amount of, or lack of, upgrades on a model. For example, the lowest trim level may have cloth seating and windows you roll up by hand. The highest trim level may have leather seating and a panoramic, power-sliding, glass moonroof.
Lease a new car. Leasing could allow you to have a new car with a low payment. It provides a lower monthly payment than financing a vehicle in order to purchase it. You can check out this article for more on whether you should lease a car.
What to watch out for when buying a rental car
The main things to watch out for when buying a rental car are signs of excess wear and tear on expensive things like the car’s suspension, brake lines and more. As it may be difficult for the common car buyer to know what and where to check for these things, we highly recommend that you have an independent mechanic inspect the rental car you plan to buy.
Independent mechanics may charge $100 for the service, but it’s a small dent in the savings you could see from buying a high-quality used rental car. On the flip side, it’s a small price to pay for saving yourself the much larger repair bills to fix a poor-quality rental car.