Are You Buying Trouble if You Buy a Rental Car?

They're Light on Options But Well Maintained and Often Under Warranty


Mention that you are thinking of buying a former rental car and the response is predictable: Rental cars have been abused and you'd be crazy to buy one. But should you really steer clear of these vehicles? Or could a former rental car be solid, dependable transportation?

The life of a rental vehicle is a tough one: It's driven by many people and for more miles than average. After about a year of service, the rental company will typically pull the vehicle out of the fleet and sell it as a used car. In this "second life," a former rental vehicle can make for a compelling used car value — if you're willing to accept a few trade-offs.

The oft-cited abuse of rental cars might be true in a few cases. But there are other factors that offset that argument. Rental companies maintain their cars well and closely follow the service schedules. And because the rental car agencies buy vehicles in volume and pay less up front, their resale prices can be lower.

We've researched the pros and cons of buying a rental vehicle, along with a list of things to do before buying a rental.

PROS:

— A way to save: Rental companies purchase their vehicles in volume and at a discounted rate. In turn, they are able to sell them at lower prices than a traditional dealership would. On average, the discounts could be 10% or more depending on the vehicle.

— Newer vehicle for less money: It is not uncommon to find 1- to 2-year-old vehicles, which could potentially get you the latest body style or safety features. These vehicles would cost thousands more at a franchise dealership's used car lot.

— Convenient sale process: Avis, Enterprise and Hertz offer no-haggle pricing. Avis and Hertz also offer free two-hour test drives or a three-day "rent to buy" program, where you pay a daily rental fee (at a reduced rate, in the case of Hertz). The companies refund the rental fee if you buy. To alleviate buyer's remorse, Enterprise and Hertz also have seven-day return policies.

— Well-maintained vehicles: Rental agencies are diligent about maintaining their vehicles. All the scheduled maintenance is performed at the manufacturer-recommended intervals.

— Limited warranty: Most major rental companies will give buyers a 12-month or 12,000-mile limited powertrain warranty. This coverage is more than you'd get at an independent used car lot, where most of the vehicles are sold as-is. At either place, you will inherit any remaining balance on the vehicle's factory warranty.

CONS:

— Uncertain history: It's difficult to determine how hard a rental car was driven. While some people might be careful with a rental, others may drive the vehicle more aggressively since it isn't theirs.

— Higher-mileage inventory: The average miles driven per year in the U.S. is about 14,000. But you'll easily find vehicles in a rental fleet with double or triple that number of miles.

— Potential to be out of warranty: Because of the higher mileage, you might find that the vehicle is past its factory warranty coverage. Any repairs required will likely have to be paid out of pocket.

— Lightly optioned cars: Don't expect to see top-of-the-line vehicles with a ton of upscale options. Rental companies usually buy base models due to the lower price and simplicity of ordering, so luxury features and advanced safety equipment might be hard to find.

Here's a list of key things to do before purchasing a rental car:

  • Test-drive the car and listen for any unusual noises. Look for any signs of body damage and interior wear and tear. Check the interior for any wear on the seats or stains on the carpeting.

  • Ask for a vehicle history report from the rental car company, or buy one yourself.

  • Check on recalls. Since June 2016, rental car companies have been required to fix any recalled cars in their fleets. The vehicle history report should show whether there are any outstanding recalls, but it doesn't hurt to check yourself by running the vehicle identification number (VIN) through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's free recall site. If there turns out to be an outstanding recall, you can ask the seller to get the car fixed or move on to another vehicle.

  • Get a prepurchase inspection for added peace of mind. An inspection will reveal any hidden problems and let you make an informed choice about buying.

EDMUNDS SAYS: Consider shopping at a rental car lot the next time you're in need of a good used car. The streamlined sales process and lower prices may be enough to offset the downsides of high mileage and history of many drivers.