If you’re in need of a new vehicle but you find your budget severely limited, you might not be happy with what you’ll find in the new or used car market. Car dealerships were hit fairly hard by the recession, and although they are willing to do a lot to secure your business, they certainly won’t eat into their profit to do so. The used car market can be tricky as well. Either you have to jump through financial hoops to get one of those certified pre-owned models, or you’re buying from a private party and you really don’t know what you’re getting. Many people have considered buying a used rental car as a decent alternative. Ask around and you’ll see everything from major praise for this approach to endless horror stories detailing exactly why this is a terrible idea. The reality is probably somewhere in between. Here are some of the pros and cons of purchasing a rental car.
First of all, you’ll know that the manufacturer’s maintenance plan has been followed to the letter. People are often lazy when it comes to taking care of their vehicles, and unless the private party trying to sell you a vehicle can furnish you with the entire maintenance record from the time they’ve owned the car, you won’t know for sure that it’s been properly cared for. Rental companies have strict standards, especially since they must make sure their customers are safe. So you can rest easy that you won’t be getting a lemon.
The best thing about this option is the pricing. You’ll always be able to purchase a used rental car for well below blue book value. It may not have the lowest mileage in the world, but it will generally only be a couple of years old and sell for far less than you would have found it anywhere else. Check out the pricing for the model you have in mind that’s listed in Kelly Blue Book. Then go to the rental car company, and rest assured they will beat that price by a good amount.
You’ll also have some added warranty protection. If you buy from a private party, chances are the original warranty has expired or won’t be included unless you pay for it. The rental agency will always include whatever is left of the manufacturer’s warranty, and will even give you a trial period to test drive the vehicle before agreeing to the sale. They might even add on their own limited warranty, helping you avoid getting stuck with expensive repairs on a lemon.
This all sounds fantastic, but not everything about purchasing a rental car is rosy. While the agency will have maintained the car up to the manufacturer’s standards, they’ll have no idea how the car has been treated by drivers. Most people push their rental cars extremely hard, and do things in them they would never do in a vehicle they own. That means it may have more wear and tear than other used cars of the same age and mileage.
In addition you’ll have a very limited group of cars to choose from. Most rental agencies feature a single make of vehicle, and limited models. And those tend to come in the most basic trims. The interiors will be on the low end, and you probably won’t find many of the flashy bells and whistles you would desire, such as a sunroof or a premium sound system. And whether you’re checking out a rental car in Portugal or Portland, you’ll find all sorts of physical faults. This is partially because drivers don’t take care of the vehicles, and partially because they are driven in all sorts of intense conditions. But you can expect plenty of dents, dings and scratches, not to mention stained carpets and seat upholstery. This might not matter to you, or they could easily buff out or look much better after a detailing job. But if you want a flashy, perfect vehicle to show off to your friends, you won’t find it on the rental lot.