Buying a former rental car can be a good way to save money on a used car
But rental cars may not have been treated well by some of the drivers who have used them over the years
It’s important to take a used rental car to a professional mechanic for a thorough inspection before you make a permanent decision
When you’re shopping for a vehicle, buying used is often a smart route — you aren’t paying a premium for your car just because it’s never been driven, you can usually get a one- or two-year-old model for significantly less than the cost of a brand new version, and you still get the updated safety features and tech. But what about buying a former rental car, sometimes called a fleet vehicle?
When you’re shopping for used cars you’ll notice that some of the used car stock available are former rental cars. You can buy a used rental car directly from a rental company — major car rental agencies like Enterprise, Avis and Hertz all have car sales arms that offer financing, just like a traditional car dealership. You may also see former rental cars for sale through other types of used car sales platforms.
Buying an ex-rental can often save you money — a used fleet vehicle will sell for less than another used car of the same make, model and year. But what are the trade-offs, and can buying a former rental car affect your car insurance rates?
Purchasing a former rental car is an attractive option for used car shoppers, but before you sign anything, it’s important to weigh the good and the bad of used rental cars.
The most obvious benefit to buying a used rental car is the price. You’ll be able to save money as compared with a different used car, which is the main reason car shoppers consider buying a used fleet car in the first place. And because the car was used as a rental, it’s had to have a certain level of upkeep, including regular interior cleaning, on-time oil changes and inspections.
Rental car companies are also required to deal with any recalls, so if the car has ever had a recall, the agency has taken it in for a fix. Rental car agencies also tend to turn over their supply fairly quickly, because they want to be able to offer relatively new cars, which means you can find used cars that are only one or two model years behind the latest iteration. That means they may also still have a manufacturer’s warranty on them.
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A commonly repeated drawback to buying a rental car is that you don’t know how it was driven, and the drivers who rented it over time may have treated it poorly. Someone who used it for a weekend and then handed back the keys may have been less cautious with the car, or have used the wrong fuel, or taken it off-roading. Renters may also have been less concerned about keeping the interior free of spills or messes than a regular car owner.
And since the rental car didn’t have the same person driving it day after day, if anything changed in the car’s performance or small issues came up, new renters might not have noticed and reported them. Rental cars usually don’t come in higher-end trims, so if you want a car loaded with extra features, you probably won’t find that in a fleet vehicle.
The best way to offset the drawbacks of buying a rental car is to make sure to have it thoroughly inspected by a mechanic. Most rental agencies that sell cars will give you a short period of time during which you can return it, so make sure to take it to a professional mechanic for an inspection during that period.
You should also test drive the car, checking for any issues or damage, before you purchase it. Look around the interior for stains or wear and tear, and ask for a vehicle history report so you can see if it’s been in any accidents. These are important steps when buying any used car.
As with buying a car from a regular dealership, if you’re purchasing a used rental car directly from the agency, you have options when it comes to how you’ll purchase it.
Pay in cash. If you have the cash on hand to make a big purchase all at once, this can save you a lot of money in the long term. Paying for a used rental car in cash means you won’t make ongoing payments, and you won’t have to pay any interest. Just make sure you’ve got enough savings to cover any unexpected costs that might come up, like repairs you weren’t planning for.
Finance through the rental car company. Like other dealerships, rental car companies offer in-house financing, meaning you are taking out the loan through them. This offers you the convenience of a one-stop-shop: you get your car and your car loan all in the same place, streamlining the stressful car-buying process. Just make sure to compare the loan the rental car agency is offering with offers from other institutions.
Finance through a bank or credit union. You can also take out a car loan through a bank or credit union. If you go through a financial institution where you’re already a customer, your existing relationship may help you secure a better rate. This option also allows you to shop around more, and compare options to make sure you’re choosing the best loan terms.
The good news is that whether or not your used vehicle was a rental car probably won’t have any bearing on your insurance rates. Your insurance premium is calculated based on a number of factors, including your address, age, credit score, and driving history. The make and model of your car, and whether it has certain safety features, will matter much more when calculating your rates than its history as a fleet vehicle.