Road Trips for Two

With dozens of YouTube videos depicting gratuitous abuse of rental cars, it's not surprising that many consumers shy away from buying one. But talk to a few people who have bought a former rental car and you'll get a very different picture.

Kristen Reeves of Lowell, Massachusetts, for example, initially had her doubts about buying a rental car when she shopped for a vehicle last summer and found a 2007 Ford Explorer with only 5,000 miles. "I asked the Ford dealer to provide a vehicle history report," Reeves recalls, "and it said it had been a rental car. I have to admit that at first I thought, 'What has this vehicle been through?' It didn't scare me off," she admits, "but it did make me think twice."

She bought the Explorer and now describes it as "fantastic." "I can't complain about anything," Reeves reports. "I haven't had any issues whatsoever. And the Ford dealership has stood by it and they fully honor the warranty."

Check It Out
Like everyone contacted for this article who had bought a rental car, Reeves is extremely happy with her vehicle. But she also emphasizes the importance of due diligence with any such large purchase. "I looked it over from top to bottom," she says, "and I was able to test drive it for a day."

Treat a rental car as you would any used car, advises Bob Aiken, a former National Association of Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) master mechanic. "Find an independent shop that you trust and pay to have the car inspected," he suggests. "Even if you have to walk away from the deal, it is money well spent."

John Nielsen, director of approved auto repair and auto buying networks for AAA, concurs. "Have a mechanic get it on a lift and look over the car thoroughly," he insists. He also urges obtaining a vehicle history report through a service such as CARFAX.

An upside to rental cars, Nielsen points out, is that they often receive great maintenance, "so there's no reason they wouldn't be as good or reliable in the long run as any other used car."

Rental Returns
Tim Walsh, senior vice president of Enterprise Car Sales believes, of course, that rental cars are better and more reliable than any other used cars.

"They go through regular checkups and service maintenance throughout their life in our rental fleet," he notes. Vehicles move from 's rental fleet to its sales lots when they are one- to two-years old and have between 15,000 to 30,000 miles, Walsh says. And all vehicles go through a rigorous inspection before being offered for sale. "Those are done by independent, ASE-certified technicians, not our own mechanics," he adds.

And if you think buying a rented ride means settling for a run-of-the-mill Ford Focus, Chevrolet Impala or Chrysler Sebring, think again. Some rental car companies offer a wide spectrum of vehicles, many of which go on sale after fleet use. In Los Angeles, for example, Hertz offers renters everything from the Nissan 350Z and Ford Mustang convertibles to the Toyota Prius and Chevrolet Corvette, in addition to the Audi A4, Volvo S80 and Infiniti M35.

Rental cars typically come with the balance of the manufacturer's warranty, and and Hertz also tack on a 12-month/12,000 mile limited powertrain warranty. Both companies also offer a trial period. "When someone buys a car from us we give them a week or 1,000 miles to test drive it," 's Walsh says. "If they're not happy with the vehicle — if it doesn't meet their needs or they change their mind for whatever reason — they're able to bring the vehicle back, no questions asked, for a very minor cleaning and restocking fee."

Both and Hertz also tout a "one price" system. "We put our very best price right out front to take away some of the difficulty and anxiety people have when buying a used vehicle," Walsh says. "And we guarantee that all of our vehicles will be priced below the Kelly Blue Book value."

The Price Is Right
One of the biggest advantages of buying a rental car is that they are often priced less than comparable models sold at a dealership or available through a private party. Michael Jones, a producer for Car and Driver Radio who lives in Grants Pass, Oregon, discovered this when he bought a 2004 Cadillac DeVille that was a former rental car. "I looked at the exact same car at a dealer that had a similar amount of miles and they wanted $31,000 for it," he says. "I paid $22,500."

Jones found the car on eBay and bought it through a local dealer. "There are a fair number of rentals being sold on eBay," he points out. "This one had been wholesaled out to the dealer. It's been a great car," Johnson adds, "and my neighbor down the street has bought several vehicles from Hertz that he's been happy with."

Seller's Remorse
While buying a rental car is generally a good deal, AAA's Nielsen warns that you could take a hit when you go to sell it because of people's perceptions. "We always tell motorists to run a vehicle history report when they're looking to buy a car," Nielsen says, "and when it shows up that it was a rental car it typically will reduce the value."

Nielsen also points that an accident may not show up on the history report of a rental car. "Rental car agencies are self-insured, so if it's involved in an accident there may never be an insurance claim on it," he says. "It will be repaired in their own shop, so in many cases there wouldn't be a record of that." But a good mechanic will easily find evidence of accident damage, such as if they notice screws that have been painted over, Nielsen says. "Things like that will tip them off pretty quickly," he notes.

Plus, there are always those YouTube videos to show you which cars to avoid.

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