Buying a rental car? Here's everything you need to know

Shopping for a used car can be a great way to save money on your next purchase, but looking outside the normal channels gives you a much deeper pool of vehicles to choose from. While some people balk at the idea of buying a rental car, signing the dotted line on a former rental can save you money and hassle. But there are some things to remember during the process. Lately, large rental car agencies like Hertz have made major headlines as they thin out their fleet of electric cars, mostly Tesla Model 3 and Model Y EVs but also others from Chevrolet and sometimes Polestar. But should you buy one? Let’s take a closer look.

Buying a rental car

All the major players, including Avis, Enterprise, and Hertz, offer car-buying services with vehicles they no longer field at rental offices. Their websites look like any other car inventory search tool, where you can filter by the make, model, year, price, and more. Many offer the ability to start the buying process online, and there are often discounts off the Kelley Blue Book values. While there are plenty of rental-spec Nissan Altimas and black Chevy Suburbans for sale, there are also a surprising number of luxury vehicles and sporty models.

What are the benefits of buying a rental car?

Since they are not traditional car dealerships, rental companies take the no-haggle approach, so the price you see online is the price you’ll pay when purchasing a rental car. Mileage and condition play a role in the prices, but they are generally not out of line with the rest of used car retailers like CarMax. Some rental companies offer shipping to a store near you, and others have home delivery options.

Rental agencies are known to keep up with scheduled maintenance, which is a good thing. Most rental agencies keep a newish fleet, and that means the cars they sell are still fairly new, too. That's important to many shoppers, as cars have gotten much safer in recent years and are packed with more and more technology than ever before. Some renters, however, may think of a rental car as a disposable object that doesn't require as much care as something they personally own. So it's important to take a close look at the specific vehicle you're thinking of buying to make sure it's not too worn out for your liking.

Why are some rental cars less expensive than other used models?

Rental companies buy vehicles in large numbers, giving them better pricing from the manufacturer. In turn, that allows them to sell the cars at more reasonable prices. While they’re not always the cheapest options, prices for former rental cars are generally set at or slightly below market values. The flip side of that is that many used car buyers are wary of rental cars because of the perception that they’re all abused and gross inside, which can impact your resale values if you decide to sell later on.

What should I look out for when buying a used rental car?

You should take the same precautions when buying a used rental car as you would with any other used vehicle. Unless you’re purchasing the vehicle remotely and having it shipped, rental companies will allow you to make an appointment to view it before the purchase. Some note that the cars are still active rentals, so you can’t walk in without having the vehicle pulled from the fleet and prepared first. If possible, take the car for a pre-purchase inspection at a reputable third-party shop or dealer. Some companies, including Avis, explicitly state that they allow buyers to take vehicles for an inspection, but it’s worth asking if the company you’re buying from doesn’t.

Though all of the major companies selling former rentals have in-house inspection programs, it’s still a good idea to check the tires for wear and dates and test-drive the car to make sure there are no surprising sounds or vibrations. The good news is that rentals are meticulously maintained, and the companies follow manufacturers’ recommended service intervals. You’ll also likely see thorough documentation of the maintenance that has been performed, and the Carfax report will show any known collisions or damage.

Do former rental cars come with warranties?

Some rental companies offer a warranty period with their used vehicles. Hertz, Avis, and Enterprise cover purchases for 12 months or 12,000 miles, whichever comes first. Buyers can also add coverage from a third-party provider, and most rental fleets offer a trial period of three to seven days to let the buyer get a feel for how the car performs in real-world situations. Like any used car dealer, most also sell add-on protection with coverage for tires and wheels, glass, theft, and more.

Why do I see so many rental EVs for sale?

Some rental companies over-purchased EVs, only to realize that they cost more to fix per crash and weren’t as popular as expected. Hertz currently has more than 1,100 Teslas listed on its site, and its prices are astonishingly low due to a massive purchase that saw it need to sell tens of thousands of vehicles. Buying a used rental Tesla or any other electric vehicle from one of the major companies isn’t different than the process for gas vehicles, but you should be extra careful to review for collisions and damage.

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