Ask Clark: Should I Buy a Rental Car?

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Customers at rental car counter at airport featuring Enterpresie, Hertz and Avis brands
Image Credit: Dreamstime

If you’re looking for a deal on a used vehicle, you may be considering buying a rental car.

It’s quite common for major rental car companies — like Avis, Hertz and Enterprise — to sell cars that age out of their fleets.  Money expert Clark Howard says coronavirus has increased available inventory, but that doesn’t mean you should rush to make a former rental your permanent ride.

Here’s What You Need to Know About Buying a Rental Car

Right now, the car rental companies are in a world of hurt. With so few people traveling because of the pandemic, the Big 3 car rental companies are trying to raise cash by selling vehicles they might have otherwise kept in their inventories.

That’s created an unusual glut of supply, according to Clark.

“This has never happened before with car rental companies having inventory they have to dispose of in numbers they’ve never had to before,” he says. “It’s unprecedented.”

The used rental car market is now flooded with vehicles that tend to be somewhere around 18 months old, and the prices have come down as a result of so many in the market.

However, this is not the automatic slam dunk for customers that you might think it is. In fact, Clark says it’s more of a mixed bag.

First, you don’t know how well rental cars have been maintained. And they tend to have more miles on them than would normally be the case for a vehicle of a newer model year.

“I think about how people drive a rental car. They don’t drive it like they drive their own. You’re not going to have that same care and concern,” Clark notes. “Of course, there are people who treat their own vehicle like junk, but everybody treats rental cars that way.”

Beyond that, there’s really no clear price advantage here, Clark notes.

“You’re not going to save beyond what the market would be offering,” the consumer champ says. “The car rental fleet being disposed of has not created a bargain specifically on rental cars. Rather, it’s created a bargain on used cars in general because they’ve pushed the inventory levels up so much.”

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So Clark sees the real opportunity here being the used vehicle market overall — not the used rental car marketplace specifically.

“To me, the sweet spot is still a three-year-old vehicle that’s low mileage rather than a one-year-old used rental car that has very high miles on it,” Clark says.

Follow Clark’s Rules for Buying Any Used Car

Clark has a couple of key rules anytime you want to buy a used car — whether it’s from a car rental fleet, an individual seller or a dealership:

  1. Always get a mechanic to inspect the vehicle as a condition of purchase.
  2. Stick with makes and models that have proven reliability.

You need to get an independent mechanic to perform a thorough inspection of the car before you buy it.

Ideally, you want an ASE-certified (Automotive Service Excellence) mechanic to really kick the tires. Garages that participate in the Blue Seal program typically feature the most highly trained ASE-certified mechanics. Visit ASE.com to find one near you.

Another important thing to do when you’re considering any used car is to check reliability ratings.

Clark says the annual Consumer Reports auto reliability survey, published every April, is one of the most extensive studies. The magazine features detailed reliability ratings for past model years on more than 30 brands.

Visit ConsumerReports.org to get digital access to the used car ratings starting at $10 a month. If you want to read the survey for free, you may be able to find a copy of the latest April issue at your local library.

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