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Rent, don't buy

When I migrated from commuter cyclist to mountain biker, my cute urban bike was a nightmare on the rocky trails -- it felt like I was sitting on a jackhammer. But before I bought a $3,000 bike with full suspension (front and back shocks) my local bike shop let me rent so I could test drive a variety of rides.

Such is the thinking behind many retailers and services. Shoppers want to know if it's worth it to own a particular item. Or it might be something they'd only use once, so why buy? There's also the convenience of renting -- there's no maintenance cost or personal loss if the rental item is stolen.

Provided you return your item on time and in the same condition, renting not only saves you money, but provides peace of mind.

Here are five items you might be better off renting than buying.

Bikes
Ari Kaplan of Toronto rents a BIXI bike to travel to his office. Even though Kaplan owns a bike, he prefers to commute with a rental. "There's an emotional release when you put the bike in that lock and walk away," he says. "You don't have to worry about maintenance or the worry that someone will steal it."

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Launched in Montreal in 2009, followed by Toronto then Ottawa, these urban BIXI bikes are meant for short frequent trips. In fact there are charges if a bike is not returned within 30 minutes, so Kaplan often makes pit stops at one of 80 BIXI stations to 'refuel' his time, if needed.

Riders must have a credit card to place a $250 deposit on a card for 10 days. Once you swipe your card, the bike is released and you get a lock code.

Cost: A one-year membership is $95, plus HST, or $40 for 30 days. 72-hour access is $12 and 24-hour access for $5.

Tools
Rex Santos of London, Ont., goes through a series of questions before buying a new tool: how often will I use it; can I use something else for the job; what are the maintenance, cost and storage issues; and finally, "would it be cool to own this?"

If he comes back with positive answers, he buys; if not, he'll rent.

"Some tools are fairly large and require someplace to store and renting is a good option in this case," says Santos. "Tools can also require regular servicing."

Cost: Varies. Hardware stores, such as Home Depot, charge according to rental duration: for example, a pressure washer, for getting rid of the grime on your deck, costs $39 for four hours, $55 for a day, $220 for one week and over $600 for a month. A new one costs between $150 and $600.

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-- Posted April 18, 2012
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