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Buying a rental car: What you need to know

Smiling man sitting in car receives keys through open window.
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Most drivers only interact with a rental car on vacations or time away — and for many, they can also be a means to getting a vehicle of their own.

While rental cars go through a number of drivers, they also typically have extensive maintenance records and a low price tag. But before you drive off the lot with one of these cars, there are a few factors to account for.

How to buy a rental car

Just as if you were purchasing any other new or used vehicle, buying a rental requires some homework ahead of time.

Budget

Understand how much you can truly afford and the financing options that work best for your budget. Because rental cars are considered used vehicles, there are plenty of financing options available. Rates sat at an average of 11.35 percent in the second quarter of 2022, according to data from Experian.

But keep in mind that the true cost of your vehicle is much more than just the price you see advertised online. Check websites like Edmunds and Kelley Blue Book (KBB). Both have breakdowns of expected maintenance and repair costs for a wide variety of vehicles.

Compare cars

The best resources for looking into rental cars for sale are Enterprise, Avis and Hertz. Simply go to their websites and see what they have available in your area.

Again, Edmunds and KBB can be a good guide. They can show you average prices in your area for the vehicles you are interested in. This way, you can be sure the used car company is offering a good deal. And because rental cars have more wear and tear, see if you can go lower than the average to make up for potentially higher maintenance costs down the road.

Prequalify

Once you have a vehicle in mind, apply for preapproved financing. Although many rental companies will offer financing options of their own, it is always smart to shop around so you know you’re getting the best deal.

Prequalifying also allows you to budget more accurately. Once you know how much you can afford to buy — and know your monthly payment — you can shop for just the right fit for your finances.

Inspect the vehicle

Take a test drive and see the car in person if you can, then seek out the vehicle history report. This will give you insight into any damage incurred, previous ownership and some details about what’s under the hood.

Because rental cars see a lot of drivers, they rack up quite a few miles. You should expect the odometer to be high despite relatively new vehicles, so have a mechanic inspect it before you buy. Along with the vehicle history report, this will give you a full idea of how hard the car has been driven during its time as a rental.

Check the warranty

Finally, ask if the vehicle has any kind of warranty — many can come with the manufacturer’s warranty, and you may be able to get additional protections from the rental company.

An extended warranty may be a good idea even if your vehicle is still covered by a manufacturer warranty. Extended warranties cover more common repairs and maintenance needs. But they are an extra cost, so be sure you know what it covers and if it makes sense before you sign up.

Are rental cars good to buy?

As is the case with most things when it comes to car buying, you should fully consider the financial impact and the fit for your lifestyle. While rental cars have somewhat of a bad reputation, there is no guarantee any used car you buy hasn’t been abused in the same way unless you personally know its history.

Pros of buying a rental car

Rental cars may have a bad reputation, but there are a few reasons they may be a good fit for you.

  • Warranties: Rental cars often come with a warranty of about one year — even cars that no longer qualify for the original manufacturer’s warranty.
  • Buy-back policies: Rental car chains may offer a buy-back policy if you change your mind shortly after the sale.
  • Well-maintained vehicles: The rental car company should have kept the vehicle maintained and cleaned after every driver. So even with more wear and tear present on your potential car, it has still been checked up on much more than the average used vehicle.

These features can provide some extra peace of mind that might not be found buying used elsewhere.

Cons of buying a rental car

Although there are quite a few positives, there are also drawbacks to going with a rental car.

  • High mileage: Frequent drivers and long trips may outweigh frequent maintenance. Sky-high mileage accrued by renters could potentially mean more problems or a shorter lifespan for your vehicle.
  • Limited options: Along with this, buying a rental means a much more limited inventory available to shop. If the rental car company does not have the vehicle you want in stock, you’re out of luck.
  • Basic features: The vehicles available do not typically come with all the bells and whistles some drivers are looking for. Many are basic models that will not have the luxury amenities other used cars might have.

The bottom line

If you settle on a used rental car, do your research on typical vehicle pricing, run a vehicle history report and check out the fine print when looking at rental vehicle websites — many offer special deals or buy-back options. And, as with any used car, getting the vehicle signed off on by an independent mechanic can give you extra peace of mind.

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Written by
Rebecca Betterton
Auto Loans Reporter
Rebecca Betterton is the auto loans reporter for Bankrate. She specializes in assisting readers in navigating the ins and outs of securely borrowing money to purchase a car.
Edited by
Auto loans editor