Frugal Shopper: Does It Make Sense To Buy A Used Rental Car? Page 2

May 21, 2010
Over half of the market is looking for a new car in the next two years

Over half of the market is looking for a new car in the next two years

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That said, the pricing can be quite attractive. For instance, we looked for a late-model Chevrolet Malibu—a vehicle still quite common in some rental fleets—in a major metro area (we picked Chicago as an example), and from Hertz found a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu LT, with nearly 29,000 miles, for $13,400. With the same mileage, according to Kelley Blue Book, the '09 Malibu LT would be worth $18,135 as an excellent-condition used car or $18,635 in excellent condition under GM's Certified Used program, which applies new-car-like coverage to the purchase. But as a private-party sale the Malibu would be worth just $14,885 in good condition (or $13,585 in fair condition, which might be the case on closer inspection). Provided the car is in excellent condition, you're getting it for thousands less than its proper dealership value; but if it has a few blemishes or signs of hard use—more likely the case—the deal wouldn't nearly be as sweet.

In most cases, the pricing is officially no-haggle, meaning that you're expected to pay what they're asking; but in cases where you think a branded title or cosmetic issues will keep the vehicle from being worth as much in the short term, there's still room to haggle despite that. Inspect the vehicle thoroughly yourself, and don't hesitate to bring it to your mechanic or a body shop for a second opinion.

Signs of use...or abuse?

Most of these vehicles are at least visually in good shape. After being taken out of the fleet, they're inspected with a relatively thorough process, as well as cleaned and detailed for an almost new look. Things like cracked cupholders or broken trim are replaced, though the signs of hard rental use like ignition-key scrapes and upholstery wear spots might remain.

Vogelheim also advises that not all rental-car companies are the same either—not so much because of the way they maintain their vehicles, but because of their type of customer. Enterprise vehicles are likely to have less general wear and tear and signs of abuse than those from other companies, Vogelheim says, while not costing any more, because the company is known for appealing to longer-term local renters who need a replacement while their vehicle is in the shop. Vehicles from other rental companies are more likely to have been driven hard by travelers in a hurry, on unfamiliar roads.

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