The used car market is being flooded with retired rental cars. Rental fleets are being trimmed, some because of bankruptcy, others because of a drop in demand. All of it can be to your advantage.
Retired rental car prices are usually below market rate, and they are going to take an even greater dip as more of them enter the market. But is it worth it to get a car that has been driven by possibly hundreds of people who didn’t care about it at all?
Maintenance. Rental cars are held to a very high standard of maintenance. The big three, Budget, Hertz, and Enterprise, all have regular maintenance programs and certified mechanics on staff. Oil and other fluids are changed on manufacturer-recommended schedules. Tires, brakes, and filters are replaced regularly too. So even though there might be some history of rough driving, any resulting issues will be addressed before the car is sold.
Cleanliness. If you’ve rented more than one car in your life, there is a good chance that you got in one that, despite the giant “no smoking” stickers, smelled like an ashtray. Chances of coffee stains are also high. If the deal is right, a thorough detailing should clear up most of the problems. Some fabric deodorizer and open windows should clear up the rest.
Wear. If you think that a car driven by hundreds of people who don’t care about it won’t have wear, you’re dreaming. Mechanically the cars are checked out and repaired regularly. Buttons, knobs, and upholstery are going to take a beating. All of this can be repaired, but for what you pay, it probably isn’t worth it.
Dents. Dent, scratches, and paint chips are common on rentals—the result of people driving cars they’re not used to in areas they aren’t familiar with. Larger body damage will probably be addressed before the sale. Minor things can either be overlooked or repaired with some paint from the auto parts store.
Mileage. A retired rental will have more miles than a vehicle of similar age. The companies make their money on volume. The car is costing them money every day it isn’t out driving around. That means more miles. If you want a low-mileage vehicle, look somewhere else. Remember, the extra miles are reflected in the price. With the current dumping of vehicles from their fleets, you might be able to find a few gems.
Features. A large segment of the rental car fleet is bare-bones compact cars. Great for a daily driver but lacking the comforts many have come to want in their cars. With a lot of people transitioning to a work from home environment, trips in the car may become less utilitarian and become cruising for enjoyment. However, there are a lot of better trim levels and luxury cars in rental fleets. So don’t write them off just because you don’t want a compact.
If you decide to go the route of buying a retired rental, the major companies all have websites devoted to the sale of their retired cars. Just like any dealer, you can go and browse the selection and pick out your next car. Or maybe it’s your first car. A retired rental is a great option for a first car; the fleets are full of budget cars that are selling for $7,000–$10,000.
In the end, buying a retired rental ultimately has a downside or two. But if you can accept a few cosmetic flaws, you’re getting a mechanically sound, mechanic-certified vehicle that has a full Carfax file and, usually, a decent warranty. Like any used car purchase, you should explore your options before you decide, but it’s a good place to start. And that is the basics about what you should know about shopping for a retired rental vehicle.