Should You Buy a Rental or Accident-Involved Car?

September 9th, 2010
Enterprise Rent-A-Car ad

Enterprise Rent-A-Car ad

With the price of used cars rising some 10 percent over last year, people are looking for other ways to save money and get good value. Is it reasonable to buy a used rental car? How much can you really save? What’s the risk of buying a car that’s been in an accident? Cars that have been in floods? Repossessed cars?

Do these options make any sense—or are you asking for trouble?

If you are really risk-averse, forget it. If you are willing to take some measured risks, there are ways to save big bucks, but always with the caveats we’ll mention. Let’s eliminate a few options first.

200,000 cars were damaged in Hurricane Katrina.

The major one is flood-damaged cars: Don’t buy them. Flood damage is sometimes hard to detect and usually affects engine and electrical components. The title sometimes indicates if the car has been “submerged”—but not always.

I would also stay away from repossessed cars, which are generally sold at auction “as is.” Meaning you can’t test-drive the car or know anything much about its history.

If you find a car that’s been in an accident, you should absolutely get a qualified mechanic to help you inspect it. If it’s been in a serious wreck, pass on it. If the car has a salvage title, pass on it. But you can do a visual inspection to decide whether it’s worth pursuing a deal. There is some good advice on that score here and here.

Buying a used rental car makes sense if:

  • You want a newish car and don’t mind taking a hit when you resell it (rentals show up on vehicle history reports).
  • You’re willing to gamble that it hasn’t been in an accident (which may not show up on a vehicle history report) or driven hard.
  • You’ll accept fairly high mileage (20-25,000 per model year).

Buying from Hertz or Enterprise usually gives you: a no-haggle price, a test-drive and “return if you don’t like” policy, plus the balance of the warranty. Of course there are pros and cons about buying rentals, but most people who have done it seem pleased, and they have saved bigtime. Rental cars are generally well-maintained.

The biggest draw, of course, is the cost savings. If you want to check the difference between the used-car market for a specific vehicle and the rental-buy price you’re offered, use the CarGurus DealFinder. As always, it is your best price comparison tool.

Would you consider buying your next car from a rental firm? Would the cost-savings offset the risk?

—jgoods

Find Used Cars in Your Area at CarGurus

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  1. Travis
    September 9th, 2010 at 13:16 | #1

    This is a great post… a neighbor of mine only buys cars with salvage titles because he’s pretty hard on them (takes them into the wilderness with his 4-wheelers, etc) and has never had a major problem. I once bought a used Altima from a dealer, only to find out later it was a former rental. That car had some problems and I later found evidence of body work on it. Not cool.

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