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Buying & Leasing a Car

Surprisingly Good Reasons to Buy a Rental Car

Buying from Hertz, Avis and Budget is so low-hassle and transparent that you may not mind getting a car that dozens have already had their mitts on.

What if we told you that you could buy a meticulously maintained, late-model used car that may cost you less than if you bought it at a dealership? And what if we said you could take it home for a few days and, if you didn’t like it, return it? And that you would pay a no-haggle price, so you didn’t have to play the dealer’s games?

Here’s the catch: You’ll be buying a vehicle that has spent its previous life as a rental car. Some see that as a deal-breaker. Who knows how many people drove it? And how they drove it? Not to mention how many Slurpees were spilled on the upholstery? But if you can get past the stigma, buying a used vehicle from a rental fleet could translate into savings.

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The three-day test-drive. Rental car companies have been selling off vehicles retired from their fleets for decades now, but two of the big players in the field are making the process so low-hassle and transparent that you may not mind buying a car that dozens of drivers have already had their mitts on.

Rent2Buy at Hertz and the Ultimate Test Drive at Avis/Budget let you browse the fleet online, pick the model that you want, and take it for an extended test-drive (up to three days) from many of their rental locations. During the car’s tryout, you can have a mechanic look at it, if you like.

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They’re not all plain-vanilla sedans, either. Both companies offer a variety of luxury models, as well as less-pricey cars with a dollop of personality, such as Minis and Fiats. Enterprise Car Sales, which has outlets in more than 35 states, does not offer a several-day test-drive, but it will buy the car back within seven days if you don’t like it.

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Rental vendors seek to counter worries of auto abuse by noting the frequent inspections and regular service they give their fleets, and that the vehicles they sell to retail customers are the pick of the litter (others go to auction, among other fates). Plus, all of the companies provide a report from a third party (such as Carfax) on the vehicle’s history. Philip Reed, of Edmunds.com, also reassures potential buyers that serving time in a fleet is no curse on a car, even if it gets an occasional lead-footed driver. “Cars are so well engineered these days that it really doesn’t matter,” he says.

What you’ll pay. We compared prices for that automotive commodity, the Toyota Camry, at Hertz, Avis/Budget and Enterprise. As a benchmark, we used the Kelley Blue Book Fair Purchase Price—what you might expect to pay a dealer—for a good-condition 2014 LE model with about 25,000 miles on it, which in late April was $17,716.

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The lowest price was at Hertz, where our Camry went for $16,000. It was $17,600 at Avis/Budget and $17,999 at Enterprise. Prices for some other vehicles we checked, including the Hyundai Elantra, Mercedes C250 Sport sedan, Nissan Rogue and Ford Expedition, in a variety of trim levels, also showed savings—sometimes slim, sometimes huge. The Elantra at Hertz had 35,000 miles and was 15% below the KBB Fair Purchase Price.

Hertz and Enterprise call their offerings “certified,” but the term certified on a used car is a bit loose, like natural on foods. You don’t get factory-trained inspectors or an extension of the manufacturer’s warranty, as you would with a manufacturer’s certified program.

Avis/Budget’s cars are a year or two old, so what’s left of the factory warranty is all you get. Hertz’s and Enterprise’s for-sale fleets include older cars as well. For those, if factory coverage has expired, a 12-month, 12,000-mile powertrain warranty helps. Both Hertz and Enterprise throw in roadside assistance, too.

Our advice: Shop all the rental fleets as well as sites such as Autotrader.com. Stop by the CarMax site, too.

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