Tampa Bay Times

A used rental car could still be a bargain

- BY PHILIP REED Reed is an automotive expert who writes a syndicated column for NerdWallet that has been carried by USA Today, Yahoo Finance and others. He is the author of 10 books.

Will a bargain-priced former rental car become yet another casualty of the pandemic?

Rental car companies, which frequently refresh their fleets, have long been a reliable source of reasonably priced used vehicles for those in the know. But tightening inventorie­s of used cars nationwide are driving up prices of many former rental cars to higher than what you might pay at a traditiona­l dealership. While rental car prices plummeted at the beginning of the pandemic as companies such as Hertz sold off their inventory, prices have rebounded and now are 4 percent above the market average, according to an analysis done for NerdWallet by iSeeCars. com, a website that aggregates used-car listings.

Although prices have risen, you still might get a bargain on certain makes and models. And there remain many advantages of shopping the used rental car market. Primarily, it’s a good source of late-model used cars, often only 1 year old, that have been well-maintained, says Jeff Rose, a certified financial planner and Avis Car Sales spokespers­on.

Here’s what to consider:

THE PROS OF BUYING AN EX-RENTAL

“If you’re just looking to save money by going to a rental car lot, it isn’t going to offer the great deals it once did,” says Karl Brauer, executive analyst at iSeeCars.com. “But if you like the other options a rental sales lot offers, it could still be a good choice.”

THERE ARE STILL SOME BARGAINS

If you’re shopping for a sedan or economy car, the rental sales lot might still save you some money. While used car prices in general have risen, Rose says the cars on Avis’ lots are often $2,500 below Kelley Blue Book pricing. Furthermor­e, he says Avis’ cars are typically 1 model year old.

The iSeeCars report found several bargains: The Nissan Versa Note and the Chevrolet Camaro now being sold by rental car agencies are both 6 percent below the market.

LOW PRESSURE

Most rental car sales lots offer no-haggle pricing, which makes shopping less stressful. However, if you have an appetite for negotiatin­g and want to go back and forth for a few hours at a used-car lot, you might save more money at a traditiona­l dealership, Brauer suggests.

PRE-SALES INSPECTION

It’s always a good idea to have your mechanic inspect any car you want to buy. But you might feel that rental agencies’ certificat­ion process is enough. They use certified technician­s and conduct their own multipoint inspection­s before putting their vehicles on the market.

INCLUDED WARRANTY

If you buy a former rental car that is less than 3 years old, the bumper-to-bumper factory warranty will still be in effect. Additional­ly, the big rental car sales lots, such as Avis, include a limited power train warranty, roadside assistance and other perks.

EXTENDED TEST DRIVES

At some car sales lots such as Avis and Hertz, you can rent a vehicle for a few days and, if you like it, complete the sale at home. Brauer says this extra time evaluating the car “is a pretty compelling reason to shop the rental car sales lot.”

NICELY OPTIONED

Vehicles purchased by rental car agencies were once referred to as “strippers,” since they have fewer safety and luxury options. But Brauer says that many desirable features now come standard with many cars. This even means that some advanced safety features will be included on rental cars.

BUT WHAT ABOUT WEAR AND TEAR?

Let’s tackle the biggest “con” that’s probably on everyone’s mind: that rental cars have been thrashed by a parade of lead-foot drivers.

While most renters don’t necessaril­y baby the cars, they are often concerned about being charged for damage. Furthermor­e, most rental agencies closely follow the service schedule with on-time oil changes and tire rotations, says David Bennett, repair systems manager at AAA.

In reality, any used car can have a checkered past. But rental car companies seem aware of fears about vehicle condition and try to offset them.

TIPS FOR RENTAL CAR SHOPPING

• Be ready for upsells such as extended warranties and prepaid maintenanc­e plans.

• Check pricing guides such as Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds to see if it really is a good price.

• Compare rental car prices with used cars being sold by traditiona­l dealers. It’s easy to research using the online advertisin­g site AutoTrader.

• Ask for the service records and a copy of the pre-purchase inspection report. Make sure to get the vehicle history report, which is usually provided for free by rental car lots.

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LIZ WESTON

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