Piston Slap: To Rent, To Own

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap to rent to own
Brad writes:

Hi Sajeev –

I’m a longtime reader of the blog, and also have been car less for the past 17 years. I live in a major Pacific Northwest city and haven’t needed a car. But I’m getting older, I’m partnered up and need to visit in-laws out in the boonies, and I just find myself wanting a car. I don’t want an older car. The two cars I did own back in my teens and early 20s were a 1980s Buick Skylark and a 1988 Dodge Omni. I think dealing with the repairs on those two beaters put a bad taste in my mouth for very old cars. So I’m looking at new or slightly used.

I’ve noticed that various rental car companies sell off their car with 30-40k miles on them for a decent price. What is your opinion on buying a rental car? On one hand, I think that people abuse a rental car, but then again, a rental car also might be well maintained by the company. Thoughts on buying a rental car?

Sajeev answers:

Normal rental cars (not Vettes, etc) aren’t more or less of a crap shoot than other used cars. My only advice is to avoid cars that wound up in press fleets, or those used in driving schools. If a car is sold by a manufacturer at an auction…

Most rental cars aren’t abused as badly as you might think, thanks to today’s performance inhibitors built into the system. Neutral dropping the transmission at red line? Not possible, as the factory tune often has a 3000rpm governor in park or neutral. Air-fuel ratios always(?) err on the safe/rich side, as you approach red line. Traction control systems take the fun out of serious hooning too. Aside from excess brake wear from the active handling nannies (addressed by fleet mechanics) and the chance of transmission problems in the WAY distant future, I don’t believe that buying a former rental is a bad idea.

I’m more horrified at the prospect of buying a clean one-owner car with zero service history and a teenager in the house that’s beat the living shit out of it when they had the opportunity. That’s real fear: you can’t trust that smiling family! Rental cars have good upkeep, and the factory “tunes” them for safety and longevity. The odds are good that you’ll get a decent machine.

So go ahead and get whatever vanilla rental machine suits your, um, fancy.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

Join the conversation
4 of 45 comments
  • KenyG KenyG on Mar 20, 2013

    I purchased a year old Grand Prix in 2008 that had been a hertz rental. Came with 28k on the odometer & cost me 17k. I think new at the time they were about 22-23, 2008 was the last year for the GPs. Got the balance of the GM factory warranty, which I think was 40k or 3yrs. Car doesn't have OnStar - but was loaded otherwise. Other that brakes & tires, and normal maintenance its been trouble free for nearly 60k miles.

    • See 1 previous
    • 28-Cars-Later 28-Cars-Later on Mar 21, 2013

      @danio3834 I have one of those exact ABS-less models, except mine is an '08 and I bought it in '10. Very strange indeed... could ABS have been tied into the traction control option, because I know that wasn't standard on these.

  • Kyree Kyree on Mar 21, 2013

    The good thing about a rental car is that it will have been serviced and will have service history. I always tell buyers to beware of cars that have no service history or are very rarely driven (which is not good for most cars). Granny's eight-thousand-mile 2010 LaCrosse may be harboring some ugly gremlins...

  • Dukeisduke Six figures for what's basically a four-wheeled Slingshot? I don't they'll get a lot of takers, at least for on-road use.Does it have ABS or traction control? I imagine it's a snap to break the wheels loose.
  • Master Baiter I'm no expert, but I don't see how cameras can perform adequately under conditions of dark/rain/fog and/or poor visibility in general. Other car makers seem to think they need radar, so what magic has Tesla invented here?
  • Master Baiter I'm not going to throw in with the haters. I admit that at $25K, the Model 3 is a pretty good deal, especially in CA--land of confiscatory gasoline prices.
  • Jeff S Always liked this generation and thank you again Corey for an excellent and thorough series.
  • Lou_BC What ever happened to Reid Bigland and his law suite against Ram?