Test Drive A Rental Car Before You Buy

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If you’re looking to buy a car and want to put it through its paces without the pressure of a salesperson riding shotgun or waiting back at the lot, consider renting the car you want to buy and taking it on a test drive. Rental cars are often relatively new, under a few thousand miles, and well-maintained so it’ll be as close to a test drive quality car as you’ll ever get and you can do practically whatever you want with it for a modest rental fee. Here are some tips on how to make the most of your rental “test drive” in the least amount of time and money:

Rent from a non-airport rental location
This is just a smart general car rental strategy, not specific to this test driving idea, because the airport locations of a rental agency typically charges higher prices. They charge a higher price because they know that their clients will likely be business travelers who don’t care about price since their company will pay for it or they’re pleasure travelers who won’t have the means to travel to non-airport rental locations. So, when you go to implement this test drive rental car strategy, ensure you rent a car on at a non-airport location.

Drive it in simulated “normal” conditions
Try your commute to and from work or school, try driving it for long distances, try driving it in all the ways you see yourself using that car. Learn how quick the vehicle reacts to acceleration and braking and whether or not you like how it handles. If you need to merge onto highways, see whether the vehicle has enough pickup to get you on without angering other drivers or causing a dangerous situation. The benefit of the car being a rental is that you aren’t limited to the five minute test drive most dealerships will permit, you can drive it all day and all night to see how you like it. Maybe you find out that you don’t like the headlights of that new car you had your eye on.

Inspect the car
By inspect the car I mean thoroughly look around the vehicle to see if everything is how you would like it. Does the owner’s manual thorough and have lots of useful information or will you have to buy a Chilton’s manual to figure out what motor oil to use? Is the jack easy to locate, use, and safe? Is the spare easy to find and get out in case you need to use it? These are all the little auxiliary things, the small stuff if you will, that doesn’t really matter… until they really matter (like when you need to change a flat on an interstate in the middle of the night when its raining).

Some downfalls/disadvantages:
You probably won’t be able to find every possible model (and they’re mostly American cars)
This is a strategy that won’t work if you’re trying to find a very particular car or you want to drive a car from a previous year (say, a used car) because rental agencies will have the common denominator vehicles available. Also, many of the agencies rely on American made cars from Ford or General Motors, so finding a Honda Civic to drive may be a little tricky in most places.

You probably won’t be able to get a manual/stick model
Rental car agencies usually won’t have manual transmission models of their vehicles because not everyone can drive a stick shift and because many people who think they can drive stick shift really can’t and will damage the vehicle. However, if you are lucky enough to find a place with a stick shift you should write it down because you can then rent stick shift cars there if you ever want to learn (or teach someone).

Some of the features in rental cars aren’t standard
Remember that some of the features you see in a rental car won’t be standard so be aware that you might “fall in love” with something you didn’t think you needed. XM Satellite Radio is nice but I don’t really need it (or need to pay for it). Just keep that in mind and don’t let feature creep cause you to pay more than you need to on that car.

Any one have any tips with regard to renting a car to do a fully comprehensive test drive?

{ 3 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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3 Responses to “Test Drive A Rental Car Before You Buy”

  1. Kirk says:

    The reason for higher rental rates at airports is not generally the company gouging you. It is much more often because of taxes at airport locations. At many airport locations, you are paying an additional 20% over and above the price of the rental car because of airport taxes. At some locations, the taxes will cost you more than the rental of the car!

    While I agree that renting at non-airport locations is smart, it’s not necessarily for the reason that you stated.

  2. Debt Free says:

    That’s sound strategy. I’ve done this before. Being able to take a few days or a week to use the vehicle how you typically would, get used to it’s ideosychracies, and feel how it works on your commuute, is definitely better than a 20 minute test drive with the salesperson looking over your shoulder. On the other hand, it’s not nearly as much fun as scaring tha crap out of the salseman while testing the corning capabilities of a new GTI.

  3. Matt says:

    Actually, my fiancee’s car was selected in almost precisely that manner. Every time we went out to her house in Michigan, or to see my family there, we ended up renting a car…and we loved the model we tended to get so much that she went out and bought one. 🙂

    Never buy XM from the car dealer, though. It’s an order of magnitude cheaper to get a receiver from an electronics store, if you want it…and then that receiver is portable between cars, which the built-in one wouldn’t be.

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