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January 09, 2012


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I always rent a car for round-trip roadtrips. Here are my reasons:

(1) In the market that I reside, I can snag a rental car for around $12.00 per day.

(2) The rental cars that are often brand new with latest safety features + gadgets (mp3 hook-up) and get suberb gas mileage.

(3) My wife and I keep our personal automobiles in top shape & we subscribe to the "drive cars until they can drive no more" mantra -- but honestly, we would just rather put the wear/tear on someone else's car for a 1,000+ mile road trip.

If it is a one-way car trip, then best to reason to take your own automobile on a one-way trip :)

I disagree. Highway mileage is the easiest kind of driving a car can do. It is actually good for the car/engine to run long distances if you only drive it in the city most of the time. There is very little wear on the brakes, suspension and tires when you are just cruising in a staight line down a highway. So, I prefer to take my own cars and use them for what I bought them to do.

I generally would never rent a car for a long road trip. However, I need to know how Eddiejov55 can get a car for $12 a day. Then it would most certainly be worth it.

We went on a road trip to visit my sister for Thanksgiving with the rest of my immediate family, and we all have 5 seater cars. In that case, it did work out to be slightly more expensive (accounting for maintenance of ours, gas, etc) to rent a mini-van than to take 2 cars, but with the price difference it was worth the comfort and fun of a road trip and riding together. We paid just under $100 / day for the van.

Our office requires us to rent a car if we are going to be driving more than 200 miles one way. With mileage reimburstment at 55 cents a mile this would be $220 if you drove your car. Most of these business trips are for only a few days tops. So even at $30 a day it is still cheaper to rent for business.

I think if you did the numbers and you were going to travel a far distance and only stay 2 to 3 nights then it may make sense to rent. You can find out through AAA how much it costs to operate your car per mile and do some math.

Pesonally if I can't drive there in a 8 hour day then I would fly.

One vote for renting a car is in the event that the car breaks down during the trip. If I am driving my own car (which I make sure is well maintained - including pre-trip service), an unforseen breakdown hundreds of miles from home can be a real hassle. If a rental car breaks down, the rental company provides a replacement car and we are on our way. Granted, the wait for the replacement car is not fun, but it beats trying to figure out how to get your car towed and serviced in a market that may be hundreds of miles from home. Unfortunately, I am familiar with the latter scenario from experience.

When I was in grad school, I regularly rented in order to drive home and see family. My grad school beater was not reliable enough for a 2000+ -mile round-trip, it didn't have AC, my roommates 'needed' the car to still be available while I was gone, etc.

Now I have very reliable and fuel-efficient transportation, so I'm not doing that anymore.

Some members of my family are planning to visit me this summer and will likely share the cost of renting a van or SUV, rather than taking multiple cars.

I am guessing most frugal people own cars that cost a lot less than the standard mileage reimbursement to drive/maintain, so if they are using that rate to justify renting a car they probably aren't saving anything.

I have a nice car that gets good gas mileage, I don't drive that much anyway, and I'll probably trade it in when it's 10 years old or so. It's not going to make a difference at that time whether it has +/- 1000 miles on it--it's still going to have low miles on it. So I would save the rental car fees and drive my own car on vacation.

There are several variables that matter. How far is the trip? How much does the rental cost/day? How many days will you be gone? How much does your current car cost? What is the MPG economy of the rental versus your car?

If you already own a car then adding 1 more mile does not cost you 50 cents off the value of the car in wear/tear or depreciation. Deprecation of 1 mile really costs more like 10-20 cents for most cars. The 50 cent figure is found by adding all costs up including buying the car, insurance, maintenance, fuel, etc. Much of that is sunk cost and you still have to pay fuel on a rental. So really what you're saving is the depreciation for 1 more mile + small amount of additional repair/maintenance costs. Thats more like 10-20 cents for most cars. But it varies and it depends on what car you normally drive.

You also have to figure the MPG of the rental versus your normal car. If their normal car is a truck that gets 15 MPG highway and they rent a sedan that gets 30 MPG then the fuel savings alone could feasibly pay for renting the car. Or you could even end up paying more in fuel if the rental is less efficient.

If I were to rent a car to visit my family then that would be an 800 mile round trip. My current car is 7 years old so adding milres at this point isn't going to depreciate it too much. I figure 10 cents per mile. Maintenance/repair is cheap so that only adds maybe 6 cents. Adding miles to my car costs 16 cents. The mileage deprecation for an 800 mile trip on my car is about $128. I could get a rental here for about $30 a day so any trip shorter than 4 days it makes sense for me to get a rental car. But if I were to stay longer than 5 days then the rental car will end up costing more than the wear and tear on my car. Plus I'm assuming the rental and my car have similar MPG.

Another reason to rent a car is that you can rent something that you wouldn't ordinarily want to drive the rest of the year. I'm thinking of our neighbors, who rent a really big suburban for a couple of weeks a year that fits all their kids and gear. They own two small cars and don't need or want to drive a suburban the rest of the year. Renting a car is far more cost efficient and fun than owning a suburban or taking two cars on the road.

I'm having trouble wrapping my head around how it is cheaper unless they lease their primary car and road trips would put them over the mileage. Gas costs the same whether it goes into my everyday car or a rental.

However, the convenience factor is huge and shouldn't be underestimated. It can be more comfortable to have something larger than your everyday car and not have to worry about repairs on the road, as others have metioned.

A side note on rental cars: When we travel outside the US, we usually arrange car service, ie.. a car and driver over renting a car in an unfamiliar place/country. We are spared the hassles of parking, gas, tolls, speeding tickets and road signs in a foreign language. We get to meet and interact with a local on a more intimate level. On the surface, it seems like hiring a driver is the very opposite of frugal. In practice, having done both, the private driver has worked out to be more reasonable, giving us a tour-guide of sorts, saving time, and adding a measure of protection.

About every other year, we have reason to go on a long road trip (over 1000 miles). My husband hates to fly, so we drive...almost always in a rented vehicle. The main reason is that we drive $1000 beaters that are in good shape but we wouldn't trust them on a trip that involves going over a couple of mountain passes and through remote areas.

In fact, we recently had to make a run half that distance and figured my car would make the trip no problem. Halfway through the return trip the alternator kicked the bucket. This was, of course, discovered at nightfall. Thank goodness there was a hotel nearby, but since the trip was literally a two-day quickie, it would have been cheaper - and a lot less stressful - for us to have rented. Yes, we would have had to have replaced the alternator soon anyway, but we wouldn't have had the cost of the hotel and the lost day of work.

For longer trips, it's the confidence that a newer rental most likely won't break down that makes it worth our while. Also, we can rent a bigger vehicle if we know we're hauling a load, or a sportier version if we just want to make tracks.

Two tools that can help:

1) True Cost of Driving Calculator

2) AAA's How Much are You Really Paying to drive brochure.

That will give you the hard numbers to crunch to make the decision.

Catherine said : "I'm having trouble wrapping my head around how it is cheaper ..."

The added mileage to your car costs you money in the end. If you car has more miles on it then its worth less. So those added miles are a cost to you.

Lets say for example you own a car for 5 years and you take two trips a year to visit family at 1000 miles roundtrip. That is an extra 10,000 miles on the car. When you go to sell that car it will be worth significantly less than a car with 10k fewer miles. Or if you don't sell the car but instead drive it till it dies then the extra miles will still cost you since you'll have to spend more money to buy cars more frequently.

There isn't a direct extra out of pocket cost today to drive your car. But the more miles on the car the less its worth.

I have rented a car for several long trips, for many of the same reasons listed by other commenters. The primary reasons, in my mind, are:

-- use of a newer and, presumably, more reliable car
-- preserving some of the value of my car by not adding large amounts of mileage in a short time
-- for trips of less than 800 miles or so, the extra time involved is a worthwhile tradeoff of the aggravation associated with we'd be renting a car at destination anyway

The main downside is having to deal with rental car agencies and their sometimes screwy policies, like "unlimited" mileage that really isn't. Enterprise used to be famous for that kind of stuff, but I haven't rented from them in years. I'm sure the rental car companies have other ways to nickle-n-dime unwary people.

@Catherine: As Jim noted, your vehicle depreciates when you add miles to it. Of course, rental vehicles depreciate too. Some other maintenance and repairs are also based on mileage - e.g. tire wear, oil changes, etc.

But of course car rental companies want to be profitable. Hence, the only reason it makes sense to rent for a long trip is that rental company prices are based on the assumption that most renters put some typical average mileage on the vehicle each day. For example, I rent frequently from airports for business trips and may only drive 50 miles in 2 or 3 days. If everyone drove 500 mile per day, rental rates would be MUCH higher and it would not make sense to rent vs drive your own vehicle.

We make a trip about 4-5 times a year, which is about 800 miles round trip. We own a pickup and a SUV. I have been able to rent a car at the local airport for somewhere between $9-12 a day plus airport taxes. The total cost of the rental car + the gas comes out very nearly to what just the cost of gasoline would be for one of my personal vehicles. I drive a newer, more fuel efficient car on these trips, do not have to be concerned with mechanical problems and the cost is comparable to driving one of my personal vehicles. This does not even include some deals or coupons which makes the cost even less.

I would always opt to drive a rental car on a long trip. It costs me no additional cash outlay than driving my personal car and it removes some of the anxiety of a road side break down.

Several people have mentioned the fear of a roadside breakdown as a reason to rent a car. How often does your personal vehicle break down when you are in your home town? Surely this is an irrational fear for most people these days? Except maybe a few with very poorly-maintained vehicles, who are unlikely to read this blog or think through the rent/drive decision.

Even in LaDonna's case above (which has to be some sort of worst-case) - how many times have you paid for car rental? Maybe that costs more than the occasional breakdown? Because if you are driving a $1000 beater all the above discussion of depreciation is irrelevant.

Mark, my cars are all well maintained. Nonetheless, i had a fluke breakdown on a Saturday afternoon, 1000 miles from home. It happens whether you drive a Cadillac or a beater. Granted, it has only happened once, but it does happen. It is not an irrational fear as you suggest, but merely a rationale for considering renting a car for a long road trip.

Renting for the annual or semi-annual trip can make sense if it is lieu of owning a bigger car. As mentioned earlier, for a couple years we owned 2 small sedans with 2 kids which was not good for a road trip. But it was cheaper to rent a big vehicle for the annual road trip than to outright own the larger vehicle. Now that we have a mini-van, we don't rent anymore.

@Mark -- on my most recent relatively long-distance trip, we jumped in our family car and went due to a short notice family medical issue. I would normally rent a car for the same trip for the reasons I listed above.

It's not that I don't trust my own cars, I'd rather not be held hostage by a shop I'm unfamiliar with in the event of a breakdown. If a rental car breaks down, I can just call the rental company and have them take care of the problem. There's still inconvenience involved but I've outsourced a good amount of the risk to a third party.

Just to put some rough numbers to the discussion, according to a midlevel-trim 2006 Highlander (V6 4x4, private party sale) with 50,000 miles is worth about $800 more than the exact same car with 60,000 miles. So for one 1000 mile trip per year, you'd need to get the rental for less than $160 total to cover lost value due to mileage. Obviously if the rental got better fuel economy that would increase the break even price.

Last summer we decided to rent a minivan for our two-week vacation rather than take our 15-year-old van, which still ran, but who knew for how much longer. Then we discovered that the least we would pay would be around $1500. It made more sense to buy a new van, which we'd been planning to do anyway, and drive that. We are normally very slow car buyers, taking many months to make a decision, but we bought a new van in two days. (New to us, that is: it's a 2008.) We're still happy with it, and we hope to take it on vacation for quite a few summers to come. For us it makes more sense to drive our own vehicle: we pack quite a bit of stuff, we drive only about 600 miles total, and rental rates near us are high.

(One nice thing about driving cars until they die, or pretty close, is that even a used replacement has lots of bells and whistles that now come standard. Our old van had crank windows and manual doors and locks. While shopping for a new one I took to referring to it as "vintage.")

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