As Hertz offers to sell thousands of its cars at steep discounts and millions of Americans face financial uncertainty due to coronavirus, now might be a good time to hunt for bargains from rental car companies.
“There are definitely good deals out there,” said Rick Ricart, president of the pre-owned vehicle dealership Ricart Automotive in Ohio. “Rentals are down, and rental car companies might be getting aggressive to cut their losses.”
But there are also things to look out for.
Pouncing on a used-car deal just because you see an alluring price could leave you in a financial bind down the line. And with cases of COVID-19 ticking up, buyers should take extra precautions before taking off in a car previously driven by dozens or even hundreds of other people.
Here’s how to smartly and safely find a used-car deal from a rental company in the age of COVID-19:
What makes a good deal?
Price is No. 1. It’s the primary reason to consider a late-model used vehicle. It’s also important to compare the cost offered by the rental car company to what you’d pay for a new model sold by the manufacturer.
“If you can get a new vehicle for a lower monthly payment than buying a used rental car, that’s a no brainer,” Ricart said.
Some manufacturers are offering zero percent financing deals for five years to get rid of excess new-car inventory due to the pandemic. It’s rare to find zero percent financing on used cars. Interest rates also tend to be higher on used cars due to increased risk. That could offset even more of the difference.
The second thing you should pay attention to is how many miles the vehicle has. Anything with more than 15,000 miles per year could be a red flag, Ricart added.
Cars sold by Enterprise spend one year as a rental, on average, before being put up for sale, the company says. Hertz has said that many of its vehicles have racked up between 25,000 and 40,000 miles.
A search on the Hertz website, within 1,000 miles of New Orleans, found more than 30,200 cars available Tuesday. A 2018 HyundaiAccent SE Sedan with just over 42,000 miles was selling for $10,856 – $4,139 below market price, according to website iSeeCars.com.
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Mileage tells only half the story though. Where those miles occur is also key.
Rental cars are often driven on long road trips over highways. And highway miles aren’t nearly as damaging on vehicles as city miles, according to Kelsey Mays, senior consumer affairs editor at Cars.com.
In city driving, vehicles are constantly stopping, starting and going over bumps. You’ll find city miles more often on cars bought from private owners that were commuting through neighborhoods and city blocks.
“If you’re getting a car with a lot of city miles and then you’re potentially in for a lot of wear and tear,” Mays said.
On the highway, where most rental cars are driven, roads are smoother.
What about safety during a pandemic?
Hertz, Enterprise and Avis have websites that let you shop around your area without leaving your home. They also offer delivery services to cut down on face-to-face contact, and each has rolled out new cleaning processes in the wake of the coronavirus.
Still, experts say: If you’re going down to check out the lot in-person, don’t forget your hand sanitizer.
“Do your own disinfecting if you buy one of those cars,” said Oren Weintraub, founder of Auto Authority, a firm of car brokers and buying consultants. “But it’s good to speak with someone in authority at the dealership to confirm whether it’s been disinfected and to what degree they disinfect the car.”
Keeping with social distancing, Hertz mails documents for owners to sign and cars can be delivered within 75 miles of a rental location Enterprise also practices social distancing throughout the home delivery process, according to its website.
Even if you’re having a car delivered for a test drive, you should still ask how it was maintained and cleaned, experts say.
If you’re browsing a rental company’s lot for a car, you might want to wear a mask.
The CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering in settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. And if you’re test driving with a salesperson, keeping the windows open may help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
“Consumers really need to protect themselves,” Mays said. “They should get a pretty good idea of what precautions the seller is taking when bringing the car to them.”
What if the car has issues later?
It’s common for big rental companies to offer 12-month or 12,000-mile limited warranties. Since many of the cars are still relatively new, the vehicles are often covered under the manufacturer’s warranty, too.
That’s more than you’d likely get at an independent dealership, which often offers a wide variety of used cars as-is with no relationship to the manufacturer. Dealerships affiliated with manufacturers, or franchise dealers, often have service departments that specialize in the types of cars they sell.
Franchise dealers can also offer promotions that wouldn’t be available in a traditional used-car deal, according to Edmunds.
Either way, experts say you should have a third-party specialist look over a car before you buy it.
“If the seller says you can’t take it to a mechanic, that’s a red flag and you should really walk away from that,” Mays said.
A standard car inspection should cost under $200, Mays added. And it’ll reveal any frame damage, water damage or prior accidents that may have occurred. You can also check the vehicle’s history via Carfax or Autocheck.
Finding out about certain structural issues after you’ve bought the car and its out of warranty could be costly.
“Those are really important things that can and probably should be deal-breakers,” Mays added. “Even if it means that you have to get two or three inspections to find the car that you want. It’s still money well spent.”
Follow Dalvin Brown on Twitter: @Dalvin_Brown.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Hertz, Enteprise: How to score a used-car deal from rental agencies