Buying an ex-rental car: good shout, or bad call?

With new cars continuing to be in scarce supply, and prices for quality used machinery lingering at the higher end of the scale, finding yourself some decent wheels with a hard-pressed budget is not easy. So how about buying an ex-rental car?

Whether it’s for business, pleasure or to carry a growing family around, almost all of us need a car. But it doesn’t have to be new – indeed many drivers prefer to dip into the used market where they can find something that has lost its early depreciation and offers good quality at a reasonable price.

But even when opting for second-hand, buying yourself a replacement car can still put a serious dent in the bank balance.  However, you might have noticed some very reasonably priced cars being advertised, seemingly almost new but which have clearly been used. These could well be ex-rentals.

Considering an ex-rental

Cars that are reaching the end of their life as a rental are, in most cases, still quite new by normal vehicle standards. Every month large numbers of ex-rentals are sold on, not just direct from the hire companies, but through specialist dealers and auction houses. The range of vehicles available means you have a good choice before you, and at attractive prices too.

The ex-rental market is certainly a decent place to find a bargain. The most significant thing about former hire cars is that they are generally sold with a much greater discount than their ‘standard’ used cousins.

But there are pitfalls in buying a car that is now moving on from its previous life as a hire vehicle, so it’s worth checking carefully before taking home your new dream purchase. So what are the pros and cons of starting a relationship with an ‘ex’?

Good or bad?

A high percentage of new cars are bought by specialist rental companies, run for a short period and then disposed of into the used arena. They are then sold as nearly-new vehicles – one of the most important areas of the used car market. They will be current models, with recent registration plates and often still covered by a manufacturer’s warranty package.

Rental vehicles are typically run for a relatively short period of time, perhaps one to two years, before they are put through the auction houses where most are bought by dealers looking for desirable stock for their forecourts. Some are sold direct by the hire company.

If you’re buying an ex-rental used car, you won’t take the hit most new vehicle buyers suffer as soon as they leave the showroom: the residual value drop. There really are savings of thousands of pounds to be had here.

Dealers have to declare to you that the car you have in mind is an ex-rental vehicle – indeed many sales centres make a virtue of this and happily declare that they are offering big discounts for that very reason. However, there have been cases where this information has not been disclosed.

The days where dealers would say an ex-rental car has had ‘one previous owner’ – even though technically it has, albeit with many drivers – have largely passed. But this does still occasionally happen.

Tough life

Rental cars can live short and hard lives. But if they’re in service with a reputable rental company, ideally a member of the British Vehicle and Rental Leasing Association (BVRLA), they will be well maintained to ensure they can do the job they were originally bought for.

The last thing a hire company wants is the embarrassment, and cost, of one of their vehicles breaking down while it’s on duty. These vehicles will have been inspected, maintained, cleaned and serviced far more often than a privately-owned vehicle. Hire companies will also inspect and fix most reported faults from customers.

Looking after their cars is important to hire companies just like it would be to a private owner. Keeping their vehicles in the best possible condition means they can secure the highest return when they come to sell them on.

A good thrashing

A common perception, especially concerning rental cars, is that they have been hammered up and down the motorway. Rental vehicles are certainly subjected to extremes in driving behaviour. The same car will be hired by a good driver followed by a hard braker, followed by a clutch rider, followed by an out and out speed merchant. That’s a lot of potential wear and tear.

These customers also won’t be particularly bothered if the interior gets scuffed or marked – they’ll be giving the car back in a week or so.

But one positive way to look at the scenario is that the rental period of any vehicle is its ‘running in’ time, during which any rattles, squeaks or minor problems will have been found and sorted out, leaving you with a car that’s had any early issues ironed out.

Rental stigma

Ex-rentals are still a grey area for many dealers because of the negative connotations around buying a vehicle that it’s assumed has been mistreated.

You’ll find no reference to a car being ex-rental on websites run by manufacturers, dealers, car supermarkets or the online classifieds; sellers know the term can put some people off looking any further

But, many ex-rental cars are sold as part of a manufacturer’s approved used programme and will include attractive bundled extras such as extended warranty and breakdown and recovery; but there is usually no mention in the advert of where they were sourced.

Choosing an ‘ex’

You have to be sure you’re getting what you think you’re paying for when buying an ex-rental car. An initial check you can do is to ask the dealer for the name of the previous owner. It would appear on the V5C ‘log book’ registration document.  You could ask to see the service book too, while you’re at it.

Another cost-effective way to check on your potential new wheels is by using a car history checking service such as one from Motorcheck. Among the many items investigated in our £9.99 Single Check is owner history, so a hire company will pop up immediately if that’s the case. At least then you know what you’re dealing with.

Ignoring ex-rental cars could limit your choice, especially if you’re after a nearly-new vehicle in good condition, which has been well maintained, is in the right colour and has all the bells and whistles you’re after.

If you can look beyond the fact that countless people have been behind the wheel in a relatively short time, you might just find yourself a great bargain. And perhaps, ‘ex’ really will mark the spot.