Have you ever considered buying a former rental car? I personally am against it, but hey, you can do whatever you want. Just know what you are getting into first.

Rental car companies buy fleets of vehicles. They rent them to people who treat them like shopping carts or worse, and then eventually sell them off. They end up on a used car lot somewhere. Some rental companies even advertise that they will sell the cars directly to you.

The pro-buying argument goes like this: The fleets get regular maintenance and are generally rented by businessfolk who treat the cars kindly.

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The anti-buying argument goes like this: Have you ever driven a rental car?

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Exactly.

Of course, you have no idea which of the cars in the fleet were abused and it may be that a particular example was only rented by kindly and safe drivers who treated the car as they would treat their own. But there are a few things we do know from studying this question.

Rental car companies are famous for NOT doing anything which leads to a car having downtime. This means that a car in a fleet could very likely not have had recalls performed on it, even if the recalls are are safety-related. Perhaps they were performed at the end of its time in the fleet. Or, perhaps not. Do you think they pull cars out of rotation for oil changes during tourist season when every car is spoken for?

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What about Carfax? Depending on what insurance kicked in to cover the damage some yahoo did to the car, it may or may not show up in Carfax.

It is also noteworthy that buyers were so averse to buying former rental vehicles that some states (after extensive lobbying by groups which profit from this) passed laws explicitly allowing used car dealers to call the cars something else. Want to buy a former rental? No? How about a “program car”? Turns out the use of the term “program car” to mean “former rental” is now acceptable pretty much everywhere, according to the FTC.

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I am leery of any transaction where a seller feels the need to use euphemisms to hide the true nature of the goods being sold. But then again, that’s just me. If you find a car for sale that has a rental history, price it accordingly. But if the seller has chosen to not tell you about the history, I would take that into account as well.

Follow me on Twitter: @stevelehto

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Steve Lehto has been practicing law for 24 years, almost exclusively in consumer protection and Michigan lemon law. He wrote The Lemon Law Bible and Chrysler’s Turbine Car: The Rise and Fall of Detroit’s Coolest Creation.

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