Rental cars typically come with the balance of the manufacturer's warranty, and Enterprise and Hertz also tack on a 12-month/12,000 mile limited powertrain warranty. Both companies also offer a trial period. "When someone buys a car from us we give them a week or 1,000 miles to test drive it," Enterprise's Walsh says. "If they're not happy with the vehicle — if it doesn't meet their needs or they change their mind for whatever reason — they're able to bring the vehicle back, no questions asked, for a very minor cleaning and restocking fee."

Both Enterprise and Hertz also tout a "one price" system. "We put our very best price right out front to take away some of the difficulty and anxiety people have when buying a used vehicle," Walsh says. "And we guarantee that all of our vehicles will be priced below the Kelly Blue Book value."

The Price Is Right
One of the biggest advantages of buying a rental car is that they are often priced less than comparable models sold at a dealership or available through a private party. Michael Jones, a producer for Car and Driver Radio who lives in Grants Pass, Oregon, discovered this when he bought a 2004 Cadillac DeVille that was a former rental car. "I looked at the exact same car at a dealer that had a similar amount of miles and they wanted $31,000 for it," he says. "I paid $22,500."

Jones found the car on eBay and bought it through a local dealer. "There are a fair number of rentals being sold on eBay," he points out. "This one had been wholesaled out to the dealer. It's been a great car," Johnson adds, "and my neighbor down the street has bought several vehicles from Hertz that he's been happy with."

Seller's Remorse
While buying a rental car is generally a good deal, AAA's Nielsen warns that you could take a hit when you go to sell it because of people's perceptions. "We always tell motorists to run a vehicle history report when they're looking to buy a car," Nielsen says, "and when it shows up that it was a rental car it typically will reduce the value."

Nielsen also points that an accident may not show up on the history report of a rental car. "Rental car agencies are self-insured, so if it's involved in an accident there may never be an insurance claim on it," he says. "It will be repaired in their own shop, so in many cases there wouldn't be a record of that." But a good mechanic will easily find evidence of accident damage, such as if they notice screws that have been painted over, Nielsen says. "Things like that will tip them off pretty quickly," he notes.

Plus, there are always those YouTube videos to show you which cars to avoid.

Message Board: Does this article change your perceptions about buying a rental car?

Doug Newcomb has been writing about car electronics since 1988, as editor of Car Audio and Electronics, Car Stereo Review, Mobile Entertainment, Road & Track Road Gear and as a freelance writer. His new book, Car Audio for Dummies, is available from Wiley Publications. He lives in Hood River, Oregon.

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