Rental car VS personal car on vacation trip

I saw an article a few weeks ago or so about the pros and cons of renting a car instead of driving your own on a long trip. I do not remember just what the pros and cons were any more, but I can looking into a trip of about 4500 miles, According to the IRS that would cost me about $2600 if I use my car at 57.5 cents a mile. I think I can rent a car equivalent to my car for a great deal less. But, what are the pros and cons???

The only reason to rent a car for a trip like that is that you are concerned about it going that far .

Depends. 4500 miles is nothing on a vehicle with 10,000 miles on it, and if you have a car that you enjoy that’s reliable and fairly new than IMHO you’d be crazy to rent a car for the trip.

If, on the other hand, your personal car has 300,000 miles, burns some oil, and needs some work, than I think the rental cost is a well-spent investment in peace of mind. Especially if the family will be with you.

The IRS number only comes into play if this is “business” trip, or a trip on behalf of a charity. I doubt either is the case, so disregard the IRS per mile number.

4,500 is a lot of miles, so a rental with “unlimited” miles might be a consideration. If your personal car is leased then putting all those miles on a rental car makes sense. If you own your car and it is in decent shape it is usually cheaper to use your own car.

According to the IRS that would cost me about $2600 if I use my car at 57.5 cents a mile. I think I can rent a car equivalent to my car for a great deal less.

The 57.5 cents-per-mile figure probably includes depreciation, insurance, repairs, tires, maintenance, and gas and oil. A lot of this stuff is coming out of your pocket whether you rent a car or drive your own. It’s not at all as if you actually save anywhere near 57.5 cents-per-mile by renting.
That said, it can still be a close call which is the better choice.

We rented a vehicle for a ski vacation to Colorado (driving from central Texas) back around 1998. During the trip the roads were snowy/icy and we didn’t want to take our small Acura over the mountains. The car we rented, a large, comfy OldsmoBuick-type car, got dented by a hit & run driver in a gas station parking lot & we ended up being very pleased that the damage didn’t occur to our own car.

(PS: a good sam saw it happen & got the license plate of the h&r vehicle & gave it to me when I came out of the store. The police found that the driver already had a suspended license & whatever ended up happening all I know is that I didn’t even have to pay an insurance deductible to get the car repaired - USAA and Avis handled it all).

You’re remembering a recent CarTalk Q&A column. Unfortunately, Ray was WRONG, in a big way. He compared the rental cost to the IRS cost. In doing so he made several basic errors. The IRS number is mostly made up of fixed costs, including depreciation, taxes, and insurance. These costs don’t change whether or not you drive the car. So the resulting number is way too high. If the real out-of-pocket numbers are used the rental will be more expensive every time (for similar vehicles).

The other posters are right - you are still paying all of those fixed costs on your own vehicle whether you rent a vehicle for the trip or not, so renting doesn’t save any money. It saves the wear & tear on your car & it may get you into a more comfortable ride for the journey or a safer vehicle for your destination.

Yeah…to take you back to ECON 101, there are “fixed costs” and “variable costs.” Your car payment is fixed, no matter how much (or little) you drive; your insurance is (mostly) fixed, too. Depreciation and maintenance is a mix: obviously more driving causes more depreciation and maintenance–but you car depreciates and needs repairs even if you don’t drive it at all!

Essentially, your MARGINAL costs of operating a car are about a quarter a mile, IMO: 12c/mi for gas, and 12c/mi for “everything else”: tolls, increased wear and tear, odds of wrecking, etc.

Now…the costs of a rental (with UNLIMITED mileage) are: the fixed cost of daily rental, PLUS 12c/mi for gas.

This means the “delta” between rental and your own car (marginal costs) is 12c/mi: that’s all the “other than gas” stuff that the rental co charges you for in the rental fee. Thus, you “save” $540 (4,500mi X $0.12/mi) by renting…less the daily rental charge.

If the rental fee is < $450, it makes sense to rent; if it > $450, you’re losing money (on average). I’m betting it exceeds $450–those rental companies are pretty good at figuring all the angles.

It completely depends upon what you want out of the car and what you already have. No sense renting a Camry when you already have one, but it does make sense if all you have is a hard riding truck. IMho, people make way too much of a big thing about which is the most cost effective instead of, which is the best vehicle for the task and how much enjoyment, safety and ease can you complete a long trip.

You rent if you need a vehicle you don’t already have.

I usually rent when I drive the occasional vacation trip from San Francisco to Denver. Gives me an opportunity to see what’s new in cars, and how the new cars perform compared to my old cars. So far I’ve never been tempted to replace either of my older vehicles, just not very much I’m interested in what the newer ones offer, and it seems like on every rental I’ve had recently the check engine light comes on; but renting for a week, what with all the dashboard lights flashing, it’s a cheap entertainment.

Edit: I can usually get a better deal renting from local places instead of the airport. Sears is one place I regularly rent from. I think they have both Budget and Avis cars these days.

texases, that is exactly the column I was referring to. Being retired on a fixed income, I was considering how the costs would work out and how much longer my 2011 Taurus might last by doing so. There have been some good points brought up in the answers above to my original question. Gives me a lot to think about, that’s for sure. :wink:

I have changed my opinion of cars over the years. The electronics tend to age by time rather then use and mechanically they are quite reliable out to ten years. To me a car to me is an expendable commodity. Making it last a long time makes sense in years past but cars changing so rapidly, I prefer to change them when they are ten years old as they are usually very reliable to that time. I say, drive the car and use it rather then baby it and pay the insurance, excise tax etc. everyday while it’s sitting there and you are paying rent on something else. If your car is old and undependable, sure or if you need a different type, of couse. Otherwise, drive it. In your case, I would wait till it’s old before you rent.

Much of the per-mile cost of driving a vehicle is depreciation, and that is arguably theoretical unless/until you sell it.

My vehicles are generally sold to the scrap man when I’m done with 'em (I use ALL of the car), so mileage depreciation is moot, unless driving a lot somehow makes the car lighter…

Renting can be fun and cost efficient if the situation is right. I had to go 250 miles and back so I rented an impala, got 30 MPG on the highway with 75 MPH speed limits. My 4WD would get 16 MPG at those speeds. I had four people in the car plus I got to use a TRUNK instead of a pickup bed. No opening a bed cover and a tailgate.

@auto-owner Yes, you count only the MARGINAL COST, that is gas mostly; the additional wear on a vacation trip is minimal. I often use my own car when I teach workshops in distant cities. The extra highway miles are actually good for the car.

I am retired also so I am not putting miles on my car going to someplace to pretend to work. 4500 miles is a lot less than I drove just to work and back in a year. Drive your car, that is what it is for.

You have to decide what sort of car you need for most of your driving and then own that, and rent when you need a different set of characteristics. There’s no need to own a big SUV because you take the entire family camping once or twice a year, and you don’t need a highway cruiser for 4 if 90% of your driving is errands in town.

I rent cars for long drives in a short amount of time. My regular cars are small because we live in a crowded urban area, so a rental of a full size car gives us lots of space and comfort, a big locked trunk and a reasonably new car as well. I use the Costco web site to rent cars, and because I live pretty close to airports and tourist areas there are lots of cars available at reasonable rates. For a long weekend trip of nearly 1000 miles I can get a car for under $100, and it’s worth it to me.

Other good things to rent for occasional use instead of own (if it suits you): RV, boat, and pickup truck

^Two-thirds of a famous saying: “If it flies, or floats…it’s always cheaper to rent!”