A New Approach to Buying a Used Car

Hertz, the nation's largest car-rental company, recently introduced a novel approach to buying a used car: Buyers get full use of the vehicle for a three-day test drive that's free if they decide to buy the car.

When you’re shopping for a pre-owned car, a test drive to see whether the car suits you is usually part of the process. That test drive may be just a 15-minute spin around town, however, and it really doesn’t tell you much about how the car would handle during your day-to-day driving. The Hertz Corp., the nation’s largest car-rental company, recently introduced a novel approach to buying a used car. A new program called Hertz Rent2Buy lets a buyer have full use of a car he or she is interested in buying for a three-day test drive.

The concept is simple. Go to the Rent2Buy website and select a car you think you might want to buy. Drive it under normal conditions for three days. If you decide to buy the car, you keep it and pay the no-haggle list price through an online buying process. The rental fee of about $50 a day is waived. (The company also offers a free two-hour test drive.) If you’re eligible, you can also arrange financing through the company’s Rent2Buy program. What if you decide you don’t want the car? Return it and pay only the rental charges.

There are some obvious downsides to the program. The cars are generally basic models and may not have the upscale options a buyer might want. And, while these are generally late-model cars, many have been driven up to 20,000 miles or more a year and there will likely be a few minor dings. The program is also being offered in just 22 states.

Those drawbacks may be outweighed by several advantages. Buying through the no-haggle Hertz program eliminates dealing with a used-car dealer, and you can often find a car at a price that’s below the going rate for that make and model. For example, the program currently features a 2010 Toyota Prius Hybrid with a little over 26,000 miles for $17,199; the Kelly Blue Book value for a similar model in excellent condition with 16,500 miles at $22,305. And even though rental cars are often driven hard, they also get a lot of TLC in the form of regular maintenance. Most also come with the original manufacturer’s warranty still in force.