Why You Should Rent a Car for a Long Trip

by Kevin M on December 6, 2012

in Saving Money

The holiday season is upon us and for many of us, that will mean long distance travel. Every holiday season me and my family travel from Georgia to New Jersey, and other parts of the Northeast. Since there are four of us the cost of airfare is out in orbit, especially at the holidays. So each year we make the approximately 2,000 mile roundtrip by car.

One thing we have found to be an incredible benefit on these trips is to rent a car rather than to use our own. On the surface, it may seem that using your own car would be less expensive, but have we found that the exact opposite is true. And not only do we save money by renting a car, but there are other advantages too.

Rental Car for Long Trips

A Rental Car Is Probably Newer Than Your Own Car

My wife and I don’t like having car payments, so our cars are – shall we say – more mature than average. For that reason we don’t like taking our cars on out-of-state trips. But even if our cars were newer, we would still rent cars for long-distance travel.

Rental cars tend to be late-model, usually not more than one year old. They also typically have fewer than 20,000 miles. That makes them more reliable than a car that’s a few years old. It also generally means the latest safety features and maximum fuel efficiency. You need all of that on a long-distance trip.

You Can Choose The Vehicle You Need

Another advantage of renting a car is that you can choose the vehicle that’s most suitable for the kind of trip you’re taking. For example, on a long trip fuel efficiency would be really important. You can choose a car that gets better mileage than the car that you own. You could also choose a larger vehicle if you’ll have an excessive amount of luggage, which is usually the case when we travel for Christmas.

Mechanical Breakdown

This is a factor that has always been super important to me. When you’re traveling on a long trip, especially during the winter months, you can never ignore the possibility of having a mechanical breakdown. If it’s your car that has the breakdown, your only choice will be to interrupt your trip and have the car repaired.

There are two issues here, cost and time. On the cost side, the repair may be only $200 – but it could also be thousand dollars. That’s a lot of money to be spending when you’re already paying a lot for the trip itself. In addition, the repair work may require an extra overnight stay in a hotel, which will add still more to your cost.

Then there’s the time factor. If you are on a tight schedule for your trip, you may not have time for a one or two day delay for repairs. And near the holidays it can be difficult to even find a mechanic, not the least of which because you’re from out of town and not likely to be a repeat customer. A single repair episode could compromise the whole trip.

If you rent a car and there’s a mechanical breakdown, all you need to do is call the 800 number that the car rental company provides and they will take care of everything for you. They will tow in a replacement vehicle and you can be on your way while they tow out the broken vehicle. It will cost you nothing and it will take no more than an hour or two and you will be back on your way only having been slightly delayed.

This alone is worth the price of paying for a rental car, but there’s more.

Lower Cost To Rent A Car For A Long Trip Than To Drive Your Own

I can rent a Toyota Corolla in Atlanta for one week and drive back and forth to New Jersey for the holidays for a base price of $175 through Hertz. Now there will be add-on fees, but I also have a discount through Triple A, so let’s say the final price settles at $200 for the week.

Now let’s compare that to driving one of our own cars instead. We may save on the rental fee by using our own car, but there is a hidden cost to doing that.

The Internal Revenue Service allows 55 cents per mile as a mileage allowance. Since the trip is about 2,000 miles round tip that would mean – according to the IRS – that we’ll have incurred expenses of about $1,100 if we use our own car for the trip. But some of that is gas, so let’s back that out. 2,000 miles would mean using about 100 gallons of gas; at about $4 a gallon, the total cost for gas is about $400. If we subtract that from $1,100 we still have $700 left. Let’s cut that in half to allow for the fact that some of the IRS allowance also includes other auto costs, like insurance.

That leaves us with $350. That’s a rough estimate of the wear-and-tear costs on our own vehicle for a 2,000 mile trip. Even though we can save the roughly $200 car rental fee by driving out own car, the cost of using our own vehicle is at least $350. That’s what we’ll eventually pay for repairs and replacements by using our own car for a 2,000 mile trip.

By using this estimate – crude as it admittedly is – we’re actually saving $150 by renting a car instead of using our own. Saving money, in addition to having greater peace of mind, is something I’ll choose every time on a long trip.

Do you ever rent cars for long trips? Do you agree that you save money (and hassle) when you do?

© 2012, Kevin M. All rights reserved.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Squirrelers

I tend to agree with this. I haven’t taken many long driving trips in a while, but I think it’s a good idea to rent rather than let your own car deal with all the wear and tear, and increase in mileage. Plus, you might be driving a newer car anyway with the rental :)

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2 Kevin@OutOfYourRut

And don’t forget the on-the-road benefits, like if the car breaks down the car rental company will replace it, usually within an hour or two. That means that a breakdown will only cut an hour or two off your trip. If your own car breaks down you could lose a day or two.

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3 Mandy @MoneyMasterMom

I’ve never used a rental car for a long trip, but I think I’ll price it out when I go to Chicago this summer.

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4 Kevin@OutOfYourRut

Hi Mandy–I don’t know how far you need to drive to get to Chicago, but the longer the trip, the more sense it makes to rent a car.

Be careful though, some car rental companies have restrictions in certain states. I once ran accross one that would let you take the car anywhere on the East Coast except New York. We weren’t going to New York, but we were going to New England, and there’s no way to get there without going through New York.

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5 Pauline

I do rent a car because I don’t own one, but even with your own, your logic makes a lot of sense. If you are going to be driving a lot, it is better to put the mileage on a rental.

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6 Kevin@OutOfYourRut

Hi Pauline, Putting extra miles on your car is another important consideration. When you eventually sell or trade in your car, it will be worth less if you have more miles.

In our case, if we keep a car for ten years and use it each year for the 2,000 mile trip. That’ll add 20,000 miles to the odometer over ten years. That’ll easily knock $1,000 or more off the sale price.

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