If you've considered a used car, chances are good that, at one time or another, you've looked at or test driven a former rental car. Tens of thousands of cars leave rental fleets each year and go to dealers across the country, many of which are unaware that the vehicles were ever rental cars. But if you're buying a car, is a former rental car a bad choice? We examine the pros and cons.

Benefits

A primary benefit to buying a former rental car is maintenance history. Many rental agencies have strict policies about oil changes, annual services and other maintenance -- and such policies ensure each vehicle is serviced. After all, it would embarrass most companies to rent cars with bad tires or illuminated check-engine lights and low-oil warnings.

In fact, many rental car agencies service vehicles more often than private owners do. And some large locations even have on-site mechanics to perform basic services on vehicles. Those that don't have on-site mechanics use dealerships for repair work, meaning that experts always perform service work.

Another benefit to buying a used rental car is its cost. As CARFAX and other vehicle history report services often list a car's previous use as a rental, shoppers can use this information to negotiate a lower price. This gives bargain-hunting shoppers an edge when it comes time to sign the papers.

Drawbacks

There are also a few drawbacks to buying a rental car, or else shoppers wouldn't ask if it was a good idea. The biggest potential downside is the car's history in the hands of car-rental customers. One reason is that the car must adapt to many driving styles: One driver may push the brakes often and go easy on the gas. A few days later, another driver may take hard stabs at the accelerator but use the brakes sparingly. This could cause early wear on many of the car's parts.

Rental customers also may fail to take excellent care of a car. While most drivers might think twice about squeezing their own car into a tight spot, rental customers may be a little more aggressive. The result is that rental cars may have a few more bumps or scrapes -- or interior stains from spills -- than a typical car.

Unfortunately, our only suggestion for addressing these potential issues can be expensive: Hire a trusted mechanic to perform an inspection. That's the only certain way to know if the car is starting to wear prematurely. For drivers who would rather not take this sometimes costly step, we might recommend avoiding a former rental car. But for those who don't mind hiring a mechanic before buying a car, a used rental may prove to be a well-maintained, inexpensive choice among used cars.

Equifax and CARFAX both provide services to AutoTrader.com customers

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Doug DeMuro has a wide range of automotive industry experience, from work at a Ferrari dealership to a manager for Porsche North America. A lifelong car enthusiast, Doug's eclectic vehicle purchases include a Porsche 911 Turbo, an E63 AMG wagon, an old Range Rover and a Mercedes Benz G-wagen.

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