So, you’re going on a road trip for 3 months – you have to wonder: it’s quite expensive to rent a car, and you won’t get that money back. Whereas, if you buy a car, you can potentially sell it again at the end of the trip and recoup at last some of your expenses.
We’re not going to tell you what to do, but after conducting a lot of research on the
subject, we can tell you that there are, of course, pros and cons to both.
Buying a car
+ You don’t have to answer to any pesky rental company, who sometimes have restrictions on where you can take the car.
+ You can sell it at the end and recoup some (maybe all) of your expenses.
+ Avoiding the ‘hidden fees’ that are often added for car rental, e.g. insurance, additional drivers.
– Buying a good quality car that isn’t likely to break down on you can be expensive ($10,000+).
– It can be quite tricky to sell a car, so unless you have a friend in the US who can do this for you, be prepared to stick around for a few weeks trying to sell it (or selling it to a car dealership for perhaps $2000 less than you paid for it).
– Registering is complicated – if you’re staying for 30+ days, you have to wait 30 days to officially register your vehicle – which may require proof of residence of the state in which you’re registering, a vehicle inspection and to make sure it passes environmental regulations (which, to be fair, sounds quite easy compared to the UK’s MOT tests).
Renting a car
+ You can be assured – if you go with a reputable company – that your car will be pretty new, of good quality, and therefore less likely to break down on you in the middle of nowhere (and come on, we all know this only happens in the middle of nowhere).
+ Often, this will include insurance, roadside assistance, etc – all in one neat package. See the con for buying a car to appreciate how much simpler this is than buying. So – less stress.
+ Rental companies are located at many airports, and downtown ones will sometimes pick you up, saving a lot of hassle when you first arrive.
– Like all renting, you sink money in that you won’t get back.
– Navigating all the added extras, insurance etc can be pretty confusing, especially if you’re planning on travelling into Canada and through lots of States with different laws. Some companies won’t let you drive into Canada, and many charge for extra drivers. We’ve heard that sales assistants will often make you feel very guilty/ashamed if you don’t add one every possible piece of insurance, which can easily double your overall rental costs.
– If you’re starting and finishing in different places, rental companies will add on a pretty huge charge for returning the car to a different location.
So, which one to choose?
Well, it really depends on how long you’re tripping for. If you’re only travelling for a few weeks, it doesn’t make sense to go to all the hassle of buying and then selling a car when you can rent one from $30 a day, whereas rental costs will rack up over the months and make it a less and less economical option.
We decided to rent because we didn’t want to go through the bureaucratic nightmare of trying to buy a car. Plus, Gwynnie had just read Not Tonight, Josephine and was a little scared of the idea of buying a cheap car that’s on its last legs (these guys spent nearly 4 times what they paid for their campervan on repairs when it kept breaking down on them). We are also travelling in a loop, meaning we don’t lose money on returning the car to a different location.
SUPER TIP***** – we wasted HOURS researching insurance and laws, wondering how do I make sure I’m legal to drive in every state?, can I take my US rental car to Canada?, which insurance do I actually need? etc. Knowing that car rental companies are known for trying to make you add on ten types of insurance “just in case”, and that these costs can add up to $50 a day onto your trip, made us nervous. However… it turns out there are companies specifically aimed at British/European travellers doing road trips in the USA and Canada, and these include all the insurance you need for every state and Canada. They also work out a lot cheaper (and less complicated) than going directly through a rental company in the US, and you won’t need a credit card or anything else because you pay up front.
We booked our car through NetFlights, although the actual car company here is Alamo, who allow you to take your car into Canada. For £2300 we have just shy of 3 months, with unlimited mileage, collision damage waiver, loss damage waiver, theft protection insurance, local and state taxes, supplemental liability insurance, three additional drivers and 24-hour mechanical breakdown assistance. To give you some idea, going directly through a US rental company and adding all these extras would end up being around $7000 or something.
Some other companies recommended to us by TripAdvisor posters were rentalcars.com and USRentaCar.co.uk. They all led back to Alamo, mostly, but we worked out that this was the slightly better option in terms of value for money.
There are some other things to consider when renting a car, such as paying for optional extras. Many companies offer a SAT-nav for $10 a day or something. Hopefully you can do the math on that one and figure out that for anything over a week you might as well buy a new one. Also – if you’re travelling for under 30 days you can possibly get your money back if you keep the receipt – check the warrantee/guarantee!
The only other advice we could find was to avoid small, potentially dodgy rental companies as the cars might not be of good quality. Plus, if you have problems while you’re travelling around the continent, chains (such as Avis, Alamo, Enterprise, Hertz) are more likely to have local offices that you can pop into.
We’ll update this once we actually experience the rental car…