Updated on 05.27.09

Is Renting a Vehicle for a Long Road Trip Worth It? Our Math Says Yes

Trent Hamm

Hertz Rental Car Counter.  Photo by mrkathika.In the next few weeks, I’m going on a lengthy road trip with my wife, my children, and my parents. We’re going to visit several relatives that are spread out all over the southern part of the United States. Along the way, we’re planning longer stops in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, the New Orleans area, and the Memphis area (in fact, if you’d like to have me speak at your library or other event in one of those areas in early June, contact me).

Our trip, as currently planned, is 2,548 miles in length – and that doesn’t include the inevitable driving around in local areas or any side trips we decide to take along the way. Yes, it’s long. Yes, it’s fairly intimidating.

Originally, our plan for the trip had involved taking two vehicles – our Prius and my parents’ car. From our perspective, this was a good idea, since the Prius gets great gas mileage, but my parents’ car doesn’t do as well.

As we discussed the trip more, we came to the realization that it made much more sense to drive in one vehicle, for several reasons.

First, one vehicle at 20 miles per gallon consumes the same amount of gas as two vehicles at 40 miles per gallon. In short, even if one of the vehicles is our Prius, we’re still better off purely in terms of gas driving a minivan.

Second, maintenance costs over 2,500 miles are significant. The average car has 5.3 cents per mile in maintenance costs beyond fuel – oil, transmission fluid, coolant, tires, and so on. That’s a total of $132.50 per vehicle over the trip.

Third, 2,500 miles on your vehicle is 2,500 miles of depreciation. Again, the average car depreciates roughly $0.20 per mile – this is very hard to precisely estimate, but it’s a real value. Again, by reducing to one vehicle, we save $500 in depreciation. Note, here, that depreciation includes major repairs and other such factors.

Fourth, two cars means double tolls. On our trip, assuming no detours, each car would be paying somewhere around $15 in tolls. Reducing to one car saves another $15.

In total, we realized that we would save roughly $650 by using just one vehicle on this trip – and that assumes no fuel savings and also assumes no detours, no construction, and no environmental impacts.

At that point, we really beat the pavement to accelerate the purchase of our second vehicle. The problem, though, was that we couldn’t find a vehicle we really wanted.

So, finally, my wife raised the question: would it be cheaper to just rent a van for this trip?

The trip is scheduled to be nine days in length. I did some calling around to local rental services and found several vans that could be rented for $400-500 for the length of the trip – unlimited miles.

So, let’s look at the math. We would save depreciation on two vehicles ($1,000), maintenance on two vehicles ($265), toll on one vehicle ($15), and a small amount of fuel savings, too, for $400. That’s a total savings of $880.

In order to make sure there wouldn’t be any nasty surprises, I contacted our auto insurance provider, who told us that coverage while driving the rental would be essentially identical (in terms of our cost) to coverage if we were driving our own car. Thus, no need for the additional cost of rental car coverage.

Thus, for our purposes, the decision has been made – we’re going to rent for this long road trip and split the cost. This choice will save us $440 and also save our parents $440.

Sometimes, thinking outside the box a bit can save you a surprising amount of money.

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  1. Amber says:

    My family did that when I was little, we rented a van and drove from Shreveport, Louisiana to Klamath Falls, Oregon and back.

    A word of advice: Make sure “unlimited” MEANS unlimited when it comes to the mileage. Sometimes the rental places will say unlimited but actually cap it. The rental place my family went through tried to pull that, but since that verbage wasn’t on the actual signed rental agreement my family didn’t have to pay the premium. (But they did get a speech – “Never, will anyone EVER, rent with unlimited milage from our establishment!!”)

  2. brandon says:

    Excellent post and great idea.

    Renting a car is something I’m looking into instead of flying for the holidays.

  3. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Amber: reading the fine print is always a good tactic any time you sign an agreement.

  4. Angie says:

    I’m still trying to figure out how 2600 miles in the car with kids is classified as a vacation. Good luck!

  5. Kevin says:

    Trent, PLEASE check biddingfortravel.com 1st and then try using the “Name your own price” feature at priceline.com With the travel industry in decline, you ought to be able to get an SUV for a very reasonable rate!

    Much different vehicle and market, but I just got an economy car in Albany NY for $15 per day.

    Good luck and travel safe!

  6. Charles says:

    Additionally, if something happens to the rental car while you are on the road, the rental company will replace the car and send you on your way. Much easier than having to get it repaired yourself. I do this often for business trips, and it has saved me more than once.

  7. mes says:

    As we look at vehicles to replace my current car, this topic comes up a lot. With two kids in car seats, a sedan really only fits 4 people. About three times a year we have relatives come to stay, and it gets to be a pain to take two cars everywhere. So we struggle with the question of whether to buy a vehicle with a third row, or whether to rent something on occasion.

  8. PF says:

    Who cares about the math…..who wants to go on vacation with somebody and have multiple vehicles? What a hassle. The memories will be soooooo much better with one car. We rented a conversion van in Alaska with my in-laws for a two-week roadtrip and having only one vehicle made all the difference in the world. If you wanted to whip into an ice cream/antique/whatever shop at the last minute, no problem. Also, the conversion van was nice and comfy for 6.

    And of course, the math is important, but honestly, it wouldn’t be my highest consideration.

  9. Sue says:

    we don’t have a car and stumbled into a little problem in that most car companies have policies that don’t allow us to take a rental car out of a two -state region. We wanted to rent a prius and drive 2,000 miles to Colorado. But it was really just an ethical dilemma for us about whether we tell the car company where we planned to go or if our plan was to just claim ignorance of the rule should we break down and have to call them.

    Has anyone else had this problem?

  10. Joey says:

    Depreciation is irrelevant, as the cost of the car is the amount you took out of your bank account (or agreed to pay monthly) to pay for it. That said, renting for long trips offers the advantage of an immediate replacement vehicle in troublesome situations, which is invaluable. Makes sense.

  11. Troy says:

    As an added plus, you should be able to rent a van similar to one you are wanting to purchase.

    Looking at Toyota Sienna’s I believe? Your local dealer should be able to rent a new one to you. Our’s will, and the price was about $500 per week, and maybe that is what you already have planned.

    It then becomes a 9 day real-world test drive as an added benefit

  12. Geoff says:

    Again, my insurance mind wants to remind you that most auto insurance companies do not give you coverage for loss of depreciation or loss of use for the rental vehicle. So, if you damage it and it’s out of commission for a few days (even though they provide you a replacement) you have to pay for those lost days they could have rented it for. The loss of depreciation could cost you $$$$ if the vehicle has major repairs.

    We just rented a van in AZ for a 8 day family vacation even though we could have borrowed 2 sedan vehicles from relatives who live in the area as we wanted to all experience things together. Much more fun.

  13. Jenny says:

    One thing you might want to look at is getting the additional insurance. What the special insurance pays that yours doesn’t is the charge that the rental company will charge you for each day that the vehicle is out of commission.

    Sometimes things fly off of semis and the last thing you want to do is take a chunk of the bumper out of the new vehicle when you hit that thing that flew off the semi with vehicles surrounding you (ie, nowhere to go).

  14. Gregfox says:

    Hmmmm… I think the depreciation is relevant because it both necessitates repairs and speeds the eventual purchase of your next car.

    It takes some willpower to pay a bunch of money for a rental because you know in the long run your maintenance and new car purchase costs will go down. Which reminds me, if you drove your car instead and invested that $400 you would have spent for the rental at 5% (…that assumption used to make sense…) and assume the future real costs of fixing your depreciated vehicle don’t come to roost for three years, you’d earn $63 in interest, reducing the benefit of renting a bit. It’s still worth it to rent in this case so I can see why you skipped this step. The discounting over time is kind of interesting, though (ummm…maybe just for me?).

    I’d heard people advocate renting for trips but never seen the math. Good to see that it’s actually worth it.

  15. a conscience life says:

    I am pretty skeptical of your depreciation values. For one, depreciation is not a linear function. That is to say that a 10 year old car does not depreciate at the same rate that a new car does. I realize that your Prius is new, but how old is your parents car? If it is decently old, then the estimated depreciation of that car will be significantly reduced. Likewise, your estimates for maintenance may be off, since most of the miles will be highway miles (I expect).

    In the end, it seems like you may still be saving a small amount of money. However, clearly money is not everything. I could not agree more with the sentiments of PF and Joey. There are some intangibles in this situation that are much more important than the financial considerations. Adding to what they both said, it is much better to spend your vacation *with* people all together, than to spend it apart for several hours while driving and to worry about coordinating a caravan. Also, this spreads the driving responsibilities out over more people, making the trip more relaxing.

    The point being that money is not the only factor in making a decision like this — though it does seems to be in your favor in this case.

  16. AbueloLoco says:

    You should perhaps look into renting an RV. The money you save on hotels adds up too if that is where you were staying. Plus, it is great to not have to schlep your bags into a hotel. Plus, you pull over at a rest stop, open the fridge and eat what you like, not necessarily fast food. Even make your own fresh pot of coffee on your stove or in your micro wave. If you want, you can tow a car to do your sight seeing.

    I have been living and traveling full time in a small RV for over two years and love it. (actually, it is quite “green” too when you look at the relatively few miles that are involved in the actual movement of the RV and the small amounts one uses for utilities. The mileage for vacationing RV’ers is higher though since the miles have to be all crammed in over a week or two rather than months.

  17. Heather says:

    Hotwire.com is also an excellent source for rental cars. I always rent a car to visit family members a state away and often rent for $7-15 a day, unlimited miles.

    I always book cars and hotels through them and have never had a problem. With the hotels, you pick area, star ranking (1-5) and price. You don’t see the name of the hotel until after you pay. It sounds scary, but as long as you pick 4 star and up you can stay at AMAZING hotels for $60-125/night.

  18. Johanna says:

    It seems to me that – if you plan to drive the car(s) you own into the ground – “depreciation” in this context is just code for “general wear and tear on the car that brings you closer to the point where you need a new car.” So it’s not irrelevant, and it is a linear function – assuming that the car has a fixed lifetime of X miles, regardless of whether you drive it on long road trips or not. But I don’t know enough about cars to say whether that’s a good assumption or not.

  19. Maggie says:

    I agree with using priceline. I NEVER pay full price for a rental car. There are rental cars sitting unused on lots every day! Especially if you’re willing to drive to the next town to pick it up. Even if you’re not comfortable with that, don’t be afraid to bargain with the rental car place’s representative. I had a friend who used to work at Enterprise and sometimes they’d give customers a deal to move a car off the lot. Let them know you’re shopping around. Ask if they can beat Hertz, etc.

    P.S. I’d also check with your insurance company about the specific car you’re renting–especially if you get an SUV. I had an insurer tell me that an SUV wouldn’t be covered under my particular insurance policy. Apparently this also true for big vans (maybe not mini-vans) and super-fancy cars. They said to be truly sure it’s a type of car they insure, call with the VIN or at least the make and model. This advice also applies if you’re relying on your credit card’s rental car insurance. I called to check and was told that insurance doesn’t cover SUVs, big vans, and super fancy cars.

  20. Dave C says:

    The first comment mentioned it differently but I’ve found that several rental companies limit unlimited miles to within the state or adjacent state of rental. There are a few exceptions so double check for that language in the contract.

  21. Jen says:

    I thought some rental car companies also charge an out-of-state surcharge if you are crossing state lines.

  22. Joan says:

    We did this in the summer of 2007, when we drove from our home in Pennsylvania to Wyoming and back again – the scenic way, through Canada – for a family reunion. We only had four people, but (in true frugal fashion), we had boxes of shelf-stable food, a hot plate, a cooler of drinks, etc., and our luggage. Between the amount of “stuff” and the number of miles, our decision was to rent an SUV (Chevy Trailblazer) rather than trying to cram everything into our Ford Taurus and thereby running up the miles on it.

    It was not cheap, but when I consider that our Taurus developed serious brake problems WITHIN 2,000 miles at home, the thought of having that happen on the trip… ouch! :)

    Anyway, I like your decision and how you thought it out. Have a WONDERFUL and safe trip.

  23. KJ says:

    Like many of the folks above, I am in full support because it is much, much more fun to all be in one car, even with small ones. Renting a minivan was the highlight of a recent trip to the snow…the luggage in the back was tight, but what a blast. Have a wonderful time!

  24. Carlos says:

    Consider a few things: (1) you’ll have no distribution of risk. If your rental vehicle breaks down, you’ll all be waiting around (I’ve seen replacement vehicles take up to one day to be delivered) . (2) While I won’t take issue with the depreciation calculations, they’re a sunk cost (meaning that you’ll ultimately incur them, unless you’re planning to trade in your car in less than 10 years). In the scenario you’ve proposed, your out-of-pocket spend will be way higher than just driving your own cars. (3) You’re stuck with everyone in the same vehicle for the whole trip – road trips bring out the worst in many people. I don’t know that I’d want certain relatives in the car with me for a long trip. It might be nice to mix-it-up (e.g. have your parents take the kids for part of the trip so you and your wife can enjoy our time together). Plus, if you want to do something different (e.g. take a different side trip), you can’t.

    I always drive my own vehicle; it gives me many more options…

  25. Jim says:

    I agree with Trents conclusions in general. For a long trip like this having 1 rental car is going to be cheaper than taking 2 personal cars.

    I think the 20cents / mile depreciation is too high though. Its hard to figure depreciation/mile and it will depend on the car in question. I’d say something like 10cents is more realistic. But look at it this way, if you depreciate at 20c /mi then the average $20k car would be worthless after 100k miles. But there are a LOT of good cars for sale with over 100k miles. And if your car is only worth say $2000 to begin with then putting an extra 10k highway miles on it will not make the car worthless.


  26. mike says:

    I don’t have a library or an event, but if you speak anywhere in DFW let me know. I’m at the midpoint between Dallas and Fort Worth. If your interested in horse racing let me know…

  27. Dr Julie-Ann says:

    We always rent cars for our road trips. We are a one-vehicle pick-up truck family and cars are much more comfortable (plus, for us, get better mileage) on the longer trips.

    I just want to second what Dave C said. Some of those agencies say unlimited miles but you are limited to one or two states.

    Also, look at the vehicle before accepting it. Some agencies have a very loose definition of “clean.”

  28. Heather says:

    Mike – What do you do at Lonestar? I work in the horse racing industry in California.

  29. Bill says:

    We did this two years ago for a 5,000 mile trip.
    Buy a 20 year old low mileage RV, they are a dime a dozen around $5k for one with under 50,000 miles. You do the trip and you can resell it for the same price. A quick search in the Chicago area (closest to Iowa I could think of) found 5.

  30. mike says:

    Network Admin/Support.

  31. Kirk Bond says:

    Just watch out for the additional fees, etc… That is becoming a major issue these days, 2nd driver, etc…

  32. Eric says:

    You said :

    “So, let’s look at the math. We would save depreciation on two vehicles ($1,000), maintenance on two vehicles ($265), toll on one vehicle ($15), and a small amount of fuel savings, too, for $400. That’s a total savings of $880.”

    Am I missing something? That doesn’t add up… $1000 + 265 + 15 + 400 = $1,680. I’m hoping that the $400 of fuel cost is only one car that you’re calculating in there.

    @Joey (comment #10)

    “Depreciation is Irrelevant”? No, sir. Depreciation is one of the primary “costs” of owning your car. What you paid for the car means little to nothing (the amount you finance is very important as you pay interest on it) – what matters is how fast and how much that car has depreciated. That is a primary factor in the true cost of your car. If you paid too much for the car, that simply means your car will depreciate more to get to a market value.


    I’m glad you blogged about this – renting a car can definitely save you money on long trips. :D

  33. kristine says:

    I think deprecation in a car only matters if you are planning to sell it. If you plan to wear it out, market cost means nothing.

    I think there is a distinction between depreciation and wear and tear- which shortens life-span, and depreciation defines market resale value. They are related, but not the same thing.

    On wear and tear- you have a point.

  34. Bill says:

    based on your depreciation schedule my car is worth $-8754, please start sending my checks.

  35. lurker carl says:

    If you’re worried about the effects of depreciation on an item, then way too much money was spent to purchase it.

    Time will be the greatest factor in automobile depreciation, not a few thousand miles of vacation travel. That’s why I buy older vehicles with low mileage, time has driven the cost down to where any further depreciation is hardly worth thinking about. The $500 depreciation factor is laughable if only $2000 was spent for the purchase. Although I get the same service life from a bargin car as most folks will get with their depreciating new cars, the value of my old vehicles remain stable or appreciate as they become antiques.

  36. Our family has always been on a tight budget with me staying home to educate our children. We wanted desperately to attend our son’s air force basic training graduation in San Antonio, Texas, but we lived all the way north in Central Illinois at the time. With Dad taking a whole week off of unpaid vacation to attend, we knew the budget would be tight. We found the same thing to be true, that renting a vehicle was more economical. It saved on the wear and tear on our older-model van and the van we rented got much better gas mileage. Great post.

  37. Anna says:

    On the money he will save on Gas and Tolls he will almost be able to pay for the rental car. So Honestly regarless of depreciation or wear & tear, renting a car is saving him money or at least not costing him anymore. This doesn’t include tire rotation or oil change he would need when he returned from his trip!

  38. reulte says:

    I think the depreciation is irrelevant if you’re planning on keeping the vehicles until they have no life in them (which I believe is Trent’s general idea).

    I like AbueloLoco’s idea of renting an RV. Not only for the reasons he states but because it makes it easier to visit relatives without having to go to a motel. Once option is to nest the older kids into the RV and have adults sleep in the house — makes it easier when the talk is going late and the toddlers are nodding off and no one wants to sleep on the infamous fold-out couch. Of course, this all depends on family dynamics — but it is an option to consider (and run the math on).

  39. T says:

    “But look at it this way, if you depreciate at 20c /mi then the average $20k car would be worthless after 100k miles. But there are a LOT of good cars for sale with over 100k miles. And if your car is only worth say $2000 to begin with then putting an extra 10k highway miles on it will not make the car worthless.”


  40. veer says:

    An unrelated comment. I love the Book review index. I come to your site to find book reccomendations. One suggestion or favor, however you look at it is, it would be nice to have another index which is by date. This way, the readers could keep track of the latest book you have read. Alphabatised list doesn’t make it easy to find the newer ones.


  41. Timely post!

    My wife and I just discussed this when I told her I would like to do a road trip out to the rockies in the next year. She said our high mileage cars might not be up for that. My response was to ask did I say our cars?

    I would rather drive a newer, low mileage rental on a weekly rental basis for this 2,200 mile round trip. With the rental I get a right-size vehicle for the trip and don’t have repair worries.

    Again, timely post!

  42. J says:

    Enjoy your trip. Renting sounds like a good idea, even ignoring the depreciation.

    That minivan will get a lot smaller by the end of the trip, though. Watch out for the fees, too. I recall once the rental company wanted to charge extra for adding a non-spouse onto the rental, so if you wanted your dad or mom to be able to take a turn at the wheel, you might have to add on more money unless you can talk your way out of it.

  43. Best way to get that rental car:

    Price it at sidestep.com. Then go to priceline and bid 15-20% below the sidestep price. Priceline has always been the best place to get rental cars only if you are confident that you’ll be able to keep to your original plans. If you have to extend your rental one day, you get stuck paying for retail price for extensions on a Priceline contract.

    Also, I have been able to get free upgrades twice whenever the rental place didn’t advertise that the car they were giving me did not have a functioning cigarette lighter. I would always go back and say that I need one for my cell phone and in some cases get a free upgrade.

  44. susan says:

    We always rent a vehicle when taking long road trips, if we took ours, and it needed repairs, it could ruin the vacation with the cost and time! If the rental breaks down, you just call them and they send out another one, no cost, no problem!
    One thing to check, we have tried to rent cars for out of state road trips at the airport rental car companies, and you have to be either arriving or departing from the airport to rent one. Strange. They dont want you to drive there and take their cars out of state.
    Since we have a 1000.00 insurance deductable, many times we also take their insurance, if we have an accident on their insurance, no deductible has to be paid. If we have an accident on our insurance, we have to pay that 1000.00, again thats another vacation ruin-er.

  45. Bill in Houston says:

    Enterprise has half price rates on weekends. My wife and I have rented their vehicles for weekend trips. We did it a few weeks ago when we went to Goliad (and Victoria) as a part of our Texas Heritage Tour ’09. We’ve done Dallas a few times, and San Antonio once, too.

  46. Helen says:

    I am looking for a website that will point out interesting things along the way. I am planning a trip from central Illinois to San Antonio, TX area and would like to stop a couple of times each way to see interesting things.

  47. I’m going to call BS on this post. I just got back from a 9 day trip where we rented a car (including insurance) and between 4 people, it cost us EACH nearly $400. That didn’t include gas for the 1,700 miles which we drove. Had we driven one of our own car we wouldn’t have had that expense, only the cost of gas.

    I don’t think it is reasonable to factor in the cost of depreciation of the vehicle due to mileage because your vehicle is depreciating while it is sitting in the garage going nowhere as well as if it were being driven down the highway.

    Wear and tear is a reasonable cost to consider but I don’t think 5.3 cents/mile is reasonable. You are driving a brand new car which should be covered under your manufacturer’s warranty and any repairs should be covered by that warranty.

    The next point is that you bought this car to own, probably with the intent of keeping it until it falls apart or close to it. If that is the case, what does it matter if those miles come now or later?

    In my opinion you are wasting your money on a rental considering you purchased a car in order to drive, not to have something sitting in your garage which requires you to make a monthly payment.

    I’ve driven all over this country in my own car and have never had any problem with it. My maintainence expenses are incredibly low, far cheaper than renting a car for a 2,500 mile trip.

    You are already paying for your car, why pay for another at an inflated price? Its a bad financial decision.

  48. SB in Houston says:

    We regularly drive from Houston, TX to Lexington, KY using a rental. We rent through Hotwire.com. I’ve literally compared every single rental company out there, including their coupons, AAA, etc. to try and find the best rates, and have always found Hotwire.com to give me the best rates, especially when you are renting by the week. Although with them you have to pick up at an airport, so they are not the closest to me (about an hour away), but worth it for the overall price. Watch Enterprise as I booked them once, but then was told I would be charged if I took it out of state. It was only unlimited mileage in state. Then I booked Dollar Rental, which was almost worse, as they adding on charges for everything (something like $1.50 a day for adding your Frequent Flier account). It was crazy. So now I just stick with Hotwire.com. Although if you are looking to buy a Toyota, they do have Toyota Rentals at their dealerships, so that was a good idea from another poster.

  49. Jade says:

    Hmmmmmm… I’m going to have to consider this when we visit some relatives soon. Much shorter trip, but with 4 people and having to take 2 cars (because our only 4-seaters won’t carry all of our bags along with 4 people), and all of our cars would average 20 mpg, maybe renting a minivan would be worth it… Oh wait, I forgot, my dad might want to tow the jeep up there, and he’ll insist on using his van to do it, rental company would probably charge more if they found out we wanted to tow something…

    Well if we ever go to Vegas then (1,100 mi round trip) then maybe we’ll consider a rental car, because the 4-seaters are too old for a trip like that. And my dad wouldn’t have anywhere to drive the jeep in Vegas, so we wouldn’t have to tow it there.

  50. Helix says:

    @ comment #46: I’m curious, did you do a one-way rental? As I discovered, to my great chagrin, they add all sorts of fees if not returning to the same place you picked it up.

    Sounds like a fun trip, Trent! While in New Orleans, see if you can check out a Paul Sanchez concert, a great folk singer/songwriter: http://www.paulsanchez.com. He’s a fantastic musician and a good pal. It also goes without saying to pay a visit to Cafe du Monde for some beignets and a cafe au lait. Try to make your kids laugh while they’re taking a bite and watch powdered sugar go everywhere. It’s fun. :)

  51. Sarah says:

    Check out the Memphis Zoo when you are in the area. It’s one of the best zoos I have ever been too.

  52. Tyler says:

    If you go on the point of saying “We can all be in one vehicle and enjoy the company” then I’m fine with this. If you say “We are renting to avoid the hassle of our vehicle breaking down in the middle of nowhere” then I’m fine with it. But as for saving money? No. You buy a car to drive, just like you buy carpet to be walked on. If you don’t use your purchase for it’s intended use, then why even own it?

  53. Lisa says:

    Interesting. The quick replacement of a rental should a breakdown occur is certainly an issue when traveling with a car load of kids.

    A post about priceline and hotwire is a nice idea. Start your research with betterbidding.com. I absolutely swear by it. It is one of those issues where the one with the information gets the deal. It takes some time, but I enjoy it and love the savings.

  54. Lisa says:

    Some airfares this summer are a bargain. Trent has a large group and lots of small trips so it won’t help him, but 3 of us were thinking of driving from New York to parks out West (Yellowstone, etc.) and decided flying (rt Buffalo to Denver $150/ea) was a deal. Then a rental car we bid on. Straight finances it was not the best, but the time saved and overall enjoyment should increase. My point: if you thought flying was too expensive, take another look as this year is crazy.

  55. Jim says:

    I do think depreciation should definitely be considered. There is real financial impact from driving a car a lot of miles.

    Miles are not free or unlimited. Look at it this way: What if Trent made this 2,500 mile trip 20 times in the next 5 years. He’d be putting an extra 50k miles on his car. Is a car with 50k more miles on it worth more or less than a car with 50k fewer miles? Obviously you can’t sell a car with 75k miles for the same amount as a car with 25k miles.

    But maybe you plan to keep the car until it dies. If you drive it a lot more then it will die sooner. If he paid $20k for the car and he expects it to last 200k miles then thats roughly 10c per mile. Every mile you drive on a car will reduce its life. There is a cost to that.

    If you have a cheap car then the price is a lot lower. If my dad drives his 1991 truck that he bought for $500 then the impact of depreciation from each additional mile he puts on it is so low its almost negligible.

    But when you’re driving an old beater with a lot of miles they are prone to breaking down and thats NOT really something you want to happen on a long road trip. If you’ve never had a car break down on a summer vacation then maybe you can’t relate. But let me tell you it is not a fun vacation to sit by the side of the road waiting for a mechanic to tow you miles to the next little town so they can over charge you for repairs while you get to stay in the fleabag motel for a couple days waiting. OK I guess I’m going on a tangent. sorry..


  56. Nikki W says:

    Hi – I recommended this option on the comments I made on your post about deciding what to buy for your second vehicle. An invaluable source of information on the many minor irriations of some minivans. And, I know you can rent a Sienna from the dealer. (We did that recently, as I mentioned, to avoid speeding up replacement of our older cars… 2500 miles is 1/2 year of my driving, changing our timelines).
    Not to mention – the new Sienna is miles more comfy than our old vehicle.
    Next – some of my best bonding as a child was that inevitable back-and-forth in the car. You lose that – plus those looks you and your wife will exchange over the heads of the napping children – when you are in different vehicles. Lastly, my husband and I have driven cross-country multiple times (CA to New England, stopping in IA) over the years; switching off really helps one of us relax or otherwise have a break. My mom reads to my dad in the car – you can do that (pick “Wind in the Willows” or something that works for you and the kids if possible)… far preferrable to DVDs and much better family memories. None of that is possible with 2 cars and worn out parents from both driving.

  57. Jake T says:

    One of the “hidden” costs of driving is the significantly elevated risk of death or injury, as compared to staying home. 40,000 Americans die on the road each year.

    Renting a late-model minivan may give you more safety features (i.e. a more survivable vehicle), as compared to an older car. In addition, you avoid the very distracting and borderline unsafe practice of “convoying” two cars.

    You can’t easily put a dollar value on this, but it should definitely be part of your decision.

  58. Ram says:

    @Brandon, do the math, depending on the distance you travel and for the number of days, it might still be worth flying looking at the flying costs these days.

    @Trent, I like this post. but not sure why you are only weighing on the hard benefits of “saving money” in this instance. look at the soft benefits – there are plenty
    a. all of you in one car eliminates the dependency of one following the other or not
    b. food and beverages, all in one car, so you don’t really get off the car when you need something and since all are together, it is merrier in sharing
    c. all together, means it is a great learning for the kids in terms of family value, learn from your childhood stories, recall your childhood stories with your children and the parents
    d. grand parents sharing their childhood parents with the kids.
    e. when all of you decide to stop over to relax, you are in one car/van to communicate, so no need to use the phone.
    f. share driving with four people instead of only two. may not be required all the time, but still have an option.
    and many more…
    we had to make a similar decision but still drove in 2 cars last summers, just because we couldn’t find a vehicle with 9 seaters. we were five includig our parents; and a friends family of 4. so there was no other go but go in 2 cars, was not that much of fun driving although we had lots fun at the stop overs.

  59. Diana says:

    You’ve done your math and there’s no arguing that taking one vehicle instead of 2 is a great option. But, aside from sharing the costs with your parents, you also share the driving. That can be a real safety issue, especially if you’re all anxious to get to the next stop, or are covering areas that tend to be endless and monotonous. I would assume that you would never drive when sleepy, but this way, you always have a fresh driver at the ready. It can be trying, however, if the individuals are not extremely patient with one another. Have a great trip!

  60. Bill in Houston says:

    Addendum to my Comment #44

    I use Enterprise for the weekend rentals solely to reduce wear and tear on my car. Costwise per mile is about the same, but trips to Dallas and back over a weekend are close to 600 miles. San Antonio and back (I include “driving around” in these trips) is about 500. Four weekend trips was 2000 miles I didn’t add to my odometer. Worth it, especially since I want this car to last. Oh, and we never drive my wife’s 2008 on long distance trips.

  61. lurker carl says:

    For those folks who worry about their vehicles breaking down while on vacation, it will break down anyway except it will be on your work commute or other trip when you’re not expecting it. Routine maintenance heads off these mishaps. The schedule is layed out in your owner’s manual, most people ignore them.

    If the rental vehicle breaks down, the replacement will still take a while to arrive. That timely replacement is entirely dependant on the local personnel delivering it and the vehicles in stock. It may not be large enough to hold your passengers and belongings!

  62. Roger in kentucky says:

    I have been stunned at how cheap renting can be for trips – especially not in the peak vacation season.

    Especially for those of us which like to keep a car for a decade to drive locally.

    Depreciation DOES count in the long run – though I agree with the comments reminding us it is NOT a linear function when figuring for an older car.

    Given how much the extra rental insurance adds to the cost – unless you are accident prone – I don’t see how the cost is worth it in the long run – as long as you have good coverage. (And I suspect they DO train the desk clerks to act like not taking that insurance is a “catastrophe” since it is such a high profit item). Yes, you may get hit once for some loss of use – but getting whacked outrageously EVERY time you rent is money you can save and invest.

  63. Sharon says:

    One additional advantage to the rental company insurance is that should something go wrong, the claim doesn’t show up on your insurance. So your premiums won’t go up that way. The insurance company doesn’t really care if you were at fault or not; too big a claim, and your premiums go up or they drop you.

  64. Stephanie says:

    I would love to see you speak here in the DFW area. I live in Arlington and I am a huge fan of our local library. I would be willing to help you out in getting connected with our library!

  65. Leah says:

    re: the loss of use, you should check into your credit card. I wrote a post about this on my blog (http://penn.typepad.com/penn/2009/04/oh-car-rentals.html), but the short story is that the combo of Enterprise + Visa Signature seems to be a good one. Your credit card company will often cover loss of use, so you’re covered without the pricey insurance.

  66. jc says:

    a lot of commenters have missed that Trent includes major repairs in his depreciation calculation. sure, older cars depreciate more slowly in terms of value for trade-in or re-sale, but they also incur ever increasing costs for repairs (otherwise, the frugal choice would always be to drive the oldest and highest mileage car possible!) so each additional mile added to a car has a diminishing effect on the headline depreciation, but an increasing effect on depreciation PLUS major repairs.

  67. FrugalZen says:

    Well I live here in Rental Car World….Orlando, Florida and the car agencies have some very stiff rules..whether they are the same elsewhere I don’t know.


    1/Vehicle CANNOT be taken out of state…fine print in contract states vehicle is UN-INSURED if done so.

    2/If you ignore and still go out of state you incur a $1 or higher mileage charge…this is enforced by the hidden onboard GPS that tells them when, where,how fast and how many miles…again in fine print.

    3/GPS is ALWAYS checked when returning the vehicle because there is also a clause in the mice type that if you exceed the speed limit on any road by a certain amount you are assessed a Penalty. Usually around $150 per occurrance.

    4/Sometimes there is also a clause that says if the car is stolen through your negligence…like leaving the key in the ingnition…the theft insurance is void and you agree personally to indemnify them for the car.

    5/If you as driver or any other driver is arrested for whatever reason the contract is immediately void and the police know to call the rental agency to come get the car or the tow truck company is told not to release it to you if you try to pick it up…even if the contract dates are still in force..end of discussion, no appeal, and the tow bill and a hefty (usually $250) “recovery fee” for them going to pick it up is charged to your credit card.

    The Mice Type is very long on car rental contracts but you need to really annoy the clerk by taking the 30 minutes or so it will take to read it.

    All the mice type is how they generate enough money to stay in business.

    The rental fee is a loss leader to get you to rent the car…then they lay all the other hidden fees and late surprises on you.

  68. Jordan says:

    You simply have to be able say ‘no, thanks at that price’ at least once to the dealer. This gives them a strong message that you are serious about your research.

    You should also bring a piece of paper to the dealership and make sure you do all the math of the finance calculations yourself. The point is not that they will do the math wrong. The point is you will see exactly how the deal is structured. Do not be afraid to take the time to do this or look like a fool for mapping out your car deal in the dealership.

    My dad swears by this process, http://tinyurl.com/knflt6

  69. Randy says:

    I went back and looked at this post after a recent trip of almost 600 miles. I’m reimbursed for mileage by my employer, but wondered if it would be better to rent a car and not have the mileage added to my personal car. Of course if I take a rental (at employer’s expense) I can’t take the mileage allowance, so I don’t pad my pocket with any money.

    The trip was 589 miles, and paid 55cents per mile, so that’s 323.95 in my pocket. I get around 20mpg at around $3.15/gallon, so that’s $92.77 for gas alone. Will depreciation, maintenance, insurance, etc chew up the extra $231.18?

    Seems like I’m almost always better off taking my own car and taking the mileage allowance.

  70. wewally says:

    I drive old vehicles, They have little depreciation in them and get us around the neighborhood. When we go on long trips we often rent. My wife went to Ohio from Florida in a small car and it worked great. We went to my Dads funeral in Montana in December with a minivan and it was a very comfortable trip. The salt wound up on Avis’ car not mine. The 500 to 800 dollars you pay are only 2 to three payments on a shiny car.

  71. Mechanic Joe Boulay encounters that situation frequently. If you have honestly evaluated the condition of your car and have done
    your homework on the value, you will be able to respond honestly
    that your price has taken all that into consideration, and that you asking
    a fair market value for the car in its current condition. The chief standard for this trend could be the much
    higher price tag on the new cars.

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