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My wife and I are looking at a used car...

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Dear Tom and Ray:



My wife and I are looking at a used car (a Mazda 626) from a rental company. The advantages we see are a lower price than buying from a dealer, good selection and accurate maintenance records -- not to mention a no-haggle price policy. The disadvantages we see are higher mileage and potential abuse by renters. Do you have any opinions on this? -- Mike

TOM: Yeah. My opinion is "go for it," Mike. Rental-car agencies are very good sources of late-model used cars.

RAY: And you've laid out the advantages pretty well. They have a lot of cars to choose from, they're all pretty new, and they have all the maintenance records.

TOM: More importantly, most rental car companies actually DO the maintenance. And that's not always the case with individual owners. In my experience, people who drive leased cars (which is mostly what the dealer sells in his used-car lot) don't take very good care of their vehicles. Since the owner knows he's giving back the car after 24 or 36 months, he's loath to put a dollar more into the car than he absolutely has to.

RAY: Right. When I tell a customer with a leased car that he needs an oil change, he'll ask me: "Can you just change one or two of the quarts? That's cheaper, isn't it?"

TOM: The disadvantage of a rental car is that it might have higher mileage than an off-lease car of similar age. Especially if you buy it from a place that rents cars with "unlimited mileage."

RAY: But abusive rental-car drivers shouldn't worry you that much. It's certainly possible to have a few jerks who are hard on a rental car, but most people who rent cars just drive them normally. After all, they're used for business travel or family vacations. And that's especially true for run-of-the-mill sedans like a Mazda 626. If you were buying a rental Porsche, I'd be much more concerned.

TOM: So I think it's a good idea, Mike. But like any used car, be sure to have it thoroughly inspected by your own mechanic before agreeing to buy it. Buying a used car from a rental company is a good idea in theory. To make it a good idea in practice, you have to be sure the EXACT car you're buying is a good one.
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