Business Trips: To Rent or Not to Rent

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jan 30, 2014

Dear Tom and Ray:

I've got a question that arises from time to time in my office. Oftentimes, we need to visit faraway cities and towns within the state for meetings and the like (and long lunches). They give us two options: We can get a per-mile reimbursement if we use our own car, or we can rent a car. I know that the reimbursement allowance is to cover wear and tear as well as gas, so how do I value said wear and tear?

-- Kyle

RAY: I would always rent a car, Kyle.

TOM: Sure. Most companies, and the federal government, will reimburse mileage at 55 or 60 cents a mile. That's supposed to cover gas, as well as wear and tear on your car.

RAY: But trust me, you're not going to make money on that deal. At best, you'll break even. Every year, the IRS calculates the average cost of owning, maintaining and repairing a car, and divides that by the average number of miles driven to get the mileage reimbursement.

TOM: And sure, it's nice to get that reimbursement check now, because it's always more than you spent on the gas -- so it seems like a windfall. But that's money you will need for future repairs, and you're essentially borrowing from the future of your car.

RAY: Plus, there's some wear and tear that's just not calculatable. What if Selma the slob from sales spills her venti skim latte on your front seat? What's the mileage reimbursement for a big, brown stain and sour-milk odor?

TOM: Or what if 350-pound Bruno from marketing yanks off the door handle because he's an animal?

RAY: Or what if you have an accident? Sure, you probably have insurance to cover the cost, but what about the deductible and the inconvenience?

TOM: Whereas if you use a rental car, I can guarantee that there will be absolutely no wear and tear on your car. Plus, you get to drive a reliable, new car that your kids haven't turned into a rolling junk pit yet. That's how I'd roll.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One