Car rental vs. buying a car for 1 month, when visiting the USA?

  • I would like to visit a few places in the states sometime next year, and I was thinking of doing a road trip while I'm at it. I could start in either Los Angeles or Montreal, and then I would like to visit Philadelphia, Phoenix and Las Vegas during my trip; plus whatever there is on the way between - national parks would be on top of the list. I had about $2000 in mind for transport (excluding fuel).

    So my question is: how would I get around? I could take the trains or public transport between the States and Montreal because I don't want to have any hassle with importing/exporting a car, and only drive a car in the states.

    The 2 options I see here are either buying a used car and then sell it at the end of the trip, or rent a car.

    I had a look at hertz.com, and they quoted me ~$3500 (including insurance) for 1 month and this car: look mate, the orange car goes much faster!

    But it seems like I have to return the car to the pickup location with Hertz, because if I choose a different drop off location it shows "not available" for this car. Did I just pick the wrong drop off location here of is A->B really not an option? Do I get different rates at different locations? Has anyone advice on how to get this cheaper? I searched for "relocation" on their site, but didn't find anything.

    The second option would be to buy a car for $3000, and then sell it at the end of my trip, and hopefully get more than $1000 back for it. Has anyone experience with this? Are there any places better for buying or for selling a car? In which state would I get "more car" for the same amount of money? Would there be any paperwork involved if I buy a car in one state and sell it in another? Anything else I need to know when buying or selling a car?

    Do you want to rent the car in the USA and drop it of in Canada (or vice versa)?

    i would just need a car inside the US to avoid trouble of taking a car into another country; and the use public transport to/from us-montreal

    consider also the "rent a wreck" used-car-rental options

    As a note on the question: your picture shows a fancy sports car. Although rental companies often have these available, they are often subject to higher prices and special rules (e.g. no one-way rentals). If you look for a more modest car, you'll probably find a better price, and a better chance of satisfying your one-way itinerary (not to mention a more comfortable interior and better fuel economy).

    With the pandemic, there are probably a lot of people with significantly decreased use for a car that would be willing to loan theirs out for a month for $2000. I probably would.

  • Flimzy

    Flimzy Correct answer

    9 years ago

    Buying option

    For a one-month trip, I do not recommend buying and selling a car. Although it probably could be done, let me address some of the complications with that first, then I'll discuss rentals:

    • A $3000 car will be old, and probably not very reliable. I would not trust a car in this price range to get me safely around the country without thorough inspection, or a long test-drive/break-in period first. Certainly you could get lucky, and have absolutely no problems with a $3000 car for a month of road trips. But it would really ruin your vacation, I expect, if the car broke down in the middle of Arizona, or wherever.
    • Selling a car takes time. If you're willing to lose $2000 in the selling process, though, it would be easy. You could probably unload it at any car dealership for $2000 less than you paid a month before.
    • Registration is a pain. Typically when you buy a car, you will get a temporary tag, and then have 30 days (although in some states fewer, I believe) to get an official registration. If your stay is 30 days or less, this may not be a problem, since you would not be required to get an official tag. But if you have the car 31 days or longer, you'll have to stop by a DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) in some state, and get a license plate. And doing that typically requires proof of residence of that state, which you probably won't have. It will likely also require a vehicle inspection, at minimum to ensure the car is not stolen, and in many states, to ensure it passes environmental regulations. If you register the car in the same state where you buy it, it will probably pass environmental regulations. But if you register it in another state, it's anybody's guess.
    • It may be difficult to find a company that will provide you (affordable) insurance for a car you just bought, if you are not a U.S. resident.
    • Depending on the states where you buy and sell your car, it may actually be impossible to sell your car so quickly after having bought it, because you may not have the title in your possession yet. And even if you have a title signed over to you, that may not be sufficient to sell it--you may have to get the state DMV (wherever you register the vehicle) to send you a new official title in your name before you can sell it again.
    • Selling the car in another state may be difficult, but I don't know. If you sell it to a dealership, they will likely take over most of the paper work involved--assuming it's possible.

    Rental option

    There are much cheaper options for rentals than the one you quoted. A quick look at kayak.com shows that a rental from LAX (Los Angeles, CA) and drop-off at LGA (New York City, NY) a month later can be had for as little as $1792 including tax. Of course that does not include fuel, and likely does not include extra insurance. You also may or may not be able to take this vehicle into Canada. Different rental agencies will have different policies (and possibly extra costs) for taking it into Canada. You'll just have to ask.

    This rental option may take you over your $2000 budget, but you might be able to cut corners by renting multiple vehicles at different times during your stay. If you'll be staying in L.A. for a week, for instance, maybe use public transport while you're there, and only rent a car at the end of your stay for the next leg of your journey.

    You can also count on a more reliable car. If you pick a nation-wide rental company, they might change your car along the way in agencies and you have customer support if you have any mechanic problem. You also drive a quite recent car.

    Yeah; i think the insurance and registration when buying would be a dealbreaker for me. Didn't expect it to be so difficult; could get a car, registration and insurance done in AUS and NZ in 3h an then i'm on the road...

    In Australia you might get it done that fast if it already has a roadworthiness cerfiticate, if you're buying it in the state it's registered in, and depending on what state you're talking about in fact. For instance the best deals are found by buying a car from a traveller about to return home, but these are the most likely to have iffy paperwork or be from interstate.

    Some credit card companies insure your rental car for you so you don't have to buy additional coverage; if they don't do so automatically, research to see if coverage from the credit card company is available - it's often significantly lower than what the rental company charges.

    I do not agree at all that a car under $3000 is unreliable. In fact, it is the other way around. The cars they are building these days are designed to break down so that you keep buying new cars. Older cars before 1995 are very reliable and easy to fix some problems on your own rather than going to a mechanic. We bough our 94 Chevy g20 for $1500 and we have drive up and down the west coast many times and have owned it now for 3 years. Never a problem. And recently we bought a Hyundai Elanta for $700 had it for almost a year now. Runs great!

    @RoadTripUSA: Of course you can find a car under $3,000 that will be very reliable. But you won't know until you've driven it for a couple months. Also you cannot _reliably_ find a car under that price, that you can be sure will work without problems during a road trip. Thus, I stand by my statement that such a car will be "probably not very reliable". If you're willing to risk your holiday plans on the chance that you get a lemon, of course, you are free to do so.

    "If you'll be staying in L.A. for a week, for instance, maybe use public transport while you're there" - Europeans should be aware that most American public transport is awful by their standards, and LA in particular is bad even by American standards. You can do this, but it may not be much fun. OTOH, this is a fine idea in NYC (where on the one hand parking is impossible, and on the other, the subways are dirty, slow, irregular, and otherwise terrible, but do actually get you where you need to go).

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM