Should I rent a car or drive my own?

Deciding whether or not to rent a vehicle for a long trip may seem like a complicated problem to solve, but it’s really just one basic question and some simple math.

Size. If your car is too small for your road trip, then obviously you would have to consider renting a larger vehicle. On the flip side, however, if your car is too big for your road trip needs, then you’ll be adding unnecessary costs to every mile.

Gas Mileage. You can always save on gas by renting a hybrid vehicle or an economy car. But if you need more room, driving one large vehicle can be more cost effective than driving two smaller vehicles, even if the gas costs were to break even.

Maintenance & Depreciation. Driving your car on a long road trip means that you’ll be moving it ahead in its natural maintenance cycle, everything from oil changes to tires. But your vehicle is also experiencing depreciation with every mile that you drive. Average 2012 costs* are listed below by type of car.

Type of Car Average
Maintenance Costs
Average Depreciation
(¢/mile based on
15,000 miles/year)
Small Sedan 4.86 15.23
Medium Sedan 5.45 22.59
Large Sedan 6.09 33.05
4WD SUV 6.15 31.89
Minivan 5.20 25.79

So for example, here's how to calculate the hidden cost of driving your medium sedan on a 2,500-mile road trip.

     Maintenance: $0.0545/mile x 2,500 miles = $136.25

     Depreciation: $0.2259/mile x 2,500 miles = $564.75

               Total Average Hidden Cost: $701.00

While these hidden costs may not be upfront like paying for a rental car, it’s good to keep them in mind, especially if you are driving an older car that is nearing a major maintenance milestone.

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