Rentals: To buy or not to buy? The pros and cons
Aidan Timmons and Motoring Editor Eddie Cunningham team up to help readers make the right choice with their next car. Aidan visits dealers all over the country to produce a monthly guidebook on the values of used cars. He is co-editor of Motor Trade Publishers, who supply a car-valuing service to the motor trade, insurance companies and finance houses. Eddie is author of former best-seller 'Clever Car Buying'.
Thousands of 'young' cars come back on the market this time of year.
These rentals or 'hire-drives' have been ferrying people, mostly tourists, around the country from as far back as Easter.
Now, as the tourist year winds down, they are coming back to dealerships and many are being put on sale as 'nearly new' and 'newsed'.
The big attraction is - or certainly should be - reduced prices. Some models are thousands below the equivalent new car.
Does it sound too good to be true? Or would you be better off buying a brand new car? Or waiting until next year for a 161-reg?
These are the key questions and here we try to tease out the main reasons for buying or not as the case may be.
Much depends on your disposition to buying what is effectively a low-mileage used car for a reduced price.
Equally as much depends on your finance arrangements.
And you have to be happy too with the model on offer because choice is not as broad as it would be if buying new.
The pros and cons are extensive - see our adjoining panel to help make it easier for you to make your mind up.
Of course, we also suggest that if you are seriously interested in a hire-drive car, you should make sure it has a clean bill of health and that you are aware of all the little bits and pieces that have been done to it over its short life.
So, after all that, here are some of the most popular rentals we reckon are well worth a look because they will be priced fairly keenly.
The Fiesta is making top whack on the used-car market. All things being equal, buying one at a discount should mean your cost of motoring over the course of the next couple of years will be miniscule.
Also, superminis of all brands are creeping up in new price so making a saving anywhere is a bonus. The Fiesta is robust and should stand up to the rigours of rental life. Zetec models are most popular. Rental companies know this so you won't have to compromise on specification.
There was a new Corsa released this year so you are buying the freshest model. The Corsa is a popular rental so there should be a broad mix of colours, specifications and mileages. Boot space is good and the Corsa feels a robust car all around.
Like the 207 before it, the 208 needed a few years before it got into its stride.
Now, the 208 is a popular supermini that deserves your attention. Despite looking smaller than the 207, it is bigger inside. The 1.0 litre Active model represents good value for money. Motor tax is just €190 a year and the interior feels a little more upmarket than some rivals.
The Golf costs more than its rivals so any saving off the new price is to be welcomed. Fleet companies love the Golf because it is universally accepted throughout the trade. It consistently ranks as one of the country's best-selling cars.
There have been competitive deals on new top-spec High Line models this year so be sure to price the ex-rentals alongside a new purchase.
Still, if you are in the market for a 2014 version you could find that it will cost little enough to make the jump to a 2015 hire-drive. It is worth investigating. Also, keep a watchful eye out for petrol models. They are back in fashion.
It is popular with rental companies for the same reason as the Golf. There is consistently good demand for them. Higher-spec Zetecs might not be that readily available so instead try to find an Edge model that has something called an 'Edge Pack'.
This brings the car much closer to Zetec levels. The 1.6 TDCi engine is reliable and while the boot is not as big as some of its rivals' boots, the Focus remains a great all-rounder.
For the last few years rental companies have been mainly buying diesel cars but the Toyota range has a decent petrol following and so a 1.33 petrol Corolla/Auris won't be too hard to find.
The new 1.2 turbo engine is costly new and is unlikely to be bought in bulk so if you want the latest engine tech then you need to shop for a new one.
Historically, Toyotas were bought in low-spec 'Terra' trim. Again, regular retail cars are usually Luna models but there might be a few ex-rental higher specifications so shop around.
The Mondeo is a popular fleet car. Expect 1.6 diesel models to be most popular but if for whatever reason a 2-litre happens to find its way back from rental duty then snap it up because it is a peach of an engine. There should be plenty of choice for Mondeos so you can afford to be choosy.
Just like the Mondeo, the Insignia is a popular rental too and so choice will be abundant.
There will probably be a range of specs as the prices are nicely sandwiched together but the one to go for is the SC model. If you put more of a premium on a newer car over specification then drop back to the S model.
It won't be quite as well-kitted but you are effectively buying a year's more warranty. The 2.0 CDTi engine is no slouch, producing 140bhp.
This is a new model that is as refined as most compact executives. A 1.6 TDi Comfortline is nicely finished and the engine performs better than the previous model in terms of fuel efficiency.
Why the 508 does not sell in bigger numbers is beyond us. Euro for euro it is one of the best value family saloons around. The engines are solid. The rear of the saloon can be a little divisive but the overall package is great. A 1.6 diesel in Active trim would make a sensible family car.
Yes, even seven-seat MPVs find their way back from the rental companies. If you are a family looking for a knockdown price on a big MPV then take a look at the S-Max. A brand new model has just been released and it has been given a little price increase so the last of the now old models makes for a great purchase.
Good used seven-seat MPVs are scarce and are making top money at the moment. If you can finance one, an ex-hire S-Max might work out more economically sensible in the long run.
This gives you the chance to 'win, win' because the Alhambra is well priced in the first place.
They are constantly smartening this up and adding equipment so you should check with your dealer on the rental's vintage. The basic car is well proven and gives you a lot of flexibility on whether or buy new or newsed.
* Please take your time in coming to a decision. You have a lot of factors to balance against each other and there is a lot of money involved. Good luck.