You’ve mapped out every minute of your upcoming road trip. You’ve booked rooms, tours and even jotted down can’t-miss diners and dives.
But who’s driving? And what? When it comes to driving long distances, not everyone reaches for their keys at once. And many times, there is a good reason that someone prefers to be a passenger or at least a driver of someone else’s car. Road trips can rack up mileage and routine maintenance – and those are just the known threats. Your national park tour could subject your prized Prius to getting charged by a ram, rammed by a Charger, or even “borrowed” by a vagabond who just went out to get some milk and eggs. Don’t worry, he’ll totally, probably be back soon. Right.
There are a few ways to look at driving your own car vs. renting a vehicle for your next road trip. One is to crunch some numbers – gas mileage, vehicle depreciation, etc. We’ll walk you through the dollars and cents of it all, as it’s largely based on what kind of car you drive and the specifics of your road trip.
Then there are the emotions to consider. Perhaps the possibility of having your sweet little coupe exposed to the real world just gives you too much anxiety. Or maybe you’re the tight-fisted type who would never hand cash to a rental company when you have a perfectly fine car sitting in your garage.
There are lots of considerations here, so buckle up and focus…
So, should you take your car on a road trip?
If you drive a beater – you know, a rust bucket that’s overdue for retirement at the scrapyard – then you already know the answer. It’s barely fit to drive you to the end of the driveway; there’s no way it should be taken on a road trip, even if it’s an indestructible Ford Ranger. That Ranger has 280K miles and an oil pan held together with duct tape. It won’t end well.
But consider this: a road trip could be an excellent time to test drive a new vehicle. After all, it’s a much more comprehensive experience than doing that little lap around the dealership while the sales person awkwardly sits shotgun.
If you have a brand spanking new car, you might hesitate to put 5,000 miles on it in a week when you’re still having trouble picking it out in parking lots. This is more of a psychological hurdle, but you probably want your car to look new as long as it has that new car smell. Folks who lease their car might also shy away from long trips. You’ll be required to pay a penalty of up to 30 cents per mile for each mile you drive above the contracted amount, which is usually around 12,000 or less per year.i
Common sense dictates other choices. For example, if your road trip will tackle mountainous terrain, and you drive a rear-wheel-drive conversion van, you may want to consider a rental vehicle. Similarly, if six of you are going camping, and you and your subcompact car drew the short stick, start browsing the rental sites.
There is one more consideration for when your current vehicle doesn’t quite fit the trip, and this one may sound shallow and completely self-serving. That’s because it is. You may want a car that drives fast, that looks cool, or simply isn’t a ’97 Mercury Tracer, even if it’s in mint condition. Remember, a road trip is usually a vacation, right? It’s a break from routine and a time to pamper yourself a bit. Some like hot stone massages, other prefer popping open the sunroof and revving a V6 on the open road. We’ve even offered up some luxury rental car suggestions if that’s the direction you’re headed.
If the bottom-line cost of driving your own car vs. a rental vehicle is the No. 1 factor affecting your decision, then you’re going to need to get a pencil, some paper and a calculator.
First, scout rental car deals to know what you’ll potentially pay. Weekly rates are usually the way to go for the best value. Be sure to add in gas costs and take into account any extra fees, too. One major expense is the cost of rental car insurance, which can potentially add $20 to $40 to your daily rate, depending on which types of insurance you buy.ii To save money, you can buy the Rental Car Damage Protector from Allianz Global Assistance, which provides collision loss/damage insurance coverage up to $40,000.
Now you’ll need to compute the cost of driving your own car. This includes knowing your total trip mileage, figuring out the average gas price in the areas you’ll be driving through, and also including your own vehicle’s fuel efficiency, or m.p.g.
Don’t forget to figure in the cost for additional oil changes that high-mileage road trips can bring as well as overall depreciation for tires and other repairs, which you can safely estimate at $.20 / mile.
Wait, you know what’s easier than performing all this math? Using this road trip rental car vs. your car calculator.
There is no hard and fast rule for determining whether it makes more sense to rent a car or use your own vehicle for a road trip. The best route is to simply consider all the ramifications of using your own ride or paying for someone else’s. That way, the only thing you have to second guess once the road trip kicks off is why you didn’t just fly to Bermuda.