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Road Trip Dilemma: Renting Vs. Driving Your Own Vehicle

rental car road trip
Allianz - rental car road trip

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 is keen to reach for their keys. Road trips can rack up mileage and routine maintenance—and those are just the known drawbacks of using your personal vehicle. Your national park tour could subject your prized Pathfinder to getting charged by a ram or rammed by a Charger.

When you’re weighing driving your own car vs. renting a vehicle for your next road trip, you’ve gotta crunch some numbers: gas mileage, rental car insurance, vehicle depreciation, etc. We’ll walk you through the dollars and cents of it all. 

Why you need rental car insurance for a road trip

Renting a car can get expensive—up to $91 per day (or higher), according to Bankrate.1 So you may be tempted to save money by skipping the optional collision/damage insurance.

Don’t! While it’s true that rental car insurance is an additional expense, not having it can torpedo your trip budget faster than a visit to a Vegas casino. If your rental car gets damaged while you have it, you could end up paying for it three ways:

  • You’ll have to pay the deductible on your own collision/comprehensive policy, which may be $500, $1,000 or more.
  • The rental car company may charge you “loss of use” fees, which your regular car insurance typically won’t cover.
  • The next time your insurance policy renews, your rates may go up because you’ve filed a claim.

To avoid this triple whammy, buy rental car insurance ahead of time. Our OneTrip Rental Car Protector provides primary collision loss/damage insurance coverage up to $50,000, for as little as $11 per calendar day. No deductible, no surprises.

>Get a quote for rental car insurance

Can you save money renting a car for a road trip?

It seems obvious that renting a car for a road trip would be more expensive than just taking the one in your driveway. But sometimes, renting a car could be the cheaper alternative. Consider these factors:

  • Gas mileage: If your daily driver is a GMC Yukon that gets 17 mpg combined, consider leaving it parked and renting a fuel-sipper for your road trip. Rent a newer Toyota Prius instead, and you’ll get up to 57 mpg combined, on average. That means you can go more than three times the distance on a single gallon of gas.2 An electric vehicle, whether owned or rented,
  • Wear and tear costs: A long road trip can inflict costly damage on your car, even if you don’t notice it right away. Every mile results in a certain amount of wear and tear to the engine, the tires and other moving parts. ItStillRuns offers an easy way to calculate wear-and-tear costsby the mile. A typical rate for a large SUV is around 34 cents per mile, which adds up to $680 for a 2,000-mile road trip.
  • Lease penalties: Folks who lease their car might also shy away from long trips. You’ll be required to pay a penalty of 20 to 30 cents per mile for each mile you drive above the contracted amount, which is usually around 12,000 miles per year.3
  • Car insurance:The cost of rental car insurance can potentially add $30 to $61 to your daily rate, depending on which types of insurance you buy.4 To save money, buy our OneTrip Rental Car Protector, which provides primary collision loss/damage insurance coverage for as little as $11 per calendar day. You get trip interruption and baggage benefits as well, plus 24-hour assistance.

If the bottom-line cost of driving your own car vs. a rental vehicle is the number one factor affecting your decision, then you’re going to need 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, rental insurance and any extra fees, too. 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.

5 more reasons you may want to rent a car for a road trip

  1. You love your car too much. 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.
  2. Your car’s not reliable. 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.

    A rental car is far less likely to give you trouble on the road. If it does, you can always call 24-hour assistance for help. Just know that the OneTrip Rental Car Protector does not cover the cost of towing or roadside assistance. It’s intended to cover costs if a car you're renting is stolen or is damaged in a covered accident or while it's left unattended.
  3. You want to try something new. A road trip could be an excellent time to test-drive a new vehicle. After all, it’s a more comprehensive experience than doing that little lap around the dealership while the sales person awkwardly sits shotgun.
  4. You need a car that’s bigger/tougher/safer. 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.
  5. You just want a sweet ride. 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.

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 pros and cons 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.

rental car road trip

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Jun 01, 2023