The Changing Supply of Used Vehicles.
By Wolf Richter for WOLF STREET.
If you have been renting cars periodically, you will have noticed that it’s not unusual now to get into a rental car that has 45,000 miles or even 50,000 miles on the odometer. But 10 years ago, a rental car with 30,000 miles on the odometer would have caused you to raise your eyebrows; and in the early 1990s, a rental car with 25,000 miles would have given you the willies.
This is an important factor for people who’re buying late-model used cars because a substantial part of the supply in the two-year-old range are former rental units. And there are many good deals to be had.
Every year, millions of used vehicles are sold at auctions around the US to franchised dealers (such as Ford or Chevy dealers) and to independent used-vehicle dealers. Manheim, a unit of Cox Automotive, and the largest auto-auction house in the US, runs about 8 million of these vehicles through its auction venues a year. And today it released its quarterly data about these vehicles, including the average miles of former rental units.
In December 2019, the average miles of those rental cars sold at its auctions rose 6% from a year ago to 51,395 miles. This was about double the average mileage in 2005-2006.
These are “rental risk” vehicles: Rental car companies bought them outright from the automakers and then sell them two years or so later at whatever price the market might bear – as opposed to vehicles that rental car companies buy with repurchase guarantees where the automakers agree in advance to buy them back at fixed terms. The “rental risk” units are so called because they put the rental car company at risk in terms of the resale value of the car.
This chart from Manheim shows how the average mileage has surged over those years from around 25,000 in 2005 and 2006 to 51,395 in December (red added, click to enlarge):
Even though average mileage has increased on those “rental risk” units, wholesale prices at Manheim’s auctions have increased also. In December, even as the average mileage rose 6% from a year ago, the average price rose 3.5% from a year ago $15,600. The fat orange line in this chart from Manheim represents 2019 prices of rental risk units (click to enlarge):
Which brands ran through the auctions as rental risk units the most? Nissan is having problems in the US. Its deliveries in 2019 dropped nearly 10% to 1.35 million units and were down 15.5% from the peak in 2017. But its brand was number one in terms of rental risk units being sold at auction in Q4, showing how aggressive Nissan had gotten in selling to rental fleets a couple of years ago. Nissan was followed by Ford (#2, blue), Chevrolet (#3, gray), and Toyota (#4, orange):
Midsize cars used to dominate the rental risk units. But in recent years, rental car companies – with an eye on resale values because that’s a risk for them – have followed the trend of consumer preferences for buying SUVs, hoping that auction prices of SUVs will remain high. So SUVs (red) have become the dominant segment among rental risk units going through the auction. Midsize cars (blue) have sunk to a distant number two. Note also the decrease in compact cars (gray), and the increase in pickups (orange):
Not all rental car fleets sell all their vehicles at auction. Some fleets, such as Enterprise and affiliated brands Alamo and National, also sell directly to the consumer, trying to fetch higher prices for their cars. Enterprise says on its website that it has an inventory of over 7,000 vehicles for sale nationwide. A quick look at the site shows that mileage by vehicle spans the spectrum, from the low teens to over 45,000 miles. Low-mileage vehicles come with higher price tags.
But Enterprise also sells many of its cars at auction. The decision is not random. For example, it might sell all its high-mileage units at auction, which would skew the average mileage of rental risk vehicles going through auction.
Rental cars with 50,000 miles or more on the odometer are getting ripe for a new set of tires in the near future. This can get costly for many models. And this point at the latest is when rental car companies will pull the ripcord because they don’t want to buy new tires for all their cars just before they sell them.
The aging of rental cars in terms of mileage fits into the theme of the rising age of the average vehicle on the road, which has hit a new record of 11.8 years, up from 8.8 years in 2000. A vehicle with 50,000 miles today can look nearly new and run perfectly for many more miles.
It makes sense for rental fleets to keep their vehicles longer, as long as repair costs don’t pile up. And the fact that rental fleets are keeping their vehicles this long shows that repair costs are not piling up. However, the limit would be the tires. Rental fleets would want to sell their vehicles well before the tread is worn to the legal limit. And buyers will have to budget for a new set of tires over the near term.
New car and truck sales are stuck in 20 years of stagnation interrupted by the collapse during the Financial Crisis and subsequent recovery. Read… US New Car & Truck Sales in 2019 Fell Below Year 2000 Level, 3rd Year in a Row Below 2016 Peak
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I have also noticed that rental cars now come with lots of dings, dents and outright damage when you rent them.
Unheard of just a few years ago.
When I go and ask for documentation to show I rented the car in this condition, the folks there are like “not a big deal – don’t worry about it.”
True. Because they were always nearly new when I first started renting cars, I got in the habit of closely documenting any scratches or whatever when I picked it up. Now there is so much, you just have to say dents and scratches all over, smells like a gas station/christmass tree.
Ok – Que the “I bought a 2 Billion Kilometer, Pick up Truck, for 12 Kopecks, in 1754, and have only changed the oil once!! – Posts!! LOL!!
Good about time the companies got smart wush they would run pickups only
Same experience and the same reaction from the vehicle inspector when I point out flaws. I now use a super-cheap rental place which operates out of a few airports and they are *buying* cars used from other rental companies and renting them out for a couple more years. I have had mileage as high as 86,000 and they are certainly on their second set of tires or more when I got them.
Speaking of rental-grade vehicles, I just got back from a GM dealership after bragging here the other day how I haven’t been to one in years and am the happier for it.
An elderly relative took me along to test-drive a new SUV. The owner/operator said they had about 10 of a certain model the relative was interested in—so ~of course~ they bring out the one with the upgraded engine (2.0 vs. 1.5) and added-cost paint, NOT what relative requested! After the test-drive, they mentioned the 1.5; I noted the 2.0 on the tailgate of the one we tested. Isn’t that bait-and-switch, car folks?! (Note radio station dealer-set to religious radio on all vehicles). Why would we test a 2.0 with a 9-speed when the one we’d be buying was a 1.5 with a 6-speed?! I bet that 1.5 is a real turd if they had 10 on the lot and didn’t show it off, not like it wasn’t available.
Truly unimpressive vehicle. $31.5k sale price LOL WUT.
I always buy my cars used from dealerships and I’ve had pretty good luck. Normally I get 250 to 280k miles before problems become expensive/annoying enough to justify getting a new one.
But I would never buy a used rental car no matter what warranty it came with. Every rental car I’ve ever driven has had bad steering, weird brakes, and a transmission that shifts like its been beaten within inches of its life — all at ~10k miles. The lipstick would probably rub off that pig fast.
i agree. i wouldn’t buy a used rental car. even though, the rental companies claim that they stay on top of the maintenance, it’s obvious to me that is frequently not the case. also, it just takes one jokester renter driving over curbs, etc. to mess up a car.
That is why they push the extended warranty with purchase of rental car adding to even more upfront expense.
Last time I rented a car the dashboard display said, “Maintenance required, oil change needed.” So I went back into the office and told the manager. She said, “give me the keys and wait here.” She went back to the car, turned on the ignition and from what I could tell reset the maintenance interval on the dashboard. She returned to the office, gave me the keys, and said, “You’re all set.”
No rental car purchases for me after that.
You say you by used, but wouldn’t by a used rental. How do you know? Do they have to disclose? If the manufacturers are buying them back from Rental companies and distributing them to dealers, I don’t see how you would know.
Exactly. My last used car I bought from a GM dealership (local one owner) needed a water pump and oil pump shortly after I bought it. I’m sure they could tell both were leaking (I’m not a mechanic, I couldn’t!) but hoped on the service $$$ after the sale. I took it elsewhere.
These “Certified” guys are a joke too. I looked at one at a GM dealer lot and it hadn’t even been vacuumed. The checklist requires a HUGE list of items to be inspected/repaired, including fixing any dings or paint defects, detailing, etc. There was a scuff on the back bumper. You bet your dollar they didn’t do ANYTHING other than change the oil!
Buy a used Honda. Rental car companies don’t usually have Hondas.
Get/read the CarFax. It will tell you.
Unless the car is from Florida or another state with similar State laws. Carfax gets its info from the State records, among other sources. In Florida, accidents are not reported to the State unless a ticket is issued to the driver at fault.
That means that in a 2 car accident, there is at most, only one vehicle is reported where Carfax could find the record.
I got stung with a clean Carfax vehicle which turned out to have (repaired and concealed) severe damage from hitting a curb or pothole at speed.
I have only returned and replaced a rental once. I was given a Chev Malibu with about 13k miles at check in … turned out their was a horrible squeal every time I went over a minor bump and the suspension was hard as a rock. Returned it next day on the road and got into a Camry with like mileage. Drive was like night and day…road noise reduced and drove by itself (I was already a Toyota/Honda convert). I could have bought the Camry second hand… wouldn’t touch the Malibu even if brand new.
Two things that will go anywhere:
A four wheel drive vehicle, and a rental car.
Most probably end up in The Hood Car Flip System.
Your right tgey are driven rough turn. The problem is a staff working there Really beats them on the my relative used to work for all three major rental places and he told me that the stop take them out on the weekends readjust the mileage and beat the crap out of them one guy was even using the pickup trucks to do a landscaping business I think he still is perhaps a rental company should be investigating their employees more than they investigate stop that rents them one of the biggest frauds happening in the auto car industry if somebody can come up with an app to let the rental cars know what’s really going on they probably make a hell of a lot more money
We’re spending down. Many are trying to live cheaper. We are doing more with less. Kids live longer with parents and some even take care of parents in the same home. Cars are just looked at as a money drain. Many economic models need to adapt to the new normal.
Could some of those longer-mileage cars be from leasing rather than rental? The difference is getting blurred these days.
Some of the rental outfits (Sixt and Avis) offer ‘mini-leases’ and ‘long term rental’ contracts. These are rentals with minimum one month duration, one month notice period and reasonably priced even.
People working contracts might well use one of those contracts rather than buying or leasing a car for working or going to the job (a cheap car will generally be shitty and unreliable).
There is also a trend emerging with the ‘teenagers’ that they don’t own much stuff. They will buy used and dump it back in ‘the market’, they will hire things, they will use payment plans, they will buy from charity shops and then return the items later. Status symbols are going from big things like cars to small things like watches. People show off by having the time to do cooking out in the forest (with all the minimalist gear, again small).
Quite interesting, I think.
I’d like me some of those 50K miles tyres! I doubt I can eek more than 15-20K miles out of mine (25000 – 30000 km or so).
“Could some of those longer-mileage cars be from leasing rather than rental? The difference is getting blurred these days.”
In terms of the data in this article, it’s ALL about “rental risk” units going through auction. And it doesn’t matter whether a rental car company rents the car for three days for for three months. In terms of the data, there are no other types of units included here.
Separately, vehicles coming off a two-year lease often have relatively low mileage. Leases have a mileage limit built into the contract, and going over it gets expensive. If you do a two-year lease with a 50,000 mile limit built into the contract, your payment would be much bigger — so high that you would probably not lease but buy.
They call cooking in the forest with minimalist gear a homeless encampment. Tres chic, did you get that cardboard box at Macy’s?
It’s more of that heuristics stuff. By jingo, it really works!
it makes sense for rental car companies to hold onto their cars longer but car reliability is a complex subject. imho, cars are much more reliable for the first 100k miles now but with the exception of toyota, honda and ford products, it goes downhill rapidly from there. this is mostly due to the complexity of the electronics in modern cars. and the extensive use of plastic mechanical components that fail after multiple heat cycles. as soon as a transmission awd system fails, the cars are scrapped.
the exception to this are the less complex cars especially with a manual tranmission or at least a simple automatic (non-cvt asin or ford) and a minimum of gadgets. they can go a really long time.
We used to buy only Fords and once they got to 90K+ mileage, you could hear the cars coming from down the street. One particular car we traded in with just under 100K miles, we were lucky it made it to the dealer. The dealer was offering $2K for anything you could drive to the lot and we thought we got a great trade in allowance, considering how much work the car needed.
I’m surprised at how fast ex rental cars are selling at the company stores. I went several times to hertzs stores to look at cars for friends and they were sold within days of hitting the lot. The salesman told me they have a quota of 15 cars a month, I think the one store had around 8 salesman. They spend zero on advertising, just listing on the cars for sale platforms.
Tires have become a scam I previously had cheap Kumhos (sp?) on my CRV, got 55,000 mi. Popped for Michelins, and am not even 60,000, and wondering if the treadware markers will pass next inspection.
Michelin claimed treadware numbers on the tire are now as bogus as any cheap Korean tire.
I never expect more than 60k out of any tire. I have had good luck with the General Altimax RT43 (made by Continental). Wears well, good in wet/snow, rides comfortably, and is fairly inexpensive.
Michelin definitely aren’t what they used to be. Did not like the Defenders/Premier AS compared to the Primacy MXV4 I used to have.
I used to get only Michelins in the 1980s, but stopped buying Michelins in the 1990s because their treadware got horrible and were getting less than half their rated mileage.
Currently buying only Bridgestone tires, but warily watching the quality, as they’ve shifted some of the manufacturing of their Bridgestone labeled tires from Japan to their US Firestone plants.
Firestone used to make terrible tires that were prone to coming apart – had a set in the late 1970s, which was how I switched to Michelins.
Had a set of General tires that came OEM on a new Ford Taurus station wagon. The tires went bald after only 20k miles – I discovered this when one tire blew out while I was driving down the 101 – fortunately I was still in the slow lane and was able to exit quickly.
I have a nephew who was a comptroller for a major car rental agency. (I won’t mention the company name.) It has become a crappier employer to work for and the business model is getting slammed by Uber. That is why their cars are kept longer, imho. Families would do the same. “Can’t buy a new car this year, honey. We’ll just make do”.
Why I would never buy a rental:
I used to work at a a small airline. One thing we religiously ensured was all pilots use the same power settings and operate the throttle and prop controls (rpm) in exactly the same way. It made a huge difference in engine life and maintenance costs which was huge for the bottom line. Studies have also shown that single driver vehicles operated carefully last far longer and have fewer maintenance problems, (provided the car was decent to begin with). This is the exact opposite of a rental vehicle.
I live an hour from town on a winding Vancouver Island 2 lane hwy. We can immediately tell who lives here and who is a stranger just by how they drive. The clues are the speeds used going into corners, where drivers pass, brake, and how they pass. Mini van drivers and PU trucks the worst. They often drive like it’s the Indy 500. Stickers on the back bumpers usually say ‘Budget’, or ‘National’. The big vans in the bush are pounded to shi* by tree planters going to work or by tourists. Buy one of these? No thanks.
For a city rental, the roads and traffic dictates much of the driving. Open road, drivers get their money’s worth, and display an “It ain’t mine” kind of attitude. Many drive the snot out of their rental.
I remember trying to buy my first car, mid 1980’s, we looked at the Enterprise cars in NJ. All the cars had between 32-36K miles and cost $5-7K. They cleaned up the cars but they still looked really beaten up on the inside. We bought one from a dealer instead.
3 year off lease vehicle would be a much, much better choice as compared to a rental risk vehicle. For obvious reasons, right?! Better than new IMHO
I purchased a 2016 rental car from Hertz, Volvo S80 in 2017 one year old 19K miles, new on the dealer floor was $42,500. Been a great car only purchased tires.
People flew into a DC area airport on Mondays on business, rented a car at the airport and stayed until Friday. They turned in their cars and flew home.
It is cheaper to fly on Wednesdays.
Rental vehicles are on the whole much more dangerous (yes I said dangerous), to rent than they were twenty years ago.
I no longer rent from Hertz because half the time I would get vehicles with the check engine light on or flattened tires that had been filled with air prior to my arrival (which then deflate and you’re on the hook for it), or cars that made odd noises, or had wobbily suspensions. Other companies do this but Hertz wins the prize for being the most consistent.
Wolf’s spot on that rental cars with milelages over 40k are now common. Most rental car companies will not take the tire off to internally patch flats, they’ll use a quick temporary seal kit on the external surface of the tire with no patch.
You should think clearly about that the next time you drive a rental car out to Vegas on over 100 degree interstate roads.
Anyone here ever bought a car online and had it shipped to them? Buyers often have an idea what they want and cannot find it. In urban areas, and SoCa late model autos get trashed, due to smog, or cost of repairs.
I once bought my mid life crisis mobile (Lexus SC430) online from a dealer in Pennsylvania (via Ebay) and had it shipped cross border to Canada by truck and rail. There was a major delay in the shipping time due to a broken down truck somewhere along the route. It took about 8 weeks to arrive… but in excellent shape. I saved a bundle over the price locally even with the added shipping,exchange rate, duties and VAT.
The dealer was reputable and is still marketing through ebay. I think this works on high end relatively expensive vehicles and only with lots of due diligence.
Yes, or almost with my 2019 RAM ”classic”, with single cab, 8 foot bed, 4WD… did work with the sales guy i like at the local dealer, so perhaps he was more thorough? Got exactly what i wanted though it was late due to border politics at the time.
I am also responding to buying used off lease or rental: Spouse wanted a 09 Cobalt with 29K in fall 09; needed tires at approx 60K, and some minor stuff now around 80K, otherwise been good.
She refused my offer of a 2015 Accent due to still being happy with the Cobalt, so I traded the Accent which was a very good value, just not able to figure out how to sleep in it when out in the woods, and my 84 Chevy was needing work after 300K…
Many times, Ambrose. I’m batting 1.000
Wolf, do you know anything about whether rental car companies do any driving data logging based on the obd-II connector or similar data interface? Some pay-per-mile insurance companies such as Metromile use obd-II, and at least they log miles driven along with GPS data.
I’m thinking about the implications for rental rates (lower if you drive nicely?), and the ability to see how well a given used car has been treated in terms of driving style over its lifetime.
I highly doubt that the rental car companies price based on driving behavior. They price based on supply and demand.
For example: in the SF Bay Area, the cheapest prices for rental cars can be gotten in the 5-9 days before you pick up the car. Before that, the prices are very high. After that, the prices are generally even higher, but there are cases where they can be lower.
The cars certainly do have some form of telemetry though – in California, there is non-zero risk of rental cars being driven into Mexico, for example. That’s certainly a no-no.
Many rental cars are already connected to the internet via the cellphone infrastructure, and you can’t change that — and then everyone collects all data.
Other rental cars want to connect to the internet via YOUR cellphone. I was in an Enterprise car like that recently. Every time I started the car, the computer screen in the dashboard exhorted me to connect the car’s computer to my cellphone, via Bluetooth I suppose. But my cellphone’s Bluetooth is permanently turned off.
So recording your driving data in a black box and then transmitting it to the rental car company when you turn in the car is like so passé. Live-streaming is the thing now :-]
I should clarify that the Metromile obd-II dongle has 4G in it and transmits as you drive. WHAT it transmits is unknown, but at least it transits mileage and location. That is known.
Easy, it’s just interest rate suppression driving car prices higher.
When rates go up, prices on cars and all leveraged assets will come down .
When ever will interest rates go up?
I don’t see it going down substantially for next foreseeable future..
The way FED caved in last year and did 3 rate cuts is a telltale indicator we are in permanent low rate env.
What interest rates do you demand when you lend $$?
Rates will go up when enough lenders demand higher rates.
I stopped lending already. Due to $ supply expanding at 7.5%, with no limits on rate of expansion, I demand at least 12% if I’m going to lend into low risk vehicles like fdic acts, gov bonds and aaa Corp bonds
If you focus on the FED then never. Consider how the global monetary base has expanded, once the offshore labor market codifies, (no cheap labor on Mars?) wages begin rising. Inflation is consistent with higher interest rates. Fed has their bizarro economic model, ignore that. UST operates as the controller unit for rates, but they have no room to expand lower, politics and existing debt overhang. Once corporate debt becomes coin of the realm free market reasserts itself. All that high yield junk starts to look pretty good. May be one reason TSLA is on a tear.
‘Nissan in trouble in US”
Memo from Nissan HQ: ‘Conserve every yen’
Travel allowances cut to bone. No extra bodies to fly.
Not sure why Nissan in extra trouble. There are issues with their CVT trans, the bizarre situation with the escape from Japan of their former CEO while out on bail, the merger with Renault (the former CEO blames Japanese opponents of the merger for his ‘trumped up’ charges.
I bought two experiences along these lines. The first was a corporate fleet car, two years old, Ford Taurus. I drove it for 16 years with no major repair expenses. The second one, I bought a former rental, just now. Kia Sorento, 1 year old, 9 years left on the factory warranty, in near-perfect condition. Save a boatload of cabbage both times.
Transferred powertrain warranty is 5 years/60k miles (unless you’re outside of USA??).
If cars are being used longer then I assume volume has dropped. That wasn’t in the article was it?
I went through this with my construction machinery dealer clients. They would rent a machine for 2 to 3 years and then sell it. For a number of reasons, a big one being a drop in oil, the prices in 2016 for used machines were not good. I told the clients to rent the machines longer. The short argument was “but we always sell at this age”, and my response “ok so take the loss”. They kept the machines longer, minimal repair expenses, and the prices improved in 2017. Summary, machinery and cars are lasting longer. The risk of buying new–instant depreciation when you take delivery, recalls. The risk of used is previous ownership, but the reward is better pricing.
Pricing is not necessarily up. Car prices have gone through the roof so the trends need a reference line for where the same model car sold over a period eg toyota camry and a ford or gm model. I also wonder if the rental car companies are buying the same number of cars. I understand the oem repurchase option is disappearing. I no longer rent cars. Too painful. I have had a few breakdown on me and it’s cheaper to ride hail.
Thank you for these reports. You have great insight.