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Can Renting a Hybrid be a Much Better Deal than Driving Your Own Car?

If you are going on a long trip across a couple states for a week do you drive your own car or do you rent one?  Many people rent because they don’t like adding extra mileage on their cars.  Normally renting a car is a bit more expensive than driving your own but what about renting a hybrid?  Can the gas savings potentially offset the rental car costs?  As we found out during our recent trip to Nevada and Arizona, the answer is absolutely YES!

First, we weren’t sure what to do.  Alamo at San Jose Airport presented two options: to rent an economic mid-size car for a total of $180 per week or go for a hybrid for $220.  Considering the fact that we are thinking of buying a hybrid in the future, and the fact that our trip would leave a smaller pollution trail, we decided to have some fun and go for a hybrid – the brand spanking new Toyota Prius.

Man it was exciting to get into one of those.  Besides the fact that it took five minutes to figure out how to start the darn thing, the ride, the comfort, the dynamics is all really a joy in that car.  Cruising at low speeds in national parks and knowing that there is absolutely no emissions coming out of the pipe was nothing short of orgasmic.

It was a great trip but what about the bottom line on the numbers?  Now we could consider how much energy and resources (carbon footprint) it actually took to produce the hybrid car and how much of it was actually spent by depreciating this vehicle but let’s just have the blinders on like an Amish horse and not go there.  For the sake of this exercise, let’s consider our own immediate benefit.

We went a total of 1750 miles in 6 days.  Yes I know, even the Alamo Rent a Car guy was surprised.  We put some miles on this baby!

Our car – Nissan Maxima would have consumed about $310.  Kelly Blue Book says this car would depreciate by $100 if it added 2K miles on it.  Then factor in the wear and tear on car, tires, partial oil replacement, car wash, and you can add another 100 dollars easy.

The Hybrid – It cost a total of $229 to rent it and our cost of gas was only $130.  Obviously the rental car company bears all the wear and tear on the car so you don’t need to worry about it.

In short, here’s the break down:

Hybrid = $130 Gas + $229 Rent = $359 Total.

Nissan Maxima = $310 Gas + $100 Depreciation + $100 Wear & Tear = $510 Total.

That’s about $150 in savings and an added bonus of a feel good factor about the environment.  Obviously this depends on what type of car you’re comparing to and how much you plan on driving.  Your savings may be lower if you compare the hybrid to a more economic car like a Honda Civic.  On the other hand, your savings could be substantially higher if you compare it to the much beloved American style of travel like an SUV or a Minivan.

Bottom line, don’t be scared of renting a smaller car like a Hybrid for your longer trips.  It has plenty of room, fantastic gas mileage, and plenty of cool gadgets and sensors to feast your eyes on a longer stretch of the road.  It’s definitely worth it.

{ 6 comments… add one }

  • Paul Fung April 2, 2010, 9:53 pm

    Tadas,the content of your blog is just phonomenal. Renting a hybrid is a good way to go on a long road trip! With Uncle Sam’s incentives last year, I traded my 1995 van for a 2009 Honda Fit. The Honda Fit is such a fun car to drive and good on gas too. Since the purchase of the Honda Fit, I have let my Benz and BMW idle inside the garage constantly. I won’t miss them a bit. My BMW is a 1980 320i in mint conditions – fun to drive too but terribly uncomfortable for the passengers. Thanks for sharing your nice recommendations.

  • nate April 2, 2010, 10:31 pm

    I like that you breakdown the costs and how it all works out. that really sold me to see the dollars. I will consider this for our summer trip.

  • Tadas April 3, 2010, 10:05 pm

    Paul: thanks for the kind words. Glad to hear you’re enjoying your Honda Fit, I’ll have to go check it out.
    Nate: it’s all about the numbers, isn’t it? If you rent one, go for companies in San Jose Airport, you’ll get your best rates there.
    A friend, Brendan also e-mailed me with this story: “Coincidentally when my wife & I went away for her 40th birthday we rented a Camry hybrid for the trip so that we could try the car before actually purchasing. Coincidentally, we had even better cost savings than taking my car. The Camry hybrid achieved roughly 34 MPG versus the 15 MPG of my suv.”

  • Sukumar April 17, 2010, 3:43 am

    I’ve been driving an ’07 Prius for the past 2+ years and I love it (even after the recent negative publicity). Lots of room (more than I generally need), great feel and pickup, gas mileage averaging 50 mpg and surprisingly ample space in the back for luggage or even for hauling stuff. But I generally rent an economy or subcompact when I fly out west. But if one does a lot of driving or needs more room, it does make financial sense to rent a hybrid.

  • Tadas April 17, 2010, 10:06 pm

    I agree Sukumar, Prius has more room than I expected. Surprised to hear that 07 models already had such a good MPG. Good for you :-)

  • Cameron Benz August 3, 2010, 11:19 pm

    Tadas,
    Another insightful post. While I’m not yet sold on hybrid cars (due to the manufacture and disposal of the batteries, I just don’t know enough about them yet), obviously they could be a beneficial rental for long distance driving. Though, my Geo still gets about 50mpg so I’m going to stick with it for a while yet.

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