Leasing vs. Renting a Car

by Brandon M. Dennis

The decision to lease or rent a car is very personal, as it depends on your individual situation. There is no simple answer that will be right for everyone. Think about how long you will need the car and what you intend to do with it -- travel or emergency use, for example.

Car Leasing

Pros:

  • Better for long-term needs. If you require a car for an extended period of time or plan on buying it at the end of the term, you will be better off leasing it compared to getting a rental.
  • More variety to choose from. When you lease a car, you can choose the exact type of vehicle you want, and nobody is going to tell you that “this is all we have right now,” as you may experience when renting.
  • More forgiving of damage plus wear and tear. When you lease a car, you are still responsible for damage and excess mileage, but you will most likely not pay as much as you would if you had been renting instead.

Cons:

  • Not good for an emergency or short-term needs. If you need a car to drive immediately, such as being in an accident with your own car and requiring transportation for work, you won't want to rush into leasing. A lease is something that takes more time to negotiate and generally involves a three-year contract, though some firms offer shorter terms.
  • Early-termination fees. If you decide you no longer need the vehicle, you will probably be charged for ending the lease early.

Car Rental

Pros:

  • Easier to jump in and out of a short-term deal. If you want a car in a hurry and don't need to keep it for a long time, then it will be simpler and cheaper to rent rather than going through the process of negotiating a lease contract.
  • Better for vacations or traveling for work.

Cons:

  • Getting charged for damage that you didn't cause. It is fairly common for people to get charged for damage to a rental car that was already damaged before they took possession of it. Take photos or videos -- use your phone or tablet -- before you drive off in the rental car as proof that you may need later.
  • Poor selection of cars to choose from. Unless you reserve a car in advance, you may be stuck with whatever leftovers your chosen rental company has to offer. This may be a nuisance and even unsafe if you are forced to drive a vehicle you are not familiar with.

Similarities Between Leasing and Renting

The two methods of obtaining a car do share some similarities, because both involve arrangements that are not permanent.

  1. You can't customize your vehicle or make any permanent changes.
  2. You have to keep the car in good condition to avoid extra fees.
  3. There will almost always be a mileage limit, with a charge for every extra mile over it.

If after all of this, you still can't decide which option is right for you, then you may be stuck between wanting a short-term rental and a longer-term lease. The answer in this case may be to simply buy a used car you can afford with cash, as it might be cheaper than either option in some situations.

About the Author

Brandon Dennis holds a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the College of Central Florida with a minor in journalism. Since then, he has enjoyed working in the automotive aftermarket and has done so for the past six years. He is also currently seeking an ASE Certified Technician Certificate.