Renting A Car For Travel: The Pros, Cons and Worst Case Scenario

Have you ever considered renting a car for travel?

Now, of course, I’m not talking about arriving at an airport and renting a car. I’m referring to renting a car to travel in on a road trip rather than driving your own vehicle.

We did it for 3 different trips this past year:

  1. 24-day trip across the country
  2. 3-day trip to the mountains
  3. 6-day trip to New York City

On 2 out of 3 trips, the pros outweighed the cons for renting a car to travel. (If you’re curious, I think it was a mistake to rent a car for our 3-day mountain trip.)

Before I outline the pros and cons of renting a car for a road trip, let me tell you about worst case scenario and why it’s a pro…

As you may know if you’ve followed us for a while, our decision to rent a car for our 24-day road trip came at the last minute. As I read back through the post I wrote about that decision (Rental Car Deal = Last Minute Change of Plans) the irony of my words amazes me. Essentially what tipped the scale on our decision is that we didn’t have time for any unexpected problems on the road.

At the time I was envisioning engine trouble or something that would require my car to be in a shop. With such a tight itinerary, that type of occurrence would have completely ruined the trip.

Well, we never had a maintenance issue (unless you count our first rental needing an oil change which I’ll cover under cons), but we did have a break-in.

On Day 11 of our cross-country road trip, we woke in Albuquerque to find that our rental car had been broken into.

I’m not sure which was worse, the panic of thinking our belongings had been taken. Or feeling like our day at the Grand Canyon was ruined. As it turns out, we were incredibly blessed in both cases.

Although our car was absolutely jam packed with belongings, only one thing was taken. Poor Miller had his camera stolen. Of course he was super sad about it, but it could have been so much worse (not to mention the camera was very replaceable!)

So many people who saw me post one of these pictures on social media asked me how we handled it. And the answer is incredibly simple. BECAUSE WE HAD A RENTAL CAR!

We took everything out of the car and cleaned up enough of the glass for Brent to be able to safely drive the vehicle. (Side note: Our car rental company offered to handle everything including coming to pick us up and taking us to get another car. However, we were concerned with how much time that would take and opted to drive it ourselves.)

While Brent headed to the closest airport to exchange vehicles, I spent over 30 minutes vacuuming and cleaning Miller’s car seat to make sure it didn’t have any glass in it. I also cleaned out our food basket because I found a few stray pieces of the window in there too.

About an hour later Brent arrived back with a brand new rental car. We were able to load it up quickly and head to the Grand Canyon. (I should also mention that we called the police and filed a report.)

The whole ordeal- from when we discovered the break in to when we were back on the road in a new car- took less than 2 hours!

Which brings me to probably the biggest “pro” of all…the repairs were not my problem and not on my watch.

We didn’t have to find a repair shop. Nor did we have to postpone our travel waiting on repairs. We literally washed our hands of the broken car in a very short period of time without giving it another thought.

Can you imagine what a headache that would have been if it was my personal vehicle that got broken into? It’s not like we could have just kept going and left MY car in New Mexico! Likewise, if we’d experienced any mechanical issues on the road- all we would have to do is swap cars and let the rental company handle it.

Thankfully this worst case scenario worked out for us without too many issues. I could not have said that if we’d been driving my personal car.

Here are the other “Pros” for renting a car on a road trip:

  1. Keep miles off your own car’s engine and tires
  2. Upgraded features (ex. better gas milage, more storage, sun shades…whatever is important to you!)
  3. Typically a newer car so less chance of engine problems
  4. Cheaper than parking in big cities

Let me explain #4.

We opted to do two 1-way rentals when we traveled to New York City in November. Each rental cost exactly the same price as the parking at our hotel. We stayed in the hotel for 6 nights. It doesn’t require a calculator to see how much money we saved by renting a car!

There’s really only one major “Con”:

  1. It costs money to rent a car

Brent and I did attempt to make some sort of spreadsheet that assigned a value to miles we were putting on our car (meaning cost of maintenance + new tires.) We also tried to include the average MPG on gas in my SUV. And then we planned to compare it all to the cost of the rental. But, honestly, we really could never figure it out.

So in plain English (since I don’t have an impressive spreadsheet to point you to) here’s my summary of renting a car for a road trip:

  1. The longer you rent a car, the better deal you will receive. If your trip is just for a few days, you will likely not get a good rate. For short trips, stick to your own car. For trips over a week, seriously consider renting.
  2. If you are driving over 500 miles away from your home, and especially if you are not taking the same route to/from a destination- renting a car is a smart decision.
  3. Renting a car with better features than your own makes sense on a road trip. Make sure you’re getting better gas milage and have better amenities (more storage, cup holders…whatever is a priority.) If you have to downgrade features, renting a car may not make sense for you.

Here’s my last rental car tip: consider a van, they are truly the most ideal rental vehicle!

If you’d asked me a year ago if I’d EVER make that statement, I would say “no way.” But we found ourselves absolutely blown away by how much we loved driving a van on the first leg of our cross-country road trip.

Unfortunately, our rental van needed an oil change mid-trip. We stopped at the Dallas airport thinking they’d change the oil real quick and we’d be back on the road. (Per the information we were given over the phone…it should have been our choice to wait on the oil change or switch to a new car. We were planning to wait.)

It ended up that they were too backed up and we were asked (nicely) to switch vehicles. And that’s how we ended up in the Expedition that got broken into.

What are your thoughts on renting a car for road trips? Have you done it before? Do these pros/cons convince you to (or not to?) Leave a comment and let me know what you think!

Be sure to pin this post:

Huge shoutout to National Rental Car for being so awesome throughout our 2018 travel. Although they are not an affiliated sponsor, they did offer us the best rates for each of our trips. Not to mention, they provided exceptional customer service…especially when we had our ‘worst-case-scenario’ moment. Thank you National!

You may also enjoy reading:

Travel Journal: Exploring The Southwest

Ways To Make Spontaneous Travel Affordable

Making Lemonade Out Of Bad Plans

*This post may contain affiliate links. By making a purchase after clicking through a link, Mom With A Map will receive compensation.

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  1. Taylor Hansen on December 7, 2020 at 3:47 pm

    I like how you mentioned renting a car with better gas mileage and updated amenities. My brother and I need to rent a car while we’re in California to see our cousins. I’ll be sure to rent a nice car that has good gas mileage since we’ll be going from Los Angeles to San Diego.

  2. Frank Libby on April 2, 2021 at 10:48 pm

    I just attended a wedding in North Carolina. I live in northeast Ohio, off Lake Erie. I have a work truck and a new Kia Soul. I figured the round trip miles to be 1400. I 3as able to rent a full size car for $206 for three days. When I went to pick up the car, they upgraded me to a full size Dodge SUV. The mpg was 5 less than my Kia, but as you stated, no miles or wear and tear on my car. I’m driving from Cleveland to Stuart, Fl in two weeks and I have a car reserved for a one way rental. Again, once I turn the car in, I fire up the boat abandoned start the Great Loop. The one way rental is about what a flight would cost, but I’m also bringing my dingy motor, a bunch of electronics and provisions I’m purchasing from Costco locally. The one way rental is worth the $600 fee.

    • momwithamap on April 5, 2021 at 11:09 am

      NICE! It sounds like you see the benefit in renting a car for road trips too. I was actually really surprised at how much I think we saved- not to mention the wear and tear on our own vehicles. I want to hear more about you starting the Great Loop!! Are you taking off from Stuart? What kind of boat?

  3. […] Renting A Car For Travel: Pros, Cons and Worst Case Scenario […]

  4. Remises on January 29, 2024 at 7:06 pm

    Reading this post was like having a chat with a seasoned road-tripper. The unexpected break-in turned into a breeze with the rental car flexibility. I’m sold on the idea renting seems to be the secret sauce for a worry-free adventure!

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