Skip to content

Rent v Own (a car for a work trip)

June 19, 2013

UPDATE: I added some analysis taking into the pollution impact as a follow up to this post.


My job takes me to exotic locales and far off destinations, giving me the chance to leave behind the tedium of the Twin Cities for something like Madison, WI.  Naturally, I always look forward to the hours of driving accompanying these adventures, especially when said adventure is a day long meeting.  In this case, my itinerary was:

  • Monday – drive there, have dinner meeting
  • Tuesday – have day long meeting, drive back

Unfortunately the logistics didn’t allow a bus or carpool to be feasible (which always bums me out a bit).  Typically, I’d just use my own car without a second thought, but when the organizer suggested I rent one, it seemed as good an opportunity as any to over-think something.  And it’s one of those comparisons that I knew wouldn’t likely show any massive difference, but I was still curious to figure out.  Plus I have precedent for doing this sort of thing.*  I mean, sure, using my car is easier, probably cheaper, and it’s been customized to my use over the years.  On the other hand, renting a car is swankier (in the “not driving a pile of crap” sense), likely more fuel efficient, and saves wear and tear on my car.  I went with renting for reasons to be explained below (post-spoiler spoiler alert), but the Focus was nearly the exact same color as my Camry.**  Which pretty much meant they had to be compared.  So let the battle begin!

No photoshop awards were won during the making of this image.

No photoshop awards were won during the making of this image.

For this comparison, we’re going to try and stick to everyone’s favorite metric: dollars.  This makes the primary question; will I save enough in gas to offset the cost of the rental.  The round trip runs about 540 miles.  The EPA says my ’97 Toyota Camry XLE should get mileage of 17/24/19 mpg (those number being city/highway/combined mpg).  I’ve driven to Madison with my car in the past… I actually get about 27 mpg.  Gas was running about $3.70 at the time of this trip.  So 540 miles at 27 mpg costing $3.70 per gallon gives me a fuel cost of $74.

The EPA says the ’13 Ford focus should get 27/38/31 mpg.  I got 42.5.

trip details


Same calculation with this, significantly better fuel economy, means the rental car’s fuel costs are $47.  Also, sidenote, 500+ miles on a 12 gallon gas tank… WHAT?!***

So the rental saved me $27 in fuel cost.  Big whoop you might say, and reasonably so when you factor in the final rental cost of $45/day for two days.  The $90 rental minus $27 saved on fuel means I foolishly spent $63.

A year ago I managed to get my annual miles driven with my car down to 7500.  Aside from this being on the order of 4000 less than the average American (thank you city living, public transit, and the Twin Cities bring bike friendliness), it also means my insurance company let me get into their low mileage program, which shaves $50 off my payment every 6 months.  It just so happens that 2013 has been a rather crummy spring, and I’ve been driving a bit more and biking a bit less than typical.  So I was getting dangerously close to going over my 3750 miles for the current 6 month period.  Avoiding these 540 miles was key to keep me below that.  Which means I should credit some, if not all, of that $50 to this rental.

$90 minus $27 in fuel savings minus $50 in insurance savings puts me at $13 for the net cost of the rental.  This worked for me since the ride is smoother, the sound system is better, and I finally got to mess around with my phone using the Focus’s bluetooth capabilities.  Reduced agony**** during almost 10 hours of driving… worth $13.

Plus, when it all comes down to it, reimbursement for this meeting was done based on mileage at the Federal reimbursement rate, currently at $0.565 per mile.  So anything less than $305 was a win.

Overall, gas savings alone clearly wasn’t going to make renting a car the smart choice in this case, and my savings for another reason really made the difference.  Of course, something as simple as if I actually got the EPA estimated 19 combined mpg for my car would alone boost the fuel savings up to almost $60.  So poor fuel economy plus slightly  higher gas prices or a slightly lower daily rate on the Focus could easily make a rental the smart choice, without the need for ancillary savings.

And that, kids, is your lesson for today.

you didnt ask

* exhibit 1, exhibit 2

** Except, fittingly, a more lively shade of maroon/red

*** Side-side-note, in all honestly, it’s probably a little sad that I’m impressed by this when 40+ mpg should really at least be the norm these days.  Our cars were supposed to fly by now.  Or at least hover.

**** Though the seats in the Focus are either made for someone skinnier than me or someone fatter… or maybe someone shorter*****?  I just can’t tell, but I did not like them.

***** I’m 6’2″.******

******Inception foot-notation.

  1. Mike F permalink

    Good comparison. Also good to know that you can rent a car for a reasonable price for out of town trips if you choose to get an electric car to replace the Camry.

  2. Morgan permalink


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Rent v Own (a car for a work trip) Addendum: The Cost of Carbon | It's just science... and other stuff
  2. Idle costs and recompense | It's just science... and other stuff

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: