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Back in the day when cars were primarily mechanical rather than electric, we used to buy what are now called "former daily rentals." Some rental agencies even had their own lots selling these. Now they are advertised on dealer lots. Of course, autos have changed dramatically over the past two decades. No longer can we perform most of the needed repairs in our driveway. Electronic diagnostic tools and codes are required. Parts are far more expensive.

So are these "former daily rentals" a good deal? How are they maintained? What rules do rental companies have regarding service schedules? What determines when they sell off a vehicle? Do they have any warranty? If so, what kind, as from what I understand, the manufacturer's warranty is void if they have been part of a rental fleet? My eldest will be needing a vehicle soon to commute to and from work. Rather than purchasing something small and new, we are contemplating either a "former daily rental" or a "factory certified used" car. Are these former rentals a viable alternative? - Dan in Toronto

For many people, the thought of an ex-rental conjures up images of reckless drivers pulling doughnuts in vacant parking lots, red-lining the engine and generally careening around. But rather than immediately dismiss what could potentially be a good deal, think about the number of stiff executives, vacationing young families, and retirees you've likely seen in rental-car lineups.

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A rental vehicle has certainly had more drivers than the average used vehicle, but are they really as bad as many would imagine? While it's true that less care may be taken, many people drive as carefully as in their own vehicle.

"We only sell the best rentals, which are very clean and have low kilometres. You get the balance of the manufacturer's warranty. A comprehensive 143-point CAA inspection has been performed on all of our cars. We back it up with 30-day money-back guarantee if you change your mind," says a Budget Car Sales rep in Vancouver.

As for your question about how they're maintained - that's up to each agency, so check the policy of the organization you're dealing with.

All of the rental agencies I checked said their vehicles are serviced regularly, tires and oil are checked, fluids topped and vehicles are cleaned and inspected every time they're rented.

Budget Car Sales in Vancouver, for example, has been selling ex-rentals for 25 years, and they're consistently recommended by the Lemon-Aid used-car guide. "People like our rentals because they are serviced regularly, and you have all service records," says a Budget rep.

If you want extra peace of mind, you can purchase an extended warranty to cover such things as the powertrain, gaskets and seals. Worth noting is the fact that third-party warranty companies I spoke with don't charge extra for ex-rentals.

There is of course an element of risk involved in buying any used car, and former rentals are no exception. The same guidelines apply: You'll want a full service history. A Carfax or CarProof report can uncover any untold history, accidents or major maintenance. An inspection is imperative, and will help to reveal how it's been maintained and driven.

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"We always recommend consumers purchase their vehicles through an Ontario-registered dealer. If they would like to find out if a dealer is registered with the Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council (OMVIC), they can visit our website (buywithconfidence.ca) or look for the blue and yellow decal in dealership windows," says Robert Kirsic, who teaches vehicle-buying seminars at OMVIC.

"On the plus side - if you buy from a registered dealer, you may have recourse if the vehicle presents significant problems since most dealers will stand behind the products they sell."

In the hunt for a low-priced used car, don't overlook ex-rentals. As long as you've checked that it's mechanically sound, and it has low mileage and a warranty, the only downside of buying an ex-rental may be the negative impact on the resale value. If you find a good deal that you intend to keep for the long haul, then it is a viable alternative.

E-Mail Ask Joanne at globedrive@globeandmail.com

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