Dear Car Talk:
My husband always talks about how taking a long vacation by car puts too much wear and tear on a car. He thinks renting a car (at least $25 per day in our area) makes better financial sense. I think that is crazy. What are cars for if not to drive and enjoy? The type of trip I am talking about is from Dallas all the way up the coast of California and back, over about three weeks. Who is right here? — Jan
I know this is hard to believe, but your husband may be right, Jan.
Take a look at the math. The first thing you need to do is figure out the “cost” of taking your own car. The best estimate comes from our pals at the Internal Revenue Service, who have determined that the use of a personal car for a business purpose is worth 57.5 cents per mile. That factors in things like gas, oil, tires, wear and tear, the money it costs you to “own” the car for that mile, insurance and depreciation.
So if we map out a trip from Dallas to San Francisco, that’s about 1,700 miles each way, or 3,400 miles round trip. At the IRS rate, the cost to use your own car for that trip would be $1,955.
Let’s compare the rental option. Assuming you can rent a car with unlimited mileage for $25 a day, your three-week rental will cost you $525. Of course, the advertised price of a rental car doesn’t include a bunch of fees they always charge, so let’s say it’s $35 a day. Then your cost for 21 days is $735. Maybe you can do better, but let’s use that number.