When buying, borrowing or stealing a car isn't an option

I hate sharing a plan that smacks of desperation, but sometimes, desperate is just what one needs. So for anyone who is desperate to buy a car but can't, here goes... I had dinner at a restaurant with a relative recently, and when we went out to the parking lot, I didn't recognize his car. It looked strikingly different from what I had seen him driving a couple months ago, which back then looked different than what I remembered him last driving. And that's when he told me that he has been renting cars for the last six months.

His credit score, due to years of inattention and financial struggles, is scotched, and so he can't buy a car, or not without paying an astronomical interest rate. His current car won't drive, and he can't imagine sinking more money into it, to try and fix it. He lives in a town that has city buses, but nowhere beyond the border of his community. He needs a car, and so he finally just made up his mind to rent one.

It's an interesting idea. He has been using Enterprise Rent-A-Car, which has a "Month or More Rental Program," launched a few years ago, apparently aimed at snowbirds and other people who sometimes live somewhere for an extended period of time and want a car. I kind of doubt that they imagined that the program would replace the idea of owning a car, but for now, that's what this relative of mine has been doing. As he told me, he just trades the car in every month and never has to worry about maintenance fees, from oil changes to the car breaking down. He would just get it replaced, if it did. He also saves on car washes, I imagine.

Of course, the monthly payments are more expensive than a regular car payment, but he told me he was paying less than $500 a month. That is, he is paying less than $500 right now. He wasn't when he first started this rent-a-car-don't-own plan. Originally, he had something well over $500, but after the second month, Enterprise discounts the price by $25. After three months, it goes down $50. After four and subsequent months, it's $75 less than the first month's original price.

"It's just temporary," my relative--who understandably wanted to remain anonymous--told me. But knowing him, and his financial situation, and the general state of the economy, I have a feeling that this is going to be how he pays for a car for at least the next six months, if not longer.

Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist, the owner of a 10-year-old Saturn that still is running just fine, thanks, and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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