What Is a Fleet Car, and Should You Buy One?

What to know before taking a chance on a former rental or government car.

2017 Chevrolet Caprice PPVChevrolet

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Fleet cars are production vehicles built specifically for corporate or government purchase. They'll often come with unique features designed to tackle a specific set of tasks or they'll be equipped modestly to help keep costs down. New fleet vehicles occupy a unique slice of the automotive market, typically off limits to traditional customers. Automakers build these models for sale to rental companies, institutions, corporations, and law enforcement, typically in large quantities.

An individual generally can't purchase a new fleet-specific car, but these automobiles often make it onto the secondhand market. What makes a fleet car special, why are they built, and should you consider buying one? We have the answers.

Why do automakers build fleet cars?

Rather than simply selling existing models to rental companies and police departments, an automaker builds fleet-specific vehicles for two main reasons.

The first is brand protection. If a car becomes associated with rental fleets, it can become less desirable in the eyes of retail buyers due to the negative connotations that hover around rentals. Even more important, however, is resale value: if a rental company is regularly selling used fleet inventory in large numbers at auction, that impacts used retail prices, too, which further makes that model unappealing to non-corporate or non-institutional customers.

Ford Interceptor UtilityFord

Then there are equipment concerns. Police and special service vehicles used in fire and rescue often require more heavy-duty construction, as well as unique features, compared with vehicles sold to civilians. On the other hand, rental car companies aren't usually interested in luxury models, with most of their fleets composed of bread-and-butter, mid-range vehicles.

By building a fleet-only model, car companies can address both scenarios. Police vehicles (like the Chevrolet Caprice PPV and the Ford Interceptor Utility) can have all the necessary goodies installed, and rental cars like the Chevrolet Captiva or the Chrysler Voyager can present modestly equipped, and reasonably priced options to rental companies, all without impacting retail sales.

Where can I buy a fleet car?

Used-car dealerships occasionally sell fleet vehicles, just like any other vehicle, but they frequently appear at auction, where fleet owners sell off old inventory in preparation for buying new models.

2022 Chrysler VoyagerChrysler

Should I buy a fleet car?

Used fleet cars often sell at relatively low prices, which makes them attractive even to buyers who may be unfamiliar with the name on the badge. If you can live with lacking the latest and greatest features (as with several rental-oriented fleet cars) or knowing that the vehicle may have suffered abuse due to the type of service it endured (police and emergency vehicles, some rentals), a fleet car can be a good option on a budget. If a vehicle has been used as a rental, it will often appear in a CarFax or AutoCheck vehicle history report.

As with any used vehicle purchase, getting a mechanical inspection before buying is always the best idea when considering a fleet car.

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Benjamin Hunting
Benjamin Hunting is a writer and podcast host who contributes to a number of newspapers, automotive magazines, and online publications. More than a decade into his career, he enjoys keeping the shiny side up during track days and always has one too many classic vehicle projects partially disassembled in his garage at any given time. Remember, if it's not leaking, it's probably empty.