A car for camping?
June 15, 2014 8:51 AM   Subscribe

Does it make sense to buy a cheap car just for weekend camping trips? If so, what should we look for?

We live without a car in the city. For day-to-day city errands and commuting, I don't feel any desire to have a car. However, recently we've been making more of an effort to go camping on the weekends. I really enjoy this and would like to go even more frequently; the constraining factor for us is the cost and hassle of renting a car. Traditional car rental agencies have very limited hours on the weekends, so we end up paying for more days than we actually need the car—and insurance, gas, etc. are all extra. Car-sharing services like I-Go and Zipcar are more flexible and the pricing more all-inclusive but the per-day prices are quite high (usually close to $100/day) and there are over-mileage charges to worry about.

(We've also gone on various car-free camping trips via combinations of train and bike, which is a lot of fun, but of course you are very limited in the locations that are accessible this way, particularly when you're trying to fit the trip into a weekend.)

Due to the sprawl-y nature of this area, it's usually a minimum of a 2-hour drive to get anywhere worth camping at (and often more like 3 or 4 hours). I expect that, aside from these weekend trips, the car would pretty much spend its time parked on the street unused.

So my question is: does it make sense to buy a car specifically for this purpose? Because it would only be used for what is essentially a hobby, it would have to be an extremely cheap, older car in order to make financial sense. (If the total cost of ownership, including insurance, city registration, and gas, is much more than a few hundred dollars a month, we'd probably be better off continuing to deal with rentals.) Is it possible to buy a car for a couple thousand bucks that would be reliable enough for this purpose? Would a small older truck perhaps be more reliable (we would not need to seat more than two people)? Are there any particular things I should be looking for that might be different than what I'd look for in a daily driver? I have never owned a car and don't know what to look for or what it is realistic to expect.
posted by enn to Travel & Transportation (33 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'd say keep renting. Find out if your credit card company offers rental car insurance (and/or maybe get one that does) as that take a massive chunk out of the rental costs. If you can do that, you'd have to be renting a LOT of weekends for it to be more than owning a car, parking it, dealing with the maintenance and insuring it etc.

Try getting an insurance quote for your area based on the kind of cars for $2000 in your local paper. Find out how much it is. Add that with road tax (or your equivalent/licensing etc), costs of licensing. How many weekends could you rent a car for that amount?

How much value is there in not having to worry you'll break down in the middle of nowhere on the way back from camping?

You should be able to rent a car for around $100-150 a weekend (or likely less) if you're not getting insurance. Try Priceline etc. You'd need to be renting a huge number of weekends (more than to have it be cost effective to own) at that rate. Unless you're going to be renting 10+ weekends at that rate, I'd still not own a xar if I wouldn't use it for anything else. Try Rent a wreck or something similar to increase your weekend rents versus buying factor, too.
posted by Brockles at 9:07 AM on June 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

If the car would see literally no other use, then it may be a better choice to keep renting. If you could foresee having other uses for it (Costco trips or something) then it could be worth considering; perhaps a small wagon (Ford Escort/Focus, Hyundai Elantra, Saturn SW) would fit the bill for a mix of low entry price, camping gear hauling, and gas mileage. You could even sleep in one in a pinch with the seats folded down.

Alternatively, we've always found good deals through Hotwire for car rentals and have rental collision damage waiver insurance through our Mastercard.
posted by area.man at 9:24 AM on June 15, 2014

Best answer: I am similar to you in that I live in a city and I bike or walk to most of my errands. I went through a phase of owning a car primarily due to having a job that was little too far for a regular year round commute. After I switched jobs to a closer office, my car was totaled by a flash flood that wrecked our neighborhood. I went through three months of living car free to see if I would miss it and did as you had. Rented cars for road trips, used the bike for everything else. Zipcar never made sense for this purpose as their fee structure is tilted against having something out for a couple of days (but oh, if only one could drop off and pickup a Zipcar in the White Mountains or at the head of the Vermont Long Trail)

In the end, I opted to buy another car because I also got tired with the hassle of renting. There were also a couple of incidents where an impulsive trip spontaneously emerging on a Saturday night could've been facilitated if I had ready access to car. I got something in my budget for more or less cash (no loan, used the insurance payout for most of it). It is, no mistake, more expensive than renting if only for the cost of parking, insurance, taxes, registration and routine maintenance.

Looking back, if one is only camping two weekends out of every month, it does not make economic sense to own a car. You will save more money by renting even if you're keeping the rental parked somewhere overnight because you can't just return it to the agency (though, on this note, I'd look into some the fancier agencies like Hertz that might allow for overnight drop off. The per day rate may be higher, but it might come out cheaper than paying for the extra day). However, that doesn't mean don't do it. In essence, you're paying for the convenience of having a vehicle at hand, and that's ok.

Otherwise, to your question about features, what I would prioritize: hatchback, fold down seats, efficient gas mileage, front wheel drive (or all wheel drive if you live out West and camp in winter or close to winter conditions. I have not found AWD to be a necessity for East Coast winter camping), a roof rack is a nice feature if you want to bring your bikes along or have a kayak.
posted by bl1nk at 9:30 AM on June 15, 2014

I would continue to go with the cheapest rental you can find. Or invite friends that have cars to go camping with you.

You're looking to buy an older vehicle, which will initially be lower in price, but could potentially cost you more in repairs, that is going to sit idle the majority of the time, and when it is driven, is driven up to 4 hours highway at a time? Not worth buying a car if that is all you're going to do.

The big question is, just how often do you go camping a year? It's hard to make a comparison without knowing that. Do the math.

If you continue to rent, you won't have to pay for repairs, oil changes, new tires, inspections, registrations, or spend the time doing those things.

If you bought a car, you'd have that price, plus taxes, tags, title, insurance, maintenance, gas, tires, oil changes. You live in a city, so if you parked it in a garage, you'd have to pay for that, but if you parked it on the street, you'd have to move it on trash days or dig it out in the winter. So parking will either cost you time or money.
posted by NoraCharles at 9:31 AM on June 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: car ownership is... not necessarily *expensive* depending on your income, but you will always be putting some money into it. NoraCharles's list is good. the problem with cheap used cars is, you never know if you're getting a lemon. i bought a 1991 toyota in 2007. it burns oil and the power windows are broken, but it starts every time and i've never had to replace anything other than alternator, battery, and brake pads. i got lucky. i also know people who bought newer used cars that ended up in the shop constantly. there's really no way to know. that said, if you decide to do it i think old toyotas are about as reliable as it gets. know many people owning them for 10+ years with no maintenance catastrophes ever. good part availability. and there is a freedom that comes with owning a car, it would probably make your camping trips a lot more carefree and fun if you could just hop in your own car on a whim.
posted by scose at 9:35 AM on June 15, 2014

Best answer: The problem with reliability is that it's generally proportional to the price you pay. Yes, there's decent chance that if you get a good deal on a reliable make, you could go a long time before any signs of trouble. But you need to take into consideration that anything you get for "a couple thousand bucks" has the potential to crap out on you a month after you buy it. So though it's not a required monthly cost, you'll still want to budget for it.

In the absence of maintenance / repair costs, you're probably going to get away cheaper with owning a car than renting one in your situation. I don't specifically know the costs in your neck of the woods, but here we would pay ~50/mo for minimum insurance coverage, and registration is less than 100 bucks a year, so costs on those fronts would be way less than $100/mo. (I'm leaving out the cost of gas, which is going to be similar regardless of whether you rent or own.) Where you're going to balance the scales is repairs, which nobody can predict for you. You'll have to consider what you are comfortable spending and putting away for future issues. To put Brockles' question another way: Is the hassle and increased immediate cost of renting worth the knowledge that if you won't have to pay any major repair bills that will come up now and then?

Cost issues aside, as far as what to look for, there are many choices, and I'm not a brand expert so I can't recommend anything specific, though Honda comes to mind as the most common brand in reliability discussions. But some simple internet research should point you in the right direction on something that has the smallest chance of causing you any issues down the road. Being that your primary purpose will be driving hours at a time, I might weigh the following points more than I would, say, for a commuting car:

Noise level
Decent stereo

A small older truck wouldn't be any more or less reliable than a car. I probably would steer away from that route unless you want to consider very remote campsites that could be difficult to reach in a smaller car but are accessible by truck.

If you decide to buy, consider a membership in AAA. This won't help in the repair cost arena, but it will give you a lot more peace of mind in the immediate term if you do end up needing assistance along the way.

Happy camping!
posted by SquidLips at 9:36 AM on June 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've known some New Yorkers who had beaters they paid $1000 or less for that they use for this purpose. Also good for going to Costco, airport pickups/dropoffs, and a few other city tasks.

There are some pros and cons here:

1. Condition. If you buy a beater, there's always the risk that it'll strand you on the side of the road. And it seems like you might be going into some more remote areas. Also, are you willing to put money into repairs? What if you use the car for a summer and then it needs another thousand dollars worth of work?

2. Amortizing the cost and comparing to a car rental. Even if you spend $1000 on a car, that still takes a lot of weekends camping to make it more worthwhile than just renting a car. Assuming it's $100 to rent a car for the weekend, you'd need to go camping more than ten times a year to make it worth buying a beater car for.

3. Comfort. It might be better to spend that $100 per trip on a rental car and have a nice, newish, comfortable car that you know is in good repair, rather than reserving yourself a gross semi-broken hooptie that you're stuck with for the foreseeable future.

4. Parking. This will depend on exactly where you live, but unless your home comes with free parking, owning a car will mean a constant vigilance about street cleaning days and getting a convenient parking spot and not ever getting tickets. When I lived in New York the parking situation made me constantly question the sanity of my friends who had cars. It's a lot of bother for something you rarely use.
posted by Sara C. at 9:49 AM on June 15, 2014

Best answer: Purely on cost, it's probably cheaper to keep renting. One breakdown far from home will eat up any savings in a hurry, for example.

But it might be that the increased spontaneity and flexibility of owning could make that the right choice for you. Unfortunately, that's not a calculation anyone else can do, and it's not really something where a spreadsheet will get you very far.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:53 AM on June 15, 2014

Response by poster: The reason we have been sticking with the (expensive) Enterprise rental cars vs cheaper options is that there is an Enterprise location within walking distance of our house. The nearest Rent-A-Wreck is 15+ miles across town, and many other budget options are similarly far and difficult to get to via public transit. If we're hoping to leave after work on a Friday to get to a campground that's 2.5 hours' drive, spending an hour and a half on public transit (or $40 on a cab) to get to the rental place doesn't work logistically.

I hadn't thought about finding a credit card with insurance, I will definitely look into that.

Right now we're probably camping about once a month in the spring/summer/fall. Having a car would let us take longer trips (two nights vs one, since we wouldn't have to worry about not being able to return the rental on Sunday, or after noon on Saturday1) and fit in more one-night trips on weekends where we have other obligations on one of the weekend days. We did not camp at all last winter for lack of suitable gear for the polar vortex conditions (days with a high of -14°F, third snowiest winter on record in the city), but I am hoping that with better gear and a hopefully less-brutal winter we will get out more this year.

Thank you for all the answers so far, this is very helpful!

1. This question was precipitated by our running into terrible traffic coming back from a campground on Saturday morning, which ate up the one hour margin we'd added on to Google's estimated driving time, and having to beg and plead on the phone with the Enterprise people to stay in the office an extra five minutes so that we wouldn't be charged an additional $160 for Sunday and Monday because we got the car back at (literally) 12:05 pm instead of 12:00 pm when they were scheduled to close.
posted by enn at 9:54 AM on June 15, 2014

Check if your credit card insures car rentals; many do.

Do you have available free parking at your home? In many cities that would add a significant expense.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:55 AM on June 15, 2014

Do you have friends who'd loan you their car every so often? This is such a limited-use situation that it almost makes more sense to leave friends with a full tank of gas and a plate of fresh-baked cookies (or, I don't know, freshly caught fish? just-picked wildflower bouquet?) than to own--or even rent--a car! Your friends get a tank of gas and to feel sweet about being generous with you, you get to go camping, and it's cheaper for everyone all around. This may not be your 'culture,' but I know so many people for whom borrowing a friend's car over the weekend is totally reasonable that it really might not hurt to ask folks if they'd consider it..
posted by tapir-whorf at 10:05 AM on June 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Not completely related, but if you have a USAA bank account you can get 20-25% off Enterprise car rentals if you book through USAA's website. If you're renting frequently enough, it might be worth creating a USAA checking account.

I am in the same boat, I live in an urban area and so far have just been renting cars but in the future might buy a cheap car for camping. However parking is such a pain in our neighborhood that owning a car would be a considerable amount of extra hours per week (moving the car; keeping track of street cleaning; making sure we did not leave valuables inside; keeping it clean) and we just can't justify that right now. It's worth the inconvenience and cost right now to rent. But I feel you on wishing you could be more spontaneous and just jump in the car and drive away.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 10:05 AM on June 15, 2014

Is there a reason you can't just book the rental car for drop-off on Monday?
posted by Sara C. at 10:10 AM on June 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

The peace of mind that comes from renting, over owning a beater seems worth the extra cost to me. The car you get for a couple of thousand dollars won't be as comfortable or reliable as a rental. If it breaks down, the repair costs may be as high as another couple of thousand dollars. Cars generally don't like sitting unused for long periods and then being driven a long way, they usually do better when started and used regularly. Plenty of good advice upthread about calculating the costs, and for sure add a AAA membership into that factor, because your car breaking down at the campsite in the middle of nowhere is not a fun or cheap scenario without it. And the suggestion to get a credit or charge card with rental insurance is a great one.

Your description of the Enterprise hours makes me question the value of using that particular location. Its convenient in one sense (nearby) but not in other sense (limited hours). Depending on public transportation links to somewhere like an airport, you may be better off sending one person out to go and pick up at the airport, then drive back and load up before going on your trip; and in reverse for the end of the trip. Airport rental places are usually open 24 hours. But obviously I don't know the exact circumstances for you.
posted by Joh at 10:30 AM on June 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Rent from a regular car rental company for multi day trips, car sharing services are meant for partial day rentals. Buying a car is expensive, you need to worry about parking, insurance, maintenance, repairs, etc. If you are only going to use the car a few weekends a month it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to own.
posted by TheAdamist at 10:39 AM on June 15, 2014

When I was in a similar situation, I found that credit card insurance usually covers rentals in addition to your policy - ie, the deductible and sometimes some other things. None was available without primary insurance. I wound up buying a non-owner's insurance policy for about $110 per year. Not every agency offers this, I got mine from Geico.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 11:25 AM on June 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

what rental price are you paying? Because, yeah renting may very well be cheaper then buying even a junker, especially considering you will be paying insurance and maintenance etc.
Definitely look into alternate insurance, peanut_mcgillicuty's option seems pretty worth looking into. Car rental insurance is a friggen rip off.

If you're going 1 time a month for six months out of the year, even a rental of $200 for the weekend is likely going to be cheaper than buying a car just for this. Finding a better insurance option will reduce the cost, it's also not hard to find promo codes to help knock down the cost another 10-15%. Does your local enterprise not allow after hour drop off? many places do. Also many enterprises will pick you up for free, so if there is a location in a different part of the city with cheaper prices it's worth calling and asking if they will pick you up.
posted by edgeways at 11:36 AM on June 15, 2014

Fellow car-free Chicagoan here. I can't imagine that owning a car just for camping would be worth the hassle, but I feel your pain about how hard it is to get out of this city without one.

This is more of a long-term suggestion and it's definitely not for everyone, but if you've ever considered taking up motorcycling, it can be an excellent alternative mode of transportation.

Cheap to insure, cheap to fuel, cheap to maintain.
Adds an extra element of fun/excitement to any trip.
You can always find motorcycle-sized street parking spots in the city (and you can park in any residential zone with no sticker).
You will get more use out of a motorcycle for little trips around town than you can imagine, once parking is no longer an issue.

Safety, obviously.
You're more constrained by the weather and your own level of tiredness/drunkenness/etc.
You're much more limited in the amount of stuff you can carry.
You have to find winter storage.
Again, motorcycling just isn't for everyone.
posted by gueneverey at 11:55 AM on June 15, 2014

Response by poster: Is there a reason you can't just book the rental car for drop-off on Monday?

We have done this, but it's about double the price (since you're paying for four days instead of two). Our last rental (5 pm Friday to 12 noon Saturday) cost around $90 (including insurance) for the cheapest car on the lot, but would have been well over $200 I think if we'd kept it till Monday (I don't know what the exact final cost would have been because the Enterprise online reservation tool doesn't show you the insurance charges, only the base cost). No after-hours drop-off, and they get mad if you try to use the free pick-up service from a more distant but cheaper Enterprise location to avoid the higher prices of the closer location (I've tried).

I wound up buying a non-owner's insurance policy for about $110 per year. Not every agency offers this, I got mine from Geico.

I got a quote for non-owner insurance a couple years ago, I don't remember exactly what it was but it was a lot more than that (probably because I have only had my license for a few years). Might be worth looking into it again.

There is a garage for our building that we could use, but we would have to pay some additional rent—I don't know how much but I'd guess around $100/month based on what other buildings around here charge.

Thanks again for these responses. It sounds like maybe the Enterprise location we've been using is not as representative of all car rental agencies as I had assumed, so I will look more aggressively for a cheaper and/or more convenient option.
posted by enn at 12:59 PM on June 15, 2014

Response by poster: I just found the old email from Geico and their estimate for non-owner insurance was $800/year. At that price it's probably cheaper to pay even the ripoff rental company insurance rates.
posted by enn at 1:22 PM on June 15, 2014

would have been well over $200 I think if we'd kept it till Monday

$200 a month for a year comes to $2400, which is about what you'll spend on a 15 year old beater, insurance, parking, maintenance, AAA membership, and miscellaneous other car-related costs.

If it were me, I'd go with the rentals just because it's a late-model vehicle you don't have to worry about parking or maintaining.
posted by Sara C. at 1:52 PM on June 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Having your older car break down in a remote area is a huge pain in the ass. You end up waiting a long time for a tow truck, and depending on how remote of an area you are in, you may need to walk a while before your cell phone works in order to call said truck. That might not be such a problem outside Chicago, but I would factor in just how much you are willing to deal with in that sense.

Also, when I've been in rental cars that broke down, I've complained and gotten money back. When it's my own car, it's just a big bill.
posted by ohisee at 2:26 PM on June 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

When I was in a similar situation, I found that credit card insurance usually covers rentals in addition to your policy - ie, the deductible and sometimes some other things. None was available without primary insurance.

I found that mine offered "secondary" insurance, meaning that it would only pay out if your own insurance was exhausted. However, if you had no insurance because you didn't own a car, the credit card's insurance covered you from the start. Or so I was told--I didn't put it to the test. (I asked this question and people explained the different types of insurance they try to sell you, which led me to conclude I should say no to the CDW (because my credit card covers it) but yes to liability.)
posted by hoyland at 4:45 PM on June 15, 2014

I am in a similar situation and stick to renting. There's a lot be to said for not being responsible for maintaining a car.

My named non-owner's liability policy (with fairly generous limits) is from AAA. I think it was $120ish/yr in my old neighborhood and is closer to $180/yr where I am now. Your $800 quote seems way high, unless there's something off with your driving record.

I also sometimes use the Amex Premium Rental Car Protection for damage coverage (it's $25/rental outside CA, up to 6 weeks); it's definitely primary coverage, though I've never needed to file a claim.
posted by ktkt at 5:08 PM on June 15, 2014

A couple pros I haven't seen mentioned yet:
First off the best thing about having a dedicated camping vehicle, even a cheap econo car, is you don't have to load and unload it every trip. Everything but your cooler just lives in the vehicle. You can even leave directly from work on Fridays.

Second if you want to get a little further off the beaten track you could buy an old 4x4 pickup with a cap/canopy/shell. You can sleep in the back so no tent and no time setting it up.

However once you have a car just sitting there it can be pretty tempting to use it for other trips that you now take transit for (or maybe I just have no will power).

enn: "Our last rental (5 pm Friday to 12 noon Saturday)"

Being out 19 hours (four of which is taken up with driving) is barely camping IMO. Having your own car would free you from the tyranny of such a tight schedule.
posted by Mitheral at 5:15 PM on June 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

First tip: Seriously get a credit card with rental insurance built in (mine is a CIBC Visa with no fees. Since I use it solely for rental cars, I don't really care about the high-ish interest -- I pay it off immediately). Honestly, it's saving me probably half of what I used to spend on rentals. I use the money I'm saving to rent until Monday AM so that I can stay at my campsite till late on Sunday.

Second tip: see if those cheap wreck-it rental places have a pick-you-up option. Some do, and then you can rent the car, have them come get you from your office, and then go pick up your partner from home.

Third tip: Do you have a carsharing program (like car2go) in your city that will allow you to pick up from one spot and then drop it off in another? Sometimes it's cheaper to rent from the cheap spot and then take a car2go to the rental agency. You may still need to take transit home, but it doesn't cut into you

Fourth tip: collect airmiles. It costs surprisingly few miles to get a weekend car rental.

I keep close tabs on how much I'm spending on rentals, and even without all these tips it was still costing way less than it would for me to buy, insure, maintain, and park my own vehicle (and I rent a car twice a month every month).

That being said, it sounds like you WANT to own a car. You don't need the internet's permission to buy a car. But a car if you feel like. It's your life, dude.
posted by AmandaA at 6:54 AM on June 16, 2014

Best answer: One more thing you might want to try is RelayRides - it's basically AirBnB for cars. If you have someone in/near your neighborhood who's doing this, it might work out really well for you. Or, if you get a car, you might be able to offset some of the costs by renting it.

I lived happily in Boston (and its innermost suburbs) for several years without a car, and then I moved to a more rural place for a while and needed a car, and now I'm back in the city and I still have the car. Traffic in the neighborhood where I live is atrocious so I use my car for 1) errands where I'm buying something too big or heavy to put on my bike (e.g. two-by-fours, multiple cases of beer) and 2) getting out of town. I often go a week, sometimes two weeks without taking it out of the driveway. I've seriously thought about getting rid of the car but so far have not (my apartment happens to come with off-street parking, which helps).

I keep the car because I see my family a lot more now that I have a car than I did when I didn't have a car. I hike more, and I go to the beach more. It's really nice. When I moved out of the city and had to use my car to get to/from work I hated being *dependent* on the car (having to shovel it out in winter to get to work, etc.) but now that I'm back in the city I really enjoy having a car that I know I could get rid of if I wanted to.

I pay almost nothing to maintain it (it's an 8 year old Toyota Yaris with almost 100K miles, so fingers crossed). I like that I can be spontaneous and decide to go visit family in Maine for the weekend, or whatever. The initial cost to purchase a reliable car is significant, but it's not like the car instantly becomes worthless - I paid $8700 for my car 4 years ago, and the Kelly Blue Book value on it now is $6000 (I don't know what I'd actually get for it, but whatever). Insurance is by far my biggest car-related expense (more than gas).

I guess for me the big questions would be how much money can you afford to have tied up in a car, and how do you get home from your camping place if your car seriously breaks down.
posted by mskyle at 7:32 AM on June 16, 2014

Response by poster: It seems like rental prices here are much higher than the prices people are quoting in this thread. A full weekend (pick up Friday evening, return Monday morning) from Rent-A-Wreck's only Chicago location (which is actually not in the city at all but the south suburbs, very far and very inconvenient for me) comes to $248.77 with the basic collision damage waiver (getting liability coverage as well, which would make me feel much more comfortable, takes the cost to $320ish). This is for the cheapest subcompact car on the lot. Priceline and Hotwire prices seem roughly comparable or even higher. (I have seen cheaper prices in the winter.)

There seems to be a lot of conflicting information online as to whether the insurance offered by credit cards is effective if you don't also have your own primary car insurance, and I don't especially want to depend on insurance where I've got to hire a lawyer to tell me if it will even cover me.

I just got a second quote, from Progressive, for non-owner's insurance. It also came in a little over $800/year, similar to Geico's.

If I could really rent a car for a full weekend for $100-$150 I wouldn't be asking this question.
posted by enn at 8:34 AM on June 16, 2014

Just do the math. Multiply that $320 or whatever times number of camping trips you do per year. Compare that to all the expenses of owning a car over the course of a year. See which number is the larger number, and do whatever that indicates.

If you can't afford to camp one weekend a month, you can't afford to camp one weekend a month.
posted by Sara C. at 10:14 AM on June 16, 2014

Also, sorry for the double post, but $320 is about the cost of my car note on a newish used car plus insurance policy (which is not too far north of the $800 you were quoted for non-driver insurance).

So if you can afford to spend that kind of money, yeah, that's about the point at which it becomes worthwhile to just buy something.
posted by Sara C. at 10:21 AM on June 16, 2014

The IRS mileage rate is about 55 cents per mile, which isn't far off the total cost of driving inclusive of gas, repairs, depreciation, etc.

So a fairly normal 10,000 to 12,000 miles a year (easy to hit with long highway driving) would cost about $6000, which sounds about right for owning a car. You are looking at $1200 for parking alone, for example, and it sounds like your insurance will be high.

That's a lot of rentals at $320 each before you even break even.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:34 AM on June 16, 2014

Is it possible to hop on a commuter train out of the city in the direction you camp and plan to somehow get to a rental company near a train stop? One that you can return the car to on your way back into town, and get back home on the train?

There is the real risk of having your car stolen or broken into, especially terrible if you leave your gear in it like someone suggested, or having a major failure. That changes the math quickly, and there's no way to predict when it happens.

There is definitely something to be said for having it when you want it, and that is difficult to enter into a simple equation.

It doesn't look like car2go is in Chicago, but it or something like it will probably be there soon and allow you to get to a better/cheaper rental agency quicker than on transit.
posted by look busy at 5:47 PM on June 16, 2014

How inexpensively can you get to O'Hare? Rental Companies very often run specials.

From Enterprise's O'Hare Location, I can rent a car from 6pm Friday to 9pm Sunday for $94. That's not their cheapest vehicle ($14/day), but their next step up, $17.33/day. Noon Friday to 9pm Sunday is $100.46. Unlimited Mileage.

Details: ( Ford Fusion, Nissan Altima or similar ) 3 Day @ $ 17.33 = $ 51.99, CUSTOMER FACILITY CHARGE 8.00/DAY $ 24.00,VLCRF $1.10/DAY $ 3.30,CONCESSION RECOVERY FEE 11.10 PCT $ 6.14 LESSOR TAX 2.75/RNTL $ 2.75, AUTO RENTAL TAX $7.37, CHICAGO TRANSACTION TAX $4.91 ; * Total Charges $100.46 )
posted by at at 7:36 AM on June 17, 2014

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