Renting a Car for a Short-Term Stay

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  • Need a car for 4-month stay - rent or buy?

    (6 replies)

    Hello we are a family of 4 from Italy living in Berkeley for 4 months and are in need of a car. We would like an advice in deciding whether buy one and reselling it before leaving (if yes, from a dealer or a private? any recommendation on specific dealers in the east bay?). Long-term renting is very expensive an we were wondering if there is an alternative, such as renting from privates or a functioning car charing.

    thank you for your help


    [Moderator Note: There is some past advice about this here: Renting a Car for a Short-Term Stay]

    try, peer to peer car rental. Often very cheap. lots of choices.

    I used Rent-a-Relic on Telegraph x 45th street in Oakland.

    I needed a commuter car for a few months and got a new-ish Toyota Corolla for about $550/mo. The company is no frills and I've rented with them a few times.


    Try Rent-A-Relic in Oakland ( Temescal) they are local business with great rentals!! then you can decided which way to go.

    There's a new company called Drive Canvas that's trying to fill in this "longer than a rental, shorter than a lease" market - you might try checking them out. Not sure if they only operate in San Francisco or if they accept customers in East Bay too.

    Hey Claudia, 

    I think the rideshare car service called GIG solves your problem nicely.  Even to a technology hesitant user like me, their key-less system was very simple to use. I have used it to drop kids to school, travel to city, etc.  You just download their app and complete your information there. (As a foreign national, they may have additional requirements like sending an email or something). Their app shows all available cars in the neighborhood that are plenty usually - you just unlock the car with the app, can park and continue usage or end the rental anywhere in their service area and you are done. You save a lot because you don’t pay if you end the rental. You can park it any of the legal parking meters too and you don’t have to pay. Then, I didn’t have to pay the toll to San Francisco. That kept my commute cost really low and that too in a very clean car. I have been a happy user because of flexibility and no long term commitment for a hassle free commute. However, the only hassle I felt was  the unavailability of child seats in their service  - I had to carry my own. 

    We love Gig Carshare, but  believe they require a U.S. Drivers license. So if you only have your Italy license, might not work for you. Note, a few clarifications - at least in Berkeley, you can park free at any space (meter or permit parking) that permits at least 2 hours of parking - not EVERY meter.  And you DO pay the toll on toll bridges - they automatically charge to your credit card on file (those charges can take a month to show up).

     The "home zone" keep growing, and now includes a few spots in San Francisco.  If you want to see all the details, check their web site:

Archived Q&A and Reviews


College student needs car for 2-month internship

May 2015

My 20yr old son will be doing an 2 month internship in a small town near Santa Cruz and will need a car during this time. How and where can we get him a car for such a short time? Financially we could afford to buy him a used car but then we become a 4 car family and we do not need a 4th car when he goes back to school. The car will not go back to school with him. Is there anywhere we can lease/rent a car so this kid can get around while he's doing his internship this summer? Other ideas? really do not need a 4th car

We're in a similar situation, and I've found that the other question you need to ask is how to obtain insurance for the student. We discovered that our adult kids, who are all on our auto policy with AAA, are not covered when driving a rental car -- only my husband and I are. Our student, who needs the car for two months, is in grad school and is old enough to rent, but the cost of non-owner liability insurance from an insurance company plus collision, etc. through the rental agency would about double the cost of a long-term rental. The alternative is for the student to buy a car and be insured on her own policy, or to drive one of our cars that she borrows. So buying a used car and reselling it after the internship is, as you suggest, a possibility. In our case, I was thinking it was time to replace my old car, so we plan to lend that to her rather than trade it in. If I don't get the new car in time, we'll either try to get by with one less car or I will rent. If we'd known about the insurance situation, we'd have been urging her to stay in New York City for the summer. Future bicycle commuter?

Check out any of the car-sharing sites like Relay Rides or Getaround. Many of the cars listed offer long-term rental prices that I've found to be more reasonable than renting from the typical car rental companies. Both sites also offer insurance to protect against accident or damage costs. I've had great experiences with Relay Rides - just make sure you read the car description carefully and go with a well-reviewed car and owner to be safe. car sharing mom

Buy or lease a car for a 1-year stay in the Bay Area?

Jan 2015

My husband and I will be very shortly relocating from the UK with our three year old. I have soooo many questions, but will start with one about obtaining a car. At the moment we plan on living in the Bay Area for a year or so, most likely less than two years, before moving on again to Australia. I've been thinking about buying a car, and am wondering if it might make more sense to take a lease rather than purchase one outright. I know it would probably end up more costly, but it would mean not having to worry about selling it once we were leaving. Also, I'm completely terrified by the whole arduous process of buying a car in a foreign country when I know NOTHING about cars and they're all on the wrong side of the road! Would it be easier to arrange a lease where we just pay a set amount each month and then hand it back at the end of a year or whatever? Does anyone know if such an arrangement exists, and if so how I could go about investigating? Is there anything I'd need to do/procure/arrange before we leave the UK?

Also: I have a valid British driving license. Is this sufficient for driving in California, and if so, for how long? Do I need to swap it for an American/Californian one after a period of time? For example, when I moved to the UK from Australia I think I had three years of driving on my Australian license before I swapped it for a British one. It was just a straight swap; I didn't need to do any sort of test. Does anyone know if this will be case for me when we arrive in the States? Or will I have to go through the process of applying for a license all over again?

Any advice from anyone who has been through similar is very much appreciated.


My husband and I moved to the Bay Area from Australia just over three years ago and so far we've been able to get by quite easily without a car. We live in Downtown Berkeley with our 3 young kids and pretty much everything we need is within easy walking distance (oldest daughter's school, middle daughter's preschool, supermarkets, YMCA, cafes etc). When we do need a car for longer trips we use Zipcar (which you'll be able to join on your UK or Australian licence).

Technically you need to obtain a Californian licence after ''residing'' here for 3 months. There's a lot of confusion over this for foreigners like me who have non-resident visa status. I ''reside'' here but I'm not a ''resident''! No one at DMV has been able to tell me if I actually need a Californian licence or not but seeing as I don't drive I've never worried about it. My husband did obtain his Californian licence though which required doing both a written test and a driving test. I figure I'll get mine if/when we decide to buy a car.

Speaking of which, a while back we did look into buying a car but we came up against problems with financing because of our visa status and our then lack of credit rating. If you'll need financing to purchase a car you'll probably find the same problems we had. As new arrivals you'll have no credit rating at all which is treated the same as having bad credit. It really sucks. Getting a credit rating takes at least a year which, if you're only staying for a year anyway you won't really have time to achieve it. The best way to get a credit rating as a new arrival is to get a secured credit card with your bank. Without a credit rating you won't be able to get a regular credit card but after a year of using a secured one it will be changed over to a regular credit card and you'll have a credit rating.

Anyway, while we were not able to get financing we were approved to lease a car. The dealers that we spoke to said that they deal with a lot of foreigners in the same situation as us. The lease term will be linked to the expiry date of your visa. In our case we decided not to go through with it because we plan to stay here for at least a few more years and it would've ended up very pricey. Plus we realised that we like not owning a car

For a short stay I think that leasing would be worth looking into if you would like a new car. That said, secondhand cars here are super cheap (especially by Australian standards!) so if you've got cash upfront and don't need financing that could be an option. I have no idea how easy selling the car when you leave would be though.

If you'd like to chat about anything else you need help with ask the administrator for my email address. There are lots of little things about moving to the Bay Area that can be tricky to work out when you're new here.

Good luck with your move! Sally

Hi, we moved here from the UK in 2013 and we leased a car. I don't think you can get 12 month leases but you can get 24 month leases. Usually they are 36 months. We were lucky-my dad is a US citizen so he helped us by letting us use his credit score. With no US credit history your monthly payments might be loads. I know that some car companies might let you use foreign credit history so it may be worth finding out about that. There are also companies that will sort out leases for international people but I'm sure it's expensive. Personally I love leasing-it's nice to have a brand new, reliable car unlike the old banger we had in the UK plus all the maintenance is included-no stress for us.

I think you're meant to get a CA driving license within a few months. You have to take a theory test at the DVLA (a great fun place to visit) and when you pass, you can book your driving test. You will need a car first. The test is really easy but be careful on the roads here as lots of people don't indicate!

Good luck! Clueless Brit

Oops I meant the DMV (the US version of the DVLA)! Clueless Brit

Consider a long term rental from Enterprise or Budget. You can rent by the month or longer. These are expensive options, but if you have any issues with the car you could probably just exchange it for a new one. In any situation, you would need insurance, and you'd probably be stuck buying if from the car rental agency and that would greatly increase your costs. But you can probably just use your international license.

Or, consider joining a car sharing service like City Car Share or ZipCar. These services include insurance in the cost. These are affordable for very short term rentals (hours - cost between $6-10/hr) but longer time (more than half a day) it is usually cheaper to rental from a traditional rental car company. I think you need a valid US license join, but you can look up the terms to be sure. Depending on where you live you might not need a dedicated car.

Buying a used car in the US isn't too bad, though. You have to buy car insurance from a US company for the state of CA, and I'd guess that those insurers require a CA license. (Unlike in Australia where the insurance is tied to the car and registration). Cars here are much less expensive than in Australia. We lived in Sydney for a couple of years and bought the worst car EVER but we were able to drive without getting an Australian license and the insurance/registration process was easy.

I recommend perhaps a compromise - rental for the first month you are here with insurance included to allow you time to get your housing sorted and then buy a used car … if you decide you need one. Just don't buy a Holden Commodore

Hi! I'm also Australian and have been living in the Bay Area for four years. We bought a car, so I'm not sure about leasing, but I can help you with the licensing question.

You don't need a California license to drive here, or to own a car, as long as your license is currently valid. However, I would recommend going through the process to get a license as it makes life a bit easier. You will need to do a written test and a practical driving test, but both of these are easier than the equivalent tests in Australia!

So, you don't need to get a local license, but you might like to. For instance, may find that some insurance companies won't insure you without a CA license. We managed to get insurance, but I think it's more expensive if you don't have a CA license.

Good luck! You will love it here. T

I agree that buying one is probably a big hassle if you're going to sell it again in couple years. You wouldn't get anywhere near the original value for it, even if it was in good condition. There are leasing options. Can you wait until you get here to decide? Depending on where you're living and working, you might find you can get away without a car, at least for a little while (or just rent one when you need it). A lot of people living in San Francisco for instance use car share services.

Looks like your British license will be good for a year, at which point you would have to apply for a CA driver's license:

I'm an American, so I can't answer questions about what it's like to immigrate here, but I did live in the UK for a couple years and I remember how many questions I had when we relocated. Feel free to contact me at a p 5 5 7 cam at gmail if you want. Ex-ex-pat

We left the Bay Area to return to Australia several years ago. We had a second hand mini that we got a good deal on, which we sold before leaving. On return to Australia we were horrified to discover how expensive cars were (we had forgotten how expensive everything is here). We worked out that it would have been better for us to pay to have the steering switched and the car shipped over with us, then to buy another second hand mini here. I don't know if this price comparison holds true for all cars, or just European vehicles (or just ours) but definitely consider shipping your car to Australia. Check out how long you need to have owned it to avoid paying duty, and maybe check Aust car prices on the net to see if it's worthwhile. On the same note, I would say to consider this option for all household items. There's a lot mid-range/cheaper stuff in America that inexplicably becomes designer/luxury items in Australia. I turned my nose up at a heap of clothing labels in America that I now couldn't afford to buy here. So bring all your pots and pans, crockery, cutlery etc with bags and bags of your favourite clothes. Dreaming of my Mini

I believe the answers stating that you can use your home country's license are not correct. Quote from ''If you intend working here, or establishing a long-term residence here, then technically you must get a California driver's license after ten days' residence. Drivers with valid licenses from other U.S. States and Canada usually need only pass a written road rules test and hand in their old license. Drivers from foreign countries normally have to take a full driving and road rules test; the old (foreign) license is then either endorsed as not valid for California, or, since everything is now computerized, it is given back to you untouched (but if you try to use it the DMV and police computers will flag it as invalid for use in California).''

I actually know a person who got into a minor traffic accident and got into lots of problems when it was discovered that she was driving without a California license despite living here for over a year. And that was someone who was not living here permanently, just for studies for a couple of years. So yes, get your license here as fast as possible.

By the way, we ended up leasing a car from Enterprise. They calculated our credit score based on our income, employment contract, etc, not based on the American credit score.

Good luck! Anne

Visiting scholar needs car for 9 months

Aug 2013

Dear BPN community, I am coming to Berkeley as a visiting scholar for 9 months starting Sept the 1st. My family consists 2+2 (kids: 1.5 and 11 years old). Most of the time I will be with my younger baby, my husband and son will come only for 1 month at the beginning and maybe for a longer period (max 3 months) in the second semester. Is the car essential? I am going to stay in Emeryville. What is the better option to buy or to rent (e.g for the weekends). I would prefer to buy but probably what I can afford is a relic and then I am afraid of additional costs: repairs etc. On the other hand I would like to do a bit of sightseeing. I am a bit afraid to use a craiglist. Are there any option to buy a car from a dealer with their agreement to buy it back after 9 months?

I think you will want a car. Public transit from Emeryville will involve a series of bus/shuttlebus and BART. Purchasing from a dealer and selling back is not likely, but you be able to get a short-term lease -- especially if a dealer has a car sitting on its lot that it wants to move. I was able to get a one-year lease at one point. Not sure about nine months, but you can always ask. AboutTheSame

Inexpensive Car Rental For a Month

Dec 2011

Dear BPN community, I have been looking through the archives, but the last post was 2004, so it would be great to get a recent feedback: we are looking for a cheap rental car for about a month in Jan/Feb- ideally less than $20/day. Any recommendations greatly appreciated. Thank you!

I recommend Doherty's Car and Truck Rental in El Cerrito. Doherty's Car and Truck Rental: 510-234-6025 10895 San Pablo Avenue El Cerrito, CA jdoherty [at]

Have you tried You name your price and they find an agency that is willing to accept it. I use them for all of my rental cars and get an econo car for $20/day. My rentals are always for 2-3 days though and not a month. The only downside is that you have to give them your credit card # up front and they charge you the full amount when your offer is accepted. You run the risk of having to pick up a car in Timbuktu but never I have never had that problem - the car has always been at the airport I am flying into and the experience has always been a good one. anon

Visiting professor needs a car for 3 months

Some friends of mine (visiting professor) are coming to Berkeley for 3 mos. and they're looking for an inexpensive car rental. They received a quote for $2600 through one of the major agencies! That seems way too high. Have I just been out of touch with car rental prices, or does anyone know of a reliable, reasonable car rental agency in the Berkeley area? Thanks. Cecelia


Dogherty's in El Cerrito will rent cars by the month. My recollection is that you can rent a car for $400-500/month, perhaps as high as $525, but this is still significantly lower than the quote your friend got through a major agency. Dogherty's specializes in moving trucks, but they have a range of Fords in different sizes for more reasonable monthly rental. Their phone number is 234-6025 and they keep regular hours of something like 7AM-6PM.