What a retarded concept. That Ray Smith guy is a total dumbass. Renting rims for 60 bucks a week and over 3,000 over a year when he could go out and buy the same rims for 1,560. The whole concept is just dumb. It'd probably work for the ballas on a budget and who want to bling their rides out for a week or two. Not a good long-term investment though.A new spin on rentals: Big, bad wheels, tires
Young customers take up to a year to pay for fancy gear in expanding business.
By Chris Woodyard / USA TODAY
INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- For the young hip-hop crowd, a car without gleaming, oversize chrome wheels is like a birthday cake without candles.
But at $2,000 or more for rims and tires, a rolling dose of social acceptance can be out of reach for those in their first or second jobs.
That's where Rent-A-Wheel comes in.
Rent-A-Wheel is a sign of the times, a new wrinkle in the rent-to-own industry. The fast-growing chain and others like it are cropping up across the Sun Belt -- tapping into the craze for giant wheels that have become as essential to car enthusiasts as fuzzy dice were to their hot-rodding granddads.
"For our customer base, their cars are their status symbol. That's where they spend a lot of their disposable income," says Rent-A-Wheel's co-founder John Bowlin.
Most chains employ the same basic plan. Customers can take 90 days, or in some cases, up to 120 days, to buy a set of wheels and tires for the same price that they would pay up front.
If they don't make it in time -- and many don't -- they rent them, typically making weekly payments at a high premium for up to a year. If they make all the payments, their purchase is complete, and the wheels are theirs to keep.
If they can't keep up with the payments or don't want to own the wheels anymore, they can turn them in.
There are no credit checks. The chains usually rent to anyone who can show a steady paycheck.
The idea is borrowed from the rent-to-own furniture industry.
While rims and tires are a minuscule part of the rent-to-own industry, it's the most exciting area because customers tend to be more upscale, says Bill Keese, executive director of the Association of Progressive Rental Organizations, a trade group.
Often, they are young drivers out for "the biggest, baddest-looking wheels they can find," he says.
To reach them, the rental wheel outfits typically advertise on hip-hop radio. The formula's success is showing up in how fast the businesses are growing:
• Rent-A-Wheel. From a single store in Los Angeles, Rent-A-Wheel now has 36 stores spread across California, Arizona and Texas, including the Rent-A-Tire chain it acquired in 1999. It plans to add about 15 stores a year.
• Rent-n-Roll. The Tampa-based chain has four company-owned stores and 23 franchises and plans to have 100 stores under contract within five years.
• Rent-A-Wheel of Florida. Same name as the western chain, but not related, Rent-A-Wheel of Florida has five locations in the Tampa and Orlando areas and plans to soon add three, says Vice President Che Hatcher.
"What we cater to is young people who want to get wheels and tires and can't afford to pay $2,000 or $3,000. We do it on an easy installment plan," Hatcher says.
Despite their growth, the wheel businesses run into the same critics as the rent-to-own furniture business. Some fear young people will be strapped with wheel payments approaching what they pay monthly for the cars themselves.
"Rent-to-own has always been in the business of selling dreams with contracts that are very difficult to comply with," says Ed Mierzwinski, a consumer issues analyst for the Public Interest Research Group in Washington.
"The interest rates are so high that by the time you're done paying for the product, you've paid two or three times for it."
At the Rent-A-Wheel store in Inglewood, the cash price of a set of Zinik Adrian rims is $1,092, but at 52 weekly payments of $42, the total price balloons to $2,184. Tires, which can add $400 or more, are extra.
The cash price and the finance price are both posted prominently on the chrome rims throughout the shop.
Bowlin says the credit price has to be higher because of the inherit risk of defaults.
Some customers say they're happy buyers.
Actor Ray Smith, 29, of Inglewood pays $60 a week for his rims, which will amount to more than $3,000 over a year for a set that could be bought for $1,560 cash. "It's not that bad," he says. "It's affordable."