Three Tough Leasing Questions Answered


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    leasing

    Vehicle leasing is an attractive alternative for many consumers. But if your financial situation suddenly changes, you could find yourself forking over lots of cash just to get out of your contract. | March 18, 2010

Here at Edmunds.com, we get a lot of questions about leasing. The three most common — and hard to answer — are the following:

  1. How do I get out of my lease before the contract has expired?
  2. How do I buy my car at the end of the lease?
  3. How do I avoid extra charges at the end of the lease?

We spoke with Tarry Shebesta, president of Automobile Consumer Services Corp. (ACS), who has been in the car business since 1989 and online since 1990.

Customers frequently call ACS with questions about leasing. Here are Shebesta's answers to the sticky situations we posed.

1. How do I get out of my lease before the contract has expired?

In some cases, your financial picture might change unexpectedly and suddenly you can't afford those sky-high payments on a BMW sedan. In another common scenario, you lease a fun little Mazda sports car one year, then the next year you and your spouse have a baby. You're desperate to get into a bigger car, but you don't want to take a financial bath. What to do?

According to Shebesta, you still have some options:

  1. Find someone to assume the lease. Call the leasing company and ask if they allow "assumptions." Make sure you locate a new lessee who is credit worthy. Expect to pay a fee to do the assumption — about $300. Check to make sure the mileage is appropriate for this point in the lease. And also make sure you provide the car in good condition so the new lessee isn't taking over hidden problems.
  2. Sell the car yourself. Call the bank and ask for the current buyout amount. Once you get that number, look at the Edmunds.com True Market Value® price for a private party. Make sure to adjust the figure for mileage, color, options and region. If the current market value is close to the buyout number, try to sell the car yourself and pay off the bank. Even if you have to take a $1,000 or $2,000 loss, you are better off than continuing the payments or walking away from the car. Remember, in addition to your lease payment, there are insurance payments, too. (Note: Sales tax can cause a problem if you buy the car, then have to resell it immediately. The bank may help you by arranging to transfer the title directly to the new owner. A dealer might also help you arrange this transaction, but they will want reimbursement for their trouble.)
  3. Turn in the keys and walk away from the lease. This isn't a good option. If you give the car back to the lessor, and walk away, it will go on your credit report as a "repo."

2. How do I buy my car at the end of the lease?

You've come to the end of your lease, and it hits you: After you give the car back you won't have anything to drive. And you like the car. It never let you down and it fits your lifestyle.

Then the brilliant idea occurs to you. You'll buy the car. But when you check the contract your "residual value" is more than you want to pay. What do you do?

"Most people don't realize that in most cases the buyout is negotiable," Shebesta said. In fact, "It is in the best interest of the leasing company to sell the car to you. The way the leasing business is now, if they take the car to auction they're really going to get killed. They have to pay auction fees, plus take a low price for the car. But maybe you can offer a lower buyout or even finance it through them."

So, how do you go about this?

"The customer needs to make sure they don't buy it for the 'average retail' price," Shebesta warned. Look in the various pricing guides, such as Edmunds.com True Market Value® (TMV®) and offer the bank a figure that is closer to wholesale.

If you are leasing from the manufacturer, such as Ford Motor Co., call a Ford dealership, preferably the one where you bought the car. A lot of dealerships have a salesperson designated for accepting lease returns. Tell them you want to buy the car. Ultimately, it will be the Ford Motor Co.'s decision whether to sell you the car at that price or not.

"You will have more success (buying the car) through an independent leasing company," Shebesta said. Get the phone number from the car's payment book. Call the bank and say, "'My lease is due soon. What is the buyout number?'" Tell the bank you are interested in buying the car and possibly financing it through them. Get the phone number of the person in charge of making this decision. When you reach her, make your offer. You may be pleasantly surprised at her response.

3. How do you avoid extra expenses at the end of the lease?

Many consumers are anxious about leasing's Judgment Day — when you return the vehicle to the dealer and have them inspect its condition for extra charges. Usually, the charges are assessed because of excess wear and tear or additional miles on the odometer above the agreed-upon figure in the contract.

These fears are not unfounded, Shebesta said. "As the leasing market tightens up, banks are looking for a way to make money from returned cars. They will be more critical about wear and tear and any deviations from the lease contract." Bottom line: Keep the car at a condition above and beyond "average wear and tear" to avoid penalties.

Here are a few additional tips Shebesta offered to prevent dings to your wallet as you say goodbye to your leased vehicle:

  • Have the vehicle washed and detailed.
  • Make sure you service the vehicle at the required intervals.
  • Keep all maintenance records.
  • Have the vehicle serviced just before you turn it in.
  • Fix things such as windshield chips, which are usually covered under the insurance and may cost you nothing to repair.
  • Make any needed repairs yourself.
  • Stay within your mileage limit.
  • If you have really high mileage fees, consider selling the car yourself rather than paying the penalty.
  • Any dents should be removed by a local body shop rather than turning it in with the damage.

Customers get upset about having to pay mileage penalties, according to Shebesta. But he tells them, "'When you decided to lease the car, you said you would drive only 12K miles a year. If you drive more, you have to pay for the value of the car you have used.'" In other words, they have gotten something of value for the extra money they have to pay.

Additional Leasing Tips

In conclusion, Shebesta offered the following recommendations:

Put as little money down as possible. This is very important, Shebesta said. He said they had a client that leased a Toyota 4Runner and put down two thousand dollars. Three months later, his wife totaled it. Gap insurance did help pay for the difference between what his insurance company paid and the actual payoff of the car. But he didn't get his two thousand dollars back. "He was not happy," Shebesta said. "We recommend an alternative. If you have to put that two thousand down to get the payment where you want, take the two thousand dollars and put it in a separate account and use a portion of that each month to help make the payment."

Stay away from subsidized leases with inflated residuals. You won't be able to afford the car at the end of the lease because it won't be worth what the contract states. You will be stuck and will have to turn it in. A lower payment isn't always a better deal.

Don't go into a lease longer than you would normally keep a car. If you keep a car about three years, do a three-year lease. A four- or five-year lease will be harder to get out of and more difficult to turn in without extra fees. Don't lease longer than the warranty period that covers the car.

When selecting a vehicle, choose a car with a naturally higher residual. If the vehicle holds its value — or surpasses its expected value — there may be an option to buy it and make money at the end of the lease.

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