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What Are Pull-Ahead Programs for Car Leases?

Tips for Evaluating Early Lease Return Deals

(updated March 1st, 2019)

If you're currently leasing a car, you've probably gotten a fair number of ads or emails suggesting that you trade in your current vehicle for a new one. These pitches promise a new vehicle for similar or lower lease payments. They may say that the dealership wants your vehicle because it's low on used-car inventory and needs exactly what you have.

These offers sound good, and the sheer number of attempts to reach you can add a sense of urgency. But is there anything to them? Are the offers too good to be true? The answer can depend on the type of advertisement you've received and the sender.

Why You're Getting the Offer

In the auto industry, these advertisements are part of what are known as "lease pull-ahead programs." Their goal is to "pull" customers back into the leasing cycle, ahead of when their current lease expires.

The three years of a typical lease may seem like a relatively short time to us. But in the eyes of automakers and car dealers, waiting 36 months for a customer to come back and do business again feels like a lifetime. So instead of waiting until your current lease is over to seduce you with offers of a new car, dealers start sending them before your lease is at the halfway point.

But these programs aren't just about making a new deal. Some manufacturers use lease pull-ahead programs to spread out the lease returns of certain models so that a large number of the same cars aren't hitting auction blocks at the same time. Too many of the same car showing up simultaneously at auction will eventually drive down that car's value.

Finally, the used-car department of your local dealership may really, truly want your off-lease vehicle, especially if there is a shortage of clean late-model cars.

So if you can be persuaded to turn in your car early, it can be a triple win for the dealership and the carmaker.

With all this at stake, it becomes easier to understand why carmakers and car dealerships invest so much energy in getting you back in the dealership ahead of schedule.

Deals From Carmakers and Deals From Dealerships

There are two types of pull-ahead programs: those that come from the people who made your car (such as Toyota or Fiat Chrysler) and those that come from the dealer who sold it to you.

Advertisements from the carmaker will usually have well-defined benefits. Some will offer to waive your last few car payments if you get into a new car now. Other offers may forgive excessive mileage or waive disposition or damage fees on top of giving you a sweet deal on your next new car.

In other words, when you get a pull-ahead offer from a carmaker, you know what to expect.

Lease pull-ahead programs from dealerships are a little harder to decipher. Offers with phrases like "payments as low as" or "little or no money out of pocket" make it hard to determine what exactly they're offering other than the prospect of a good deal on a new car. This isn't to say that dealer offers are all smoke and mirrors. Because of the behind-the-scenes work of predictive algorithms within dealerships, these offers generally only target people whose vehicles put them in a position to finish a lease early and get into a new car.

It's an imperfect science, though. The dealer can't guarantee that you'll be able to get out of your car for no money out of pocket and into another car for the same or lower payment. Hence the vague language. If you get one of these notifications, however, just know that a deal is possible.

Is This a Good Pull-Ahead Deal?

If you're intrigued by an offer you've received but aren't sure if the deal is good enough to merit a trip to the dealership, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

1. Read the lease offer carefully so you understand all the terms, allotted mileage and possible fees.

2. Be certain you actually want to lease again. A pull-ahead offer might look great now, but it won't put you closer to actual ownership if that is your eventual goal.

3. Figure out how much time is remaining on your current lease. If you are in the final year, you are in the best position for a lease pull-ahead deal.

4. Check out Edmunds'Incentives and Rebates page to see if there are any factory-backed lease specials that might set you up for a good deal.

5. Find out your lease payoff amount from your bank. If you make your payments online, you'll likely be able to find your payoff by logging into your account. You can also get the payoff amount over the phone.

6. Compare your payoff amount to your car's value. You can check the value using theEdmunds appraisal tool.

If you owe a lot less than your vehicle's appraised value, chances are good you'll be able get out of your car and into a new one with no money out of pocket. You might even be able to do that and lower your monthly payment. If your payoff is about equal to the value of your car or you owe more than the car's value, you may still be able to get out of it and into a new car with no money out of pocket. Available incentives and rebates will be a big part of the equation.

7. Don't overbuy. It's easy to get wrapped up in the prospect of a new deal and end up spending more than you'd originally planned. If you have a budget, do your best to stick to it.

If you've done your due diligence and the deal pencils out, there's nothing wrong with leaving one lease early — especially if you're able to lower your payment, get some extra options you didn't have before, or both.

See Edmunds pricing data

Has Your Car's Value Changed?

Used car values are constantly changing. Edmunds lets you track your vehicle's value over time so you can decide when to sell or trade in.

Price history graph example