A car lease lets you drive a new vehicle without paying a large sum of cash or taking out a loan.
To lease a car, you simply make a small down payment — less than the typical 20% of a car’s value you’d pay to buy– followed by monthly payments for the term of the lease. When the term expires, you return the car.
Leasing a car has some drawbacks, however. Among them:
- You don’t own the car when your lease expires. You essentially rent, not buy, the car. So you don’t have equity in the car to use toward the purchase of another vehicle.
- Over time, say 10 years, the cost of leasing several cars will likely exceed the purchase price of a new or used car.
- Lease terms can carry steep penalties. You may have to pay penalties if:
- You exceed the number of miles in your lease contract.
- You fail to keep the interior and exterior of the car in good condition.
- You drive the car hard and inflict significant wear and tear on the car’s performance and appearance.
- You want to return the car before your contract expires.
Does a lease make sense for you?
Leasing is more beneficial than buying when you:
- Don’t have the cash to buy the car.
- Want to drive a vehicle that’s out of your purchase price range.
- Won’t likely exceed the mileage cap in a contract—usually between 10,000 and 15,000 miles per year.
- Can take good care of the car’s exterior and interior, paying particular attention to avoid nicks, spills and other cosmetic damage.
- Expect to lease another car when your vehicle’s current contract expires.
Exceeding the mileage limits on your lease can cost you 10 to 15 cents per mile. The dealer will inspect your car just before the lease expires, and you’ll also be charged for excessive wear and tear.
How to Lease
Leasing a car is less complicated than buying one. But to get the best deal on the car you want, you must still follow these steps:
- Choose a type — What kind of car do you want? Better yet, what car do you need? A convertible? A sedan? An SUV?
- Pick your models — Make a list of car types in your price range. You can reduce non-lease costs by including models with favorable gas mileage, high dependability, top safety features and low insurance premiums (ask your auto insurance agent for a list of vehicles that fit the bill).
- Take a test drive — Once you’ve narrowed your list to a few models, take each car for a test drive. Pay particular attention to comfort, visibility, braking, steering, internal noise and shock-absorption. At this stage, don’t yet mention you intend to lease (more on this in Step 6).
- Ask about safety — During your test drive, ask the salesperson whether the vehicle comes with anti-lock brake systems (ABS), electronic stability control (ESC) and head-protecting side air bags. All are valuable safety features.
- Compare lease deals — When you return home from the dealer, calculate the lease deals on offer and figure out how much you can afford to pay monthly.
- Talk price first — Once you’re ready to return to a dealership to strike a deal, don’t tell the dealer you plan to lease until after you’ve negotiated a purchase price. Most people who lease are unaware that their monthly payments will be based on the final agreed-upon price.
- Negotiate up — Negotiate the final price of the vehicle up from the rock-bottom cost to the dealership. You can find out what new cars cost a dealer for $14 per vehicle at Consumer Reports. Your monthly payments will be based on the price you and the salesperson settle on. That price will fall somewhere between the dealer’s wholesale price and the manufacturer’s suggested retail price.
- Beware of gab — Your salesperson may try to push you toward closing the deal by focusing on the relatively low amount you’ll have to pay each month. This, however, will add to the total amount you’ll pay.
- Paying the Lease — The larger your initial down payment, the lower your monthly tab will be. As with any bill, you’ll face penalties if you fail to make payments on time. Turning in your leased car early, before the loan term ends will typically result in a penalty—unless you are trading in the car for another leased or purchased car.