What to expect at the end of a car lease?
January 9, 2008 5:14 PM   Subscribe

What to expect at the end of a car lease?

My wife currently has a VW Jetta that is nearing the end of its lease. What should we expect at lease turn-in? I have searched Google and have been unsuccessful in finding much information.

Any help is much appreciated. Thanks.
posted by mjger to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have the car professionally detailed before you turn it in. If there are any dings or dents, have them repaired. The cost to repair will be less than a quarter of what you will be charged if you don't do it. Take extensive photos of the car, inside and out, just before you turn it in to document the condition. The average charge that gets stuck to you at the end of a lease is $1800 for "unusual wear and tear", which doesn't get sprung on you until days or weeks after you have turned in the car. If you don't have photos, you don't have a leg to stand on. If you do have photos, they will back off. Or at least, that is the norm.
posted by Lokheed at 5:37 PM on January 9, 2008

I've turned in two leased cars - wasn't charged anything for either one of them except a "return fee" on one. Do make sure your car is clean, inside and out. You will pay for dings and scratches, burns, stains.

I was surprised at how easy it was. You just show up with the car & both sets of keys, you sign a statement regarding mileage, accidents, whatever.

For me, both times, the procedure was painless and lasted about 15 minutes.

I've heard horror stories, but my experience wasn't like that.
posted by clarkstonian at 6:04 PM on January 9, 2008

Good advice from Lokheed. They basically expect you to return the car in showroom condition which is unrealistic for anyone, regardless how well you maintain the vehicle.
posted by smoothhickory at 6:06 PM on January 9, 2008

I've leased two vehicles. One had a chewed up center console courtesy of my dog which I attempted to fix with a $10 tube of vinyl glue. It looked like crap, they didn't notice. I was well below the mileage limit.

On my other vehicle, the lease company made me a deal I couldn't refuse to buy my minivan back in 2003 or 04. They gave me a ridiculous 2.99 percent loan so I bought it at the end of the lease term and never dealt with the return stuff.

Lease companies do not want the cars back. If you are willing to buy it you can probably negotiate a great deal.
posted by COD at 6:19 PM on January 9, 2008

My experience with returning - if I've counted correctly - five leased cars (don't do it, kids) was easy, similar to clarkstonian's. We had them washed, vaccuumed and I think in one case I steam-cleaned the upholstery. But even the car with four years' worth of cigarette smoke and a backseat with two very distinctive clean places where the car seats had been (surrounded by a multitude of stains), I never had to pay a wear-and-tear fee. The excess mileage fee is a total bitch, though. Check your original contract carefully. In one case we had to stop driving the car about three months before the lease expired so we wouldn't be over our miles. Making a payment for a car that can do nothing but sit in the driveway sucks.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 6:21 PM on January 9, 2008

Only other thing I would add along with Lokheed's advice on photographing the car - check the tread depth on the tires, and document it with photos. If you don't have a small ruler that fits in the tread and has 1/32nd marks, stick a penny in the tread and take a picture of it.

Hold up a ruler in any picture you take of the car too, it will give scale if you get into an argument over how many dings/how large they are.

Read the lease, it is probably very specific on the amount and size of dings allowed, and the lease I had also specified how much tread depth needed to be on the tires at the end of the lease. You don't want to end up buying tires for a car they're going to be taking from you.

The experience you'll have returning the car may depend on whether the dealership is going to lose money on the car, or if they're going to make a profit selling it used. Look in your lease and see what the residual value of the car is (the value left at the end of the lease) and then go to a website like Kelly Blue Book www.kbb.com and see what you can sell it for. If the resale value is far less than the residual value, they're going to try to get you to buy the car, or they're going to nitpick everything, because they're losing money on the lease. If the resale value is greater than the residual value, they'll probably take it without much fuss.
posted by reckman at 7:21 PM on January 9, 2008

Thanks for all of the suggestions.

Lokheed: What brand car did you have when you were charged $1800?

All others: What brand cars did you turn-in where everything went smoothly?
posted by mjger at 7:32 PM on January 9, 2008

One Ford, one VW, three Hondas. With the fifth Honda (the one I was really worried about), the inspector came to my office to look at the car several days before we turned it in. With the others, we just took it to the dealership and did the inspection there. In all cases, we received a lease-end kit about 60-90 days before the lease expires.

As others have said, what they really want you to do is buy the car from them and save them the trouble of dealing with it. We actually ended up buying our sixth and final!! lease car (Honda) because we were way over on mileage and had a decent residual deal.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 8:15 PM on January 9, 2008

I've turned in two leased cars, both leased for three years.

When we got the turn in letter, we were told that they didn't care unless a ding or scratch was bigger that 3 inch diameter circle.

We simply emptied out the cars of our stuff. We ran them through a $15 car wash, then turned them in.

We didn't get charged a penny.

I have never heard of a charge like Lokheed mentioned. If it had happened to me, I would have gotten an attorney, that's outrageous.

If you are concerned, call the dealership in advance and ask them.
posted by Argyle at 8:16 PM on January 9, 2008

My two leases were Lincoln Continentals and I had no muss no fuss when turning them in. The first one I'd taken the time and expense to have it professionally cleaned, and then when I turned it in the man at the dealership commented "I don't know why people bother; we're just going to clean it again anyway." They sort of looked it over quickly for any obvious dents or scratches, checked the mileage, and that was it.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:22 AM on January 10, 2008

returned 3 cars, no issues - cars were also ding-free and clean. however, should you be interested in buying the car, you can actually negotiate the price! the dealership doesn't own the car, some bank does. you can call the bank that you make your payments to and ask them what they're planning to with the car. they'll probably tell you that they're going to auction it off. say you might be interested in buying it and see what happens. we got a couple grand of the residual price listed in the original contract.
posted by maulik at 2:50 AM on January 10, 2008

mjger - I turned in a SAAB and a Pontiac G6. The SAAB really had me worried because there were hundreds of pits in the paint from stone chips. There was a stain on one of the carpets. They never said anything or charged me a nickel. The G6 looked like a showroom car, so I'd have been surprised if they'd charged me.
posted by clarkstonian at 6:11 AM on January 10, 2008

I turned in an Acura RSX two years ago. A Honda rep came to my workplace three weeks before the lease expired and inspected the car for about fifteen minutes. I had several dents thanks to the tiny parking spots in my town and the idiots who park next to me, including a large one (~5" diameter, definitely larger than the 3" specified in the lease) on two panels on the passenger side of the vehicle. Washed the car myself the day before (no detailing). Wasn't charged a dime.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 10:43 AM on January 10, 2008

Also, make sure you've read the fine print on your lease contract. It may bind you to such goodies as a "disposition charge". It's unusual (AFAICT), but I am facing it now. Also, I don't think you should be so concerned with brands as with who has done the financing (a branch of the manufacturer, as Honda and Ford tend to do) vs. a private bank. The banks, I think, REALLY do not want the car, and will try to get some cash out of you to make it worth their while. Compare that to an automotive corporation who, after all, has an army of salespeople, and can usually make a profit on anything.
The mileage issue that others have called out is worth paying attention to - I've never heard of anyone being over and not paying.
posted by Horselover Fat at 7:50 PM on January 10, 2008

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