Don’t Lease a Car! — Why It’s Almost Always a Poor Financial Decision


Let’s get right to the point. Leasing a car is almost always a very poor financial decision.  I’m going to focus the next few Woody’s Goodies on car buying tips.  But the first tip is, DON’T LEASE A CAR! Summarized below are my views on the disadvantages of leasing a car:

  1. The selling price is usually MSRP.  Many dealers hide this value from you, diverting you to low monthly payments. Many car sales people will simply tell you its cheaper to lease, where you can’t figure out that the price charged was MSRP, and stole your trade in because they are not required to disclose a trade on a lease form;
  2. Confusing finance charges. Some dealers try to confuse you and lie about something called the “money factor” and often won’t even tell you the money factor.  Well, let me tell you about the money factor.  It’s usually a very high interest rate as compared to the interest rate you can obtain if you purchased a car.  To convert the money factor into an interest rate, simply multiply it by 24;
  3. Long-term cost of leasing is more than the cost of buying no matter what the dealer tells you. Dealers don’t compare apples with apples when telling you that a lease is cheaper than buying. Let me illustrate what happens. Most people lease for 36 months, or borrow (if purchasing) for 60 months. However, dealers like to compare a 36-month lease payment to a 24-month loan payment (even though it’s rare for people to borrow for 24 months). Therefore, they can convince people that buying a car is much higher than leasing a car because of the appearance that the monthly payment on the lease is much less. They don’t tell you that they packed the lease payment with hidden extended warranty, credit life insurance, $500 dealer acquisition fee, $300 disposition fee, etc.;
  4. Depreciation in any auto lease is RIDICULOUS.  With leasing, every 3 year you pay approximately 50% depreciation in car value, so after 2 leases in 9 years, you have paid 150% depreciation.  If instead, you purchased the car, and drove it for the same 9 years, you still have not used up 90% depreciation. Obviously, buying is cheaper, end of story;
  5. Possible double tax when leasing a car. Most states tax your monthly payment.  But some states like Illinois and Texas tax the full amount of the car even though you are only using up to 50% of the value then returning it.  Even worse, if you buy the car at the end of the lease, you again pay sales tax on that residual amount!  Don’t even consider leasing if you live in Illinois or Texas.
  6. High Insurance Cost.  Lessors require you have minimum insurance policies of $300,000;
  7. If you lease the car, you may not get a manufacturers rebate.  This can increase the cost by $500 to $1500, so make sure you get the rebate!  Some dealers try to get out of it, and they may keep it for themselves;
  8. Lemon laws don’t cover leases in some states.  For example, the Illinois attorney general’s office stated that the three day right to cancel law does not apply to an auto purchase, and Illinois Lemon Law only applies to new cars, not used car sales of leases;
  9. Misleading dealer lease ads. Many ads state very low monthly payments, like $275 per month for a BMW.  However, there’s usually only a tiny stock number of the only car there at that price.  To get low monthly payments, you need huge down payments (which are sunk cost lost forever since you don’t own the car). The fine print also may state that taxes are extra;
  10. Calculate your own lease payment. Dealers love to volunteer to do a lease versus purchase analysis for you.  Tell them, sure go ahead.  Then tell them you want a print out of the analysis so you can take it home and check it.  You then MUST be able to figure out the lease payment on your own, and lookup residual values (available on various web sites (i.e. Edmunds.com)).  For your convenience, I have attached a spreadsheet which will help you in calculating you lease payment (LEASE PAYMENT CALCULATOR ATTCHED);
  11. Mileage limits. Most leases limit you to 12000 miles/year. Some are 10,000 miles. Many of my friends have paid thousands of dollars at the end of their lease for excess mileage.
  12. You are responsible for program maintenance. Better keep damn good records of every oil changes tune up, etc. and do them on schedule too. Don’t give them any chance to claim excess wear and tear; and
  13. All 4 tires must match! This is in every lease contract. Leasing companies charge you for mismatched tires, and they charge MSRP, which you can get cheaper in a tire shop;
  14. Accidents may trigger early termination. Some leases actually may terminate upon an accident, and you’re still obligated to pay off the lease. Car insurance covers the damages, but not the cost of paying off the lease. You’ll need “gap insurance” for that (another additional cost of leasing). You should definitely buy gap insurance when you lease, but shop it, because if you buy it from the dealer, you’ll b e getting a raw deal;
  15. Dealers love to offer you and early out on your lease.  Dealers will often volunteer to pay your early lease termination penalties, and buy you out of your current lease.  But they do this so they can roll you into another lease (thereby selling another car), and in essence they have just financed all that debt into the new lease. Now you’re paying off 2 leases.  Thanks for nothing!
  16. Tax law changes have reduced the tax considerations of leasing versus buying, and focused the decision on the real economics as mentioned above. Since 1998, taxpayers have the option of using the standard mileage rate on either leased or purchased autos. Prior to 1998, standard mileage rate was only available if the taxpayer owned the auto. This removed the advantage that purchased autos had over leased autos regarding required record keeping.Do yourself a favor, don’t lease a vehicle.  As a matter of fact, buying a 1 or two-year-old vehicle is by far the best way to go.  Today, you can even get those used vehicles with 5 and 10-year warranties still in tact.  If for some crazy reason you decide to lease, please use my lease calculator (file attached) and make sure the dealer isn’t ripping you off.

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Don’t Lease a Car! — Why It’s Almost Always a Poor Financial Decision