Car Lease Ending? Here Are Your Options.

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A lot of people are coming out of leases this time of year, and often they are confused about what to do. Some dealers, perhaps even the one you leased from, will give you advice that is best for them, not best for you.

Case in point, within the last 48 hours, I heard from a listener who had a lease coming due in six weeks. The dealership traded the listener out of the car and into a new lease. The dealership gave them $10,000 for the car, which had a balance of $12,778 so the dealer rolled $2778 of negative equity into the new lease. What they should have done was collect the final payment from the customer and terminated the lease early. It would have cost the listener under $500 to get out of the old lease. Instead, the listener is paying $2778 over the next four years with interest added. I suspect the dealer undervalued the trade-in to make a ton of money selling it used.

If you are coming out of a lease, protect yourself. Understand your options.

With almost all leases, you can purchase the car for the residual value that is on the contract. That number is set in stone. Or, you can use the walk- away option, which allows you to turn the keys over for a small termination fee plus any normal wear and tear. Or lastly, you can trade the car in to avoid the walk-away option. Trading is a good option for those people who are break even or have equity in their lease.

Before any decisions are made, you need to know where you stand in the vehicle. By that, I mean what is the true value of the leased vehicle versus what you will owe on it at lease end. Many people never take the time to find out this information and lose equity that could be used for the next vehicle.

I often recommend you run your car by a good dealership to find out what their cash offer would be.

Looking at the online websites will not be of much help, they are generally way off on values, either high or low. As I always say, a car is only worth what someone is willing to write a check for. Finding out the true value, not a trade allowance, but the real value, should be the deciding factor in your decision on how to proceed.

If the car’s true value is equal to or exceeds the residual value, then you will want to use the leased vehicle as a trade-in. This keeps you from paying the termination fee and eliminates any wear and tear charges. It also makes it much easier and less time consuming for you.

If the true value is lower than you would have to pay for the car, then you’ll want to exercise your right to walk away from the car. In this case, you would have to pay the termination fee. Your lease company will arrange for an inspection in advance to get details on any wear and tear they find. You will always want to get these things fixed prior to turning the car in. You can do the repairs for a lot less than they will charge normally.

If you have thoughts of buying the car yourself, and a lot of people do, this is another reason to get a true value on the vehicle.

You don’t want to over-pay for your own car, you have paid for this car for probably three years or more, so to overpay now is a tragedy. If you are only paying slightly more than the value, it is probably worth it just to know the history of the car, but to grossly overpay for your own car defeats one of the real benefits of leasing.

Check with your dealer at lease-end to see if there are any special incentives for returning lease customers, this is not uncommon. The manufacturers want to keep you in one of their products, so many times they will give you compelling reasons to stay with them, and they know when you are forced to make a decision.

Timing-wise, you want to start looking at options between 30 and 60 days before the end of the lease on the old car.

This will give you plenty of time to make a good decision on how to best dispose of the leased vehicle and what to replace it with.

For those who have leased in the past and are used to just turning their car in at lease-end, do yourself a favor and get a true value. Numerous times in the past couple of months, I have helped people realize they had as much as $5000 in equity they would have lost if they had simply turned their car back in. If there is equity in your lease, you sure don’t want to give it away.

Photo Copyright: Nejron Photo/Shutterstock
  1. Martha Huffmaster 3 years ago

    Hi Jerry,

    My husband and I are moving into a senior retirement apartment and are selling our home. We currently have a 2012 Ford Focus which we leased from Five Star Ford in Carrollton. Your son, B.J.,(may he rest in peace) was so great with us. Since we also have a Chevrolet Colorado pickup, we have decided to just keep the pickup and turn the Ford back in. The lease ends in August. I know that you say to have it valued first before taking it back and I just want to know if a place like CarMax would do that for us? Should we tell them why we want their opinion? I don’t want to be deceiving them into thinking we want to sell the car to them. You have helped me numerous times and I trust your advice.

    Thank you,

    Martha Huffmaster
    Irving, TX

    • Michele Sanders 3 years ago

      Martha, thanks for the kind words. CarMax is a good place to get a bid, they are sometimes aggressive. I’d check too with 5 Star to see what they would do on it. Depending on the value vs the amount owed, it may be cheaper to keep it for another 6 months or so.

      When you get both bids and the payoff, shoot me a message from the website,


      Jerry Reynolds, President
      Car Pro Radio Network

  2. Joey A. 2 years ago

    Hello Jerry,

    I have a 2012 Hyundai Sonata (Hyundai Sonata Limited Sedan PZEV 2012) that is coming up in the end of its lease (in about 2 months). It only has 4,500 miles on it as we never really use it much. it is in pristine condition (covered with a car cover the whole term of the lease) and not a nick on it. I called the Hyundai dealer where we leased it and the agent said the residual is about $14,000 (Residual: $13987.20 purchase option fee: $150). KBB has the trade in range at $13,876 – $15,281 (Trade in value at $14,584). Can I trade this in to another dealership (say a Honda dealer) and get some kind of equity on it as trade in?

    Thank you for an excellent show and always sound advice.

    • Michele Sanders 2 years ago

      Yes, I am quite sure you can. Any dealer would love to have a Hyundai like yours. I would certainly recommend looking at numbers. We have good Honda dealers all over, just look under CERTIFIED DEALERS at our website. They’ll take good care of you!

      Jerry Reynolds, President
      Car Pro Radio Network

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