Car at the end of a Lease and how to return about it

You’re coming to the end of your car lease and it suddenly occurs to you: Will you get charged for all those dings, dents and upholstery stains? Is there anything you can do to offset these lease-return charges?

There are, of course, other end-of-lease questions to consider, such as whether you should purchase your leased vehicle and whether it has equity that you can leverage. Our “3 Ways to Turn Your Lease Into Cash”story has answers on those subjects. This article will only deal with avoiding charges in the lease turn-in process.

You are probably aware that the leasing company will charge you for any damage it considers to be more than normal wear and tear. But you are probably wondering what “normal” is.

“The term ‘normal wear and tear’ is the largest disconnect between consumers and manufacturers,” says Jeff Huang, who has worked in the lease inspection business in Southern California for years. Manufacturers want to minimize what they’ll have to spend on reconditioning, he says. Any damage to the car that’s going to cost more than an average amount of money to refurbish is called “excessive” wear and tear.

Mary Hellen Owen, market planning manager for Toyota Financial Services, agrees that the lease return is a moment of anxiety for people. “There’s a lot of apprehension about ‘What do I do? When do I do it? What can I be penalized for?'”

Toyota Financial Services developed a comprehensive lease-end program to let them know the lease is winding up “and we are going to be ready to help,” she says.

The Lease Inspection
While there is some variation in the process, the lease return process typically starts about 90 days before the end of the contract, says Joe Spina, an Edmunds car lease expert. The leasing company (technically called the “lessor”) will contact you to let you know your lease contract is coming to an end. It will then contact you to set up an appointment for an inspection of your car.

Many manufacturers use an independent company to conduct the inspection, which is free for the lease-holder (technically called the “lessee”). The inspector will come to your home or office, and the process takes about 45 minutes.

Most manufacturers look for damage in these general categories:

  • Mechanical problems: In the engine or any of the car’s systems.
  • Dents, dings, scratches and scrapes: On the car’s exterior, bumpers and wheels. “Curbed” wheels are a frequent issue.
  • Cracks, stars or excessive pitting: In the windshield and other windows.
  • Abnormal or excessive wear: To the tires. They’ll also be looking for mismatched tires.
  • Tears or stains: On the upholstery that can’t be cleaned or repaired with normal refurnishing.

Huang said inspectors measure the size and depth of dents and scratches and then enter this information, and other problems, into a computerized template that estimates the cost of repair. At the end of the inspection, or shortly thereafter, you will receive a condition report that lists any damage above the normal wear and tear and what it costs to fix the problem.

Prepare for the Inspection
Most manufacturers’ Web sites provide specific information about the end-of-lease process and a detailed definition of wear and tear, also referred to as “wear and use.” Owen said Toyota created a lease turn-in sitethat is as customer-friendly as possible, and even includes a sample inspection report so people can see what kinds of damage will incur a charge.

Owen says inspectors look for any dents or scratches in Toyota vehicles that are bigger than an area that can be covered by a credit card. She adds that customers are not often charged for “curb rash” (scratches to alloy wheels and wheel covers) or normal tire wear.