Inspecting Scratches 2013 665x297

Avoiding end-of-lease bill shock

A friend of mine has just had rather a large shock. They have been leasing a Mercedes-Benz for the last three years, but now they have handed that car back and taken delivery of a new BMW 5 Series.

There is no doubt that his Mercedes has worked hard, covering far more miles than the lease allowed for, which means he has had to pay a penalty after handing the keys over. That is not a huge issue though, as it is something he expected and budgeted for.CHAL Banner

Some may say that sorting a more suitable lease package out up front would have been a better option, but then my findings on the Renault Zoe battery lease suggests it may be possible that he’s done his maths and come out a winner.

What has shocked him though is a pretty significant bill for ‘damage’ to the car that goes beyond wear and tear.

When a car has covered around 90,000 miles in three years, things do wear and leasing agreements take that in to account, but what happens if you have genuinely failed to look after the car, and who determines what abnormal really means?

Ultimately it’s up to the inspector, who works within the guidelines of the leasing company, with those rules varying from company to company.

Now most lease companies make it very clear what is and isn’t acceptable, with many even including guides to really make things clear. Nissan, for example, detail exactly what size dents are ignored and, maybe more importantly, how many of them you are allowed.

Most companies will also inspect the car before it gets handed back, allowing the driver to decide if it might be a better option to pay for repairs in advance of the car returning to the leasing firm. Most will still simply pay up when the bill arrives, but the timing of that can be an issue.

My friend had a bill turn up on his door mat some month after he said goodbye to the Mercedes, which came as something of a surprise to him, but that is unusual these days.

Research backed up the gut feel that nobody wants a bill after the car has left them, instead wanting to know their obligations at the hand over. Swirl Scratches 2013Inspectors then are using ever more advanced technology to provide that information instantly. Got a dent in the rear door? An inspector can place that detail in to his laptop that will show it’s a six hour job to put right. The labour rates and part prices will already have been supplied, so an estimated bill is available instantly.

So what are the more common issues that are found? Surprisingly, the state of the interior is usually quite low down on the list of problem areas.

If at some point you have got a large pizza, placed it topping side down on the seats and then started mashing it in to the seats of your leased vehicle, then there is a pretty good chance that you’ll get a bill. However, most stains and marks are not considered serious, with the reconditioning process bringing out most grime and leaving things looking like new.

After three years and a mileage figure that is the equivalent of driving more than three times round the earth, a shiny new interior is not expected. The cup holder may have swung open smoothly when new, but after 3,000 cups of coffee they’re not going to be in the same condition, and lease agreements take account of this.

However, one inspection agency in the United States released data that showed 51 per cent of their returning cars showed excessive interior wear. I may be wrong here, but if more than half of your cars are excessively worn, you need to look at the definition of excessive…

Broken bits, rips in the upholstery, cigarette burns and lost head restraints are common and fair game though. I’ll admit to having a small collection of rear head rests, taken out to fold down seats, thrown in to the garage and then forgotten about.

So what can you do to avoid the pain of a large bill at the end of your lease? For the interior, something as simple as putting in a good set of floor mats will make a difference to the ambience at the end of your time with the car, but won’t hide warning lights on the dashboard or tears in the trim, so there it’s really just a case of taking care of things yourself.

To help protect kerb-magnet alloy wheels, there’s the Alloygator, a plastic band that clips to your wheel and protects any exposed edge. They’re more expensive than a plastic circle should be, but still far cheaper than refurbishing even one wheel.

For scrapes and dents though, there’s only one thing you can do if you’ve not had them repaired. Engage the inspector in conversation, furnish them with cups of tea and then, at exactly the right time, simply stand in front of the damage.

It can’t fail.

[button link=”” rel=”nofollow” color=”orange”]This article was first published at on 29 July 2013.[/button]

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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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