Dont sit down for one-on-one negotiations with a car salesperson. Its
a waste of time, and youll end up paying more than necessary. Many websites
provide target pricing or promise low quotes from area car dealers. While
some of these sites mean well, most are simply conduits of easy referrals
to the dealers who pay the sites.
The only reliable way to get the best possible price is to make dealers
bid competitively for your business.
Since 1991, CHECKBOOKs CarBargains service has used our buying approach
to get nearly 100,000 consumers the lowest possible prices on new cars.
We charge $250 for the CarBargains service ($225 for CHECKBOOK subscribers)
and, for those who want to lease, $350 for the LeaseWise service ($315
for CHECKBOOK subscribers).
This table shows the best prices our CarBargains staff obtained from
area dealers for some popular cars. As you can see, the prices we found
were typically much lower than the average paid by consumers. Our approach
often saves consumers hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of dollars.
You can do this on your own. This article provides step-by-step instructions
on how it works.
Leasing cars is considerably more complicated, but our approach is the
same. You need to get dealers to bid not only on the price of the car,
but also on other details of the lease, as described in this article.
Getting a new car should be fun. You dont want to spoil that pleasure
hassling with dealers and worrying afterwards that you paid too much.
We hear often from consumers who sat eyeball to eyeball with car salespeople
for hours negotiating prices. They wasted their time. The only leverage
you have with car dealers is the possibility that youll walk out and buy
from another dealer, or not buy anything at all.
We hear from other consumers who used websites that promise to provide
information to help them obtain the best price, or in some cases, a (supposedly)
low price quote from a car dealer. Some of these websites mean well: They
try to arm shoppers with price data they can use to negotiate better-than-average
deals. But most just provide referrals to participatingreally, payingdealerships.
Even when these sites seem to provide low prices, they often omit important
details like hefty document fees, extra fees to locate specific cars, or
costly mandatory options.
We have a method that both avoids hassles and yields the best possible
price. The key is competitiongetting new-car dealers to bid competitively
for your business.
Since 1991, CHECKBOOKs CarBargains service has helped nearly 100,000
consumers get the lowest possible prices on new cars. We charge $200 for
the CarBargains service ($175 for CHECKBOOK subscribers) and, for those
who want to lease, $350 for the LeaseWise service ($315 for CHECKBOOK
The table below shows the best prices CarBargains staff got from area
dealers for some popular car models. As you can see, the prices we found
were typically much lower than the average prices paid by consumers. Our
approach saves buyers hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of dollars.
|Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price||$42,645||$25,515||$28,375||$29,505||$22,680||$24,960|
|Factory invoice price (includes destination and advertising fees)||$39,630||$24,103||$26,690||$27,060||$21,581||$24,036|
|CarBargains’ low bid as a markup/markdown from factory invoice price**
||$600 ABOVE invoice price
||$500 BELOW invoice price
||$0 ABOVE invoice price
||$500 BELOW invoice price
||$1,500 BELOW invoice price
||$300 BELOW invoice price|
|Typical Selling Price*||$41,396||$22,979||$27,146||$28,024||$21,108||$24,143|
|CarBargains’ savings from Typical Selling Price* (including $175 CarBargains service fee)||$991||$701||$281||$1,289||$852||$232|
|* As reported by Kelley Blue Book, based on actual transaction data, including advertising fees and manufacturer-to-dealer incentives, if applicable. Prices do not include dealer document fees, taxes, tags, or title fees.|
** CarBargains’ price is the lowest quote obtained and includes advertising fee, and manufacturer-to-dealer incentives, if applicable. None of the prices shown include dealer document fees, taxes, tags, or title fees.
If you dont want to pay us to do the work, you can do it yourself. You
have to be careful and persistent, but you dont need to know all the intricacies
of the car business.
Leasing is considerably more complicated, but our approach is the same.
You need to get dealers to bid not only on the price of the car, but also
on the other details of the lease, described below.
Dont contact any dealers for prices until you know what you want to buy.
Do your research. Take test drives. Then decide on the make, model, and
style of car you want (for example, a Toyota Camry SE). Since youll be
asking dealers to bid on any car of the make, model, and style, at this
point you dont have to decide on all the exact factory-installed options
you want. But it helps to have some idea of how you want to equip it.
Call dealers located near you and ask to speak with the fleet manager,
if they have one. Because the fleet managers regular job is to coordinate
sales of two or more cars at a time, some dealerships dont allow fleet
managers to deal with retail customers. In that case, insist on speaking
with a sales manager. The advantage of dealing with fleet managers is
that, unlike sales managers and salespersons, fleet managers commissions
are usually based primarily on sales volumeas opposed to gross profit
per vehicle sold. If you cant speak with a sales manager, keep calling
dealers until you reach someone with the authority to offer the dealerships
best possible price without checking with the boss (or pretending to check
with the boss).
You will need to take notes. If you wish, you can use our two worksheets. On one sheet, you can record the information you need to compare dealers. On the other sheet, you can calculate your total purchase price with each dealer.
We recommend getting bids from at least five dealers.
Explain to the fleet or sales managers that you are contacting multiple
dealers to get bids for a car, and that you will buy from the dealer that
offers the lowest total price, including all required fees. Tell them you
are giving each dealership only one opportunity to bid for your business.
Ask each dealer to bid an amount above or below factory invoice price,
which is the same for all dealers in a particular region. If one dealer
bids $500 above invoice price and a second bids $500 below invoice price,
youll know the second bid is $1,000 lower than the first. With this approach,
you dont have to decide on the exact options until after the bidding is
You can refer to several sources for information on invoice pricing, including
Kelley Blue Book. But you dont really need to have invoice price information
in advance; just tell each dealer you will expect to see the actual factory
invoice for any car you consider buying.
Find out each dealers charges for freight and dealer advertising association
fees. The charge for freight always appears on the invoice. Advertising
fees may or may not appear on the invoice; if not, you easily can find
them through various sources on the Internet.
Find out about document fees, required add-ons, and any other miscellaneous
charges. Most dealersand websites that promise low, no-haggling pricesneglect
to mention these charges until the end of the transaction. Ask about them
upfront. Some dealers add pinstriping and wheel locks to every car they
sell, and almost all dealers impose document fees. These extras often add
On most cars, most popular options are installed at the factory. Since
youre getting prices reflected as markups or markdowns from invoice price,
all factory-installed options are, in effect, priced at invoice price.
But for some makes particularly Honda, Acura, and Volvosome popular options
are dealer-installed. For example, some manufacturers dont factory-install
rear spoilers or fog lights. If you are interested in these dealer-installed
options on these cars, find out how much each dealer you contact charges
Check whether a factory-to-customer rebate is available for your car. CHECKBOOK
subscribers can get current rebate information from our CarDeals newsletter.
But make sure factory-to-customer rebates are not reflected in the dealers
If the dealer who offers the best price doesnt have a car with the options
and color you want in stock, it should be willing to locate it for you.
While there usually is no charge to acquire cars from another dealer, it
doesnt hurt to ask about it. If you want to factory-order your car, find
out if there is a fee.
Because several variables determine the price you pay for leases, youll
have to gather additional details from dealers. It is much more complicated
to get bids on leases, compared to outright purchases, but it can be doneour
CarBargains staff arranges leases every day. If youre interested
in leasing, check out our advice below.
Again, you can use our two worksheets to record what the dealer promises. Once you have your bids, ask the lowest bidder to send you an email confirming all the details of its bid.
Once you have your bids, ask the lowest bidder to send you an email confirming
all the details.
You can go through this bidding process with each dealership. Dont be
intimidated. If you dont understand something, or if their answers sound
fuzzy, ask again. You will almost certainly save hundredsand maybe thousandsof
dollars by following this process.
Below are additional details on our competitive bidding method.
Theres no one answer to this question. The right price depends on supply
and demand at the moment for a specific car. Some consumer-advice articles
and books offer guidelines, such as Shoot for $150 to $300 over invoice
for a midsize car in good supply. Ignore it. The only way to find out
what you should pay is to get dealers to bid. Our CarBargains service
gets many bids hundreds or thousands of dollars below invoice, but for
some vehicles were lucky to get bids of $1,000 or more above invoice.
Many excellent dealers will respect your businesslike approach and respond
in kind. Others may not be so helpful. You may get responses like
Ill beat any price you get. Call other dealers and then call me back.
What do you think is a fair price? You tell me: What do you want to pay?
We dont quote prices over the phone. Just come in and Ill give you the
best deal in town.
Make sure these dealers understand that if they dont bid, they have no
chance of getting your business. Be businesslike and persistent, but if
a dealer refuses to make a serious bid, move on to the next one.
Factory invoice price is theoretically what the dealer paid the manufacturer
for the car; the dealer will have a printed invoice showing the figure.
Factory invoice price is less than manufacturers suggested retail price
(MSRP), the list price shown on the cars window sticker, and indicates
how much the manufacturer theoretically thinks the car costs.
Actually, almost all cars are sold below MSRP, and some are sold below
factory invoice price. In fact, over the years, between 25 and 45 percent
of CarBargains customers (depending on market conditions at the time)
have received bids below factory invoice price, in some cases several thousand
dollars below invoice.
Dealers sell cars below factory invoice price because the factory invoice
seldom reflects the true cost to the dealer: Dealers often get holdbacks,
end-of-year carryover allowances, factory-to-dealer incentive payments,
and other allowances that reduce the cost below factory invoice price.
Although factory invoice price is not what the dealer paid, it is useful
because its the same for all dealers. Thats why you can use it as a reference
point for bids.
You are better off if you dont limit dealers bids to specific options
or a specific color. Factory-installed options will have the same invoice
price at every dealer. Get each dealership to apply its markup or markdown
commitment to any car of your make, model, and style, regardless of options.
Decide later which factory-installed options you want and add the invoice
cost of these options to the base invoice price to calculate the total
invoice price of the car you want with the options you want. The dealers
markup or markdown commitment will be included in the total invoice price.
This approach allows dealers to bid even if they dont have a car with
a specific option youve requested but isnt important to you. Dont rule
out a low-priced dealer that doesnt have a vehicle with a particular option
in stock, but could easily get one from another dealership. Also, if you
change your preferences for options at the last minute, you want the dealer
to commit to a price level relative to other dealers regardless of the
specific vehiclewith the specific optionsyou ultimately choose.
Once you have obtained bids, call the low bidder to find out what specific
options and colors are available on cars either already on its lot or that
it can get for you.
Dealer-installed options require a somewhat different approach. Some manufacturersparticularly
Acura, Honda, and Volvoare set up to have dealers install a number of
popular options on some models, so there is no factory invoice price for
these options. If you might want any of these dealer-installed options,
you will have to get prices from each dealer.
Most dealerships belong to regional associations that handle advertising
for their make of car within the region. The cost of this advertising is
divided among the members and, for most makes, appears as a charge on the
vehicle invoice. All or nearly all dealers in a region are in the advertising
association and display the same advertising association fees on the invoices
prepared by the manufacturer. Theoretically, a dealership could choose
not to participate in the regional advertising association and thus avoid
these fees, but few do so.
Most sources that provide information on MSRP and invoice prices dont
include advertising association fees because these sources distribute their
information nationwide and fees vary from region to region.
You dont really have to know the fee for your model of vehicle to compare
dealer prices because dealers within a single region will all charge the
same fee. But you will eventually have to find out the fee in order to
calculate the final price. Some manufacturers list the fee on invoices;
for others, youll have to ask or check various sources on the Internet.
Dealer advertising association fees dont appear on the window sticker
(MSRP) because these fees are includedand not broken outin the markup
between invoice and sticker price.
If a car manufacturer offers a factory-to-customer rebate, the customer
can get it directly from the manufacturer or have the dealer apply it to
the purchase price, further reducing the price of the car.
By contrast, a factory-to-dealer incentive payment, or dealer rebate,
is money the factory gives the dealer for each car sold. The dealer can
keep the money as profitor pass it along to the buyer. One purpose of
the competitive bidding process is to prod dealers to give you this incentive
money$500, $1,000, $2,000, or even moreas a price reduction.
Our CarDeals newsletter provides information on rebates and incentives.
The more you know about factory-to-dealer incentive payments and other
allowances dealers receive, the better youll be able to bargain. It also
helps to know the current marketthe lowest prices cars like yours are
selling for. Our CarBargains staff is also aware of the prices the
same car is selling for around the country, so if they dont get as good
a price, they know to keep pushing for additional bids.
But without devoting your entire life to car-buying, you cant hope to
know about all the available allowances and current selling prices. And
even if you do, youll still need a strategy for using that information
to your advantage. For example, many websites claim to report what consumers
currently are paying for cars, and some even tell you what you should pay.
We find these numbers seldom represent the best deal you can get through
competitive bidding. You have to count on competitionand the fact that
no dealer knows how much the next dealer will give awayto drive down the
price. Make competition work for you.
With our CarBargains service, this almost never happensabout once
per 1,000 customers. In these cases, we refund the CarBargains fee
and encourage the customer to use the next lowest bidder. But dealer reneging
could be a problem for individual buyers. The best way to avoid it is to
be very businesslike. Deal only with a sales manager or fleet manager.
Review the details of the bid by phone. Have the low bidder email confirmation
of its pricing. If a dealer tries to renege or make changes, immediately
take your business to the next-lowest bidder. Dealers seldom quote prices
that they cant live withso make it clear at the outset that if they try
to bump up the quoted price, youll walk.
New car warranties require buyers to use an authorized dealer for covered
repairs. For warranty service, youll naturally want to use a dealer located
near you that performs high-quality repair work. Click here to see our
ratings of area auto repair shops, including local dealerships, for repair
service quality. But you dont have to have warranty repairs performed
at the dealership that sells (or leases) you the car; the manufacturer
will reimburse any of its franchised dealers for your repair work. So you
can buy your car at the dealership that offers the best price, and get
repairs from the dealership that offers the best serviceor has the most
Dont sacrifice the savings of a good price by overpaying for financing,
an extended service contract, rustproofing, paint sealant, and other add-ons.
And make sure you dont get too little for your trade-in, if you have one.
Notice that the steps recommended for obtaining bids dont mention financing,
extended service contracts, or trade-ins. Omit these matters from the discussion
until you have a firm agreement on the price of the new car, but take them
up before you put down a deposit.
Mentioning trade-in or financing while you are still negotiating the price
of the new car will simply confuse matters. The dealer could give you a
good price on one part of the deal and make it up elsewhere. There will
be too many balls in the air, and car dealers are better jugglers than
you. If they ask if you have a trade-in, say you plan to sell your old
car on your own. If they ask if you need financing, say you have arranged
for it separately.
The key point: Deal with financing, extended service contracts, trade-ins,
and other matters as completely separate business matters.
There is nothing wrong with doing business with your new car dealer on
these extras as long as you keep them separateand you are well-prepared.
Dealers commonly make more money on extras than on sales of new cars. Before
you go to a dealership to complete your new car purchase, find out the
true price of all the extras you want.
It is vital to check out financing options in advance. Although interest
rates are currently incredibly low, serious money is still at stake. Total
payments for a 48-month $20,000 loan, for example, are $849 higher with
a four-percent interest rate than a two-percent rate.
Check the annual percentage rate (APR) currently offered by banks in your
area. If you belong to a credit union, check its rate. Several institutions
offer auto loans nationally. Use www.bankrate.com to identify lenders
and get some idea of current bank rates.
To make sure you get an acceptable financing option, have your loan approved
elsewhere before closing the deal on your new car. You can opt for the
dealerships financing plan if it offers a better APR.
Car manufacturers often offer special financing plans, sometimes as alternatives
to cash rebates. If you have a choice, you must figure out whether the
financing plan is a better deal than the cash rebate. The answer depends
on the size of the rebate, the manufacturer-offered plans APR, the APRs
available from other lenders, and the amount and length of the loan. Use
online loan payment calculators to compare the interest for the manufacturers
special rate to the rate you could get on your own, and then compare those
savings to the amount of the cash rebate.
Extended Service Contracts
If you are considering an extended service contract, definitely shop other
sources before discussing it with your new car dealer. Extended service
contracts yield big profits to the dealers that sell them and the extended
service contract companies that back them. The average payout for claims
on a $2,000 contract might be less than $400, with the rest going to sales
and administrative costs and profit.
Many new cars are very reliable and require little service. Also, new cars
often carry lengthy manufacturer warranties covering many common service
problems and leaving little for extended service contracts to cover.
If despite these facts you decide to purchase a service contract, determine
exactly what it covers. Almost all contracts exclude maintenance and wear
items, ranging from brake parts to exhaust system components to air filters.
And many contracts excludeor fail to includeelectrical devices like power
windows and radios, interior trim, gauges, and even air-conditioning systems.
Some, but not all, contracts cover costs of towing and rental cars. Some
cover parts but not all the labor necessary for diagnosis and repair. And
most contracts require a deductible for each repairin some cases as
much as $100before the service contract company pays anything.
Find out where you can get repairs doneat only the selling dealer, at
any authorized dealer for your make of car, at any new car dealer, or at
any new car dealer or independent repair shop. Since consumers tend to
be more satisfied with repairs performed by independent shops rather than
dealers, the option of using an independent shop is very desirable.
Also, check how the shop will be paid. Under some contracts, the shop bills
the contract company; under others, you must pay the shop and seek reimbursementoften
long-delayedfrom the contract company. Even if a service contract company
allows shops to bill it directly, find out if repair shops you might use
will in fact bill the contract company; many shops refuse to put up with
the hassle of collecting from service contract companies.
Finally, make sure the service contract company is financially sound. In
recent years many of these companies have gone out of business, rendering
their contracts worthless. Consider a service contract backed by an auto
Key point: You dont have to buy an extended service contract from the
place where you buy your car or intend to have it repaired. You can buy
a Toyota, for example, from one Toyota dealer, buy a Toyota-backed service
contract from a different Toyota dealer, and have still another Toyota
dealer fix your car. We have found cases where one dealer was selling contracts
for under $1,000, while another was selling the same contract for more
Also, you dont have to buy your service contract at the same time you
buy your car. Many contracts are available from dealers for a year or more
after purchase. So take your time making a decision.
Before you go to a dealer to purchase a car, find out the prices and coverage
of service contracts from other dealers. Then use these alternative vendors
either to help you negotiate a good service contract price from your dealer
or sell you a contract if it doesnt.
We provide for free the results of a nationwide bidding process in which
dealers competed on how inexpensively they would offer CHECKBOOK readers
major car makers extended service contracts. There is a factory invoice
cost for these contracts, just as there is for every other factory-supplied
product new car dealers sell, and CHECKBOOK had dealers compete to offer
their lowest prices relative to invoice cost. Buying from one of our websites
low-quoting dealers listed for extended service contracts can save you
several hundred dollars.
If a dealer has already applied rustproofing, paint sealant, or fabric
protection, you will have to pay for these treatments, and they will almost
certainly be overpriced. When dealers have outside vendors do the work,
it usually costs less than $50 per carany more they charge is just extra
markup. Its better to buy from a dealer that applies these treatments
to cars only after a customer requests them.
Rustproofing presents special problems. Many manufacturers advise against
dealer-installed rustproofing. Most claim rustproofing is unnecessary,
and some are concerned that it will block weep holes and actually contribute
to rust or jam seatbelt stopper mechanisms in treated car body cavities.
Burglar alarm systems, wheel locks, and other add-ons may be worthwhile,
but find out what other dealers and independent shops charge for them before
discussing them with your dealer. Again, use the other companies prices
as negotiating standards or buy the add-ons from the other companies.
Keep in mind that some dealers add items like pinstripes and wheel locks
to all cars on their lots. For these dealers, take into account the costs
of these items when you compare competing bids.
You can easily lose what you gain from paying a good price for your new
car by relinquishing your old car for too little. You can sell your car
at wholesale to a new car dealers used car department or to an independent
used car dealer. Think of a trade-in as a wholesale sale to the dealer
where you buy your new car.
Before attempting to sell your car, make any necessary minor inexpensive
repairs and clean it up. Clean the interior, and wash and polish the exterior.
A spiffed-up car not only looks and smells more appealing; it also suggests
that you have taken care of whats under the hood.
To sell your car wholesale, plan to spend a few hours visiting several
independent used car dealers and dealership used car departments. Visit
used car departments of dealerships that sell the same make as your used
car. Explain what you are doing: shopping the car around to get the best
Dont rely on used car valuation booksblue books, black books, or any
other colorto determine the value of your car. We use these and other
sources to develop a rough estimate as a service to our CarBargains
customers, and have made this striking observation: After asking all the
right questions and using the various sources with great care, the estimates
derived from different sources for the same car vary by more than 20 percent,
which for some cars amounts to more than $2,000.
The only reliable way to find out what your used car is worth is to shop
it around and see what dealers will pay you for it. If you go by a book,
you may undervalue the car and give it away for far less than its worth,
or overvalue it and become frustrated when dealers wont give you what
Only with offers in hand from other dealers and a firm price for the new
car from the dealer you plan to buy from are you ready to talk about a
trade-in. Ask what the dealer will give you for the used car. Dont reveal
your other offers; the dealer may offer you more than anyone else. If the
dealer offers less than others, ask the dealer to match them. If your new
car dealer eventually offers as much or more than you can get elsewhere,
go ahead with the trade-in. If not, sell the car elsewhere.
As you consider your options, think about selling your car to another private
party. You will get more selling the car this way (typically $1,000 to
$2,500 more for a late-model vehicle), but it will involve more time and
If you do plan to sell on your own, take the car around to a few used car
dealers first. What the dealers will pay wholesale is a reference point
for setting your price and negotiating with potential buyers. Dont sell
it for less than the wholesale price. While youre visiting used car dealers,
see what similar cars are selling for. Also, check ads for similar cars
in newspaper classified sections and Craigslist, and access www.cars.com
for an extensive list of used cars for sale. Advertise your car at a price
roughly in line with advertised prices for similar cars.
No. Predicting the car market is no easier than predicting the stock market.
Prices respond to supply and demand: When there is excess supply, dealers
drop prices and manufacturers create incentive programs to move their vehicles.
For most cars, just go out as far as necessary to involve at least five
dealers in the bidding process.
Here are a few of the many information resources that can help you shop
for a car.
Since you will want to get dealers to bid an amount above or below invoice,
you need to know in advance the vehicles invoice pricefor the base vehicle
and each available option. This information is available free at many websites,
including www.edmunds.com, www.kbb.com, and http://autos.yahoo.com.
The best price information sites on the Web let you build a vehicleyou
select options and see how the invoice and list price increases with each
added option. These sites allow you to add only options you can get; you
cant add power seats, for example, if you have already added a comfort
package that includes power seats. Among several others, Kelley Blue
Book allows you to build cars this way.
Dealers may make more aggressive bids if they know youre aware of currently
available factory-to-dealer incentive programs. Also, to anticipate the
likely final cost of your car, it helps to know if any factory-to-customer
rebates are in effect. Subscribers can download for free our biweekly CarDeals
newsletter, which contains information on current rebates and factory-to-dealer
A number of websites offer free information on used car pricinginformation
that helps you value a car you plan to sell or trade in. Useful sites include
www.nada.com and www.kbb.com. The used car listings at
will also give a sense of how much your car is worth.
Remember, these sources provide only a very rough guide to your cars value.
The best way to find out its real wholesale value is to shop it around
to several used car dealers.
Click here to view for free our list of the lowest-priced dealers for
extended service contracts.
Getting a good deal on a car lease is considerably more complex than on
a straight purchase. When purchasing a vehicle, you shouldnt discuss financing
until you have settled on a purchase price, and you should shop around
for finance sources other than your dealer. For leases, however, you cant
separate the financing (lease contract) from the purchase of the car. You
usually cant find a good price at one dealer, and then get a bank or credit
union to buy the vehicle and lease it to you. As a result, you have to
find a dealer that both charges a low price for the vehicle and also offers
a good deal on lease financing.
Dealers love this complexity. If you dont understand the entire transactionor
find it difficult to keep track of the financing and price detailsthe
dealer can throw in costs without your even knowing it. But if you want
to lease, you still canand shouldget competitive bids. In addition to
getting bids on the price of the car, to get a good deal you have to find
out about pricing and terms for several lease features.
The first decisions are the length of the lease and how many miles you
expect to drive the car during that time. Once youve decided on those
issues, go ahead and collect additional information from dealers.
As with new-car purchases, get an email confirming commitments on all the
details from the lowest bidders.
Because the price of the leased vehicle (agreed upon value in the lingo
of leasing) is a key element in the cost of the lease, collect all of the
information you would need for a straight purchase.
Shop for price first and then for lease featuresalthough sometimes the
prices for leases and purchases are different.
In addition to the price, youll have to nail down several other details,
many of them set by the financing company. As with new-car loans, different
financing providers offer different rates and terms. When we get quotes
from dealers for our LeaseWise customers, we check our database of
lease programs offered by more than 30 sources to identify the programs
best suited (best combination of money factor, residual, etc.) to satisfy
each customers preference. You can also ask dealers to tell you which
of their programs will work best for you. Many dealers will identify their
best programs without much prodding.
The lease term or duration is the amount of time you have contracted
to lease the vehicle (24 months, 36 months, etc.).
Capitalized cost (or cap cost) should be separated into gross cap
cost and adjusted cap cost. Gross cap cost includes the agreed-upon price
of the vehicle plus any fees, extended service plans, gap insurance premiums,
and other add-ons you must pay upfront. Adjusted cap costthe gross cap
cost less any reductions resulting from a trade-in, cash down payment,
or rebateis the amount actually financed with the lease. Many lease ads
and some dealerships imply that cap cost is the same as MSRP, but this
is untrue. Leasing a vehicle with a cap cost the same as MSRP is like buying
a vehicle for full sticker price, which is much more than most customers
Capitalized Cost Reduction
Capitalized cost reduction is lease-speak for a down payment. Your combination
of any cash down payment, trade in, and rebate you assign to the dealer
reduces the capitalized cost. The bigger your capitalized cost reduction
(the more you put down), the lower the adjusted cap costamount financedand
the lower your monthly payment.
Residual value, the value the leasing company theoretically estimates
that the vehicle will have at the end of the lease term, is usually figured
as a percentage of MSRP. For example, a $20,000 MSRP vehicle with a residual
percentage of 60 percent on a two-year lease is estimated to be worth $12,000
($20,000 x 60 percent = $12,000) at the end of those two years.
The difference between residual value and adjusted capitalized cost is
the amount of principal you will have to pay off during the lease term
(you will also have to pay a finance charge, or interest, on the amount
of money the leasing company has tied up in the car). Therefore, the higher
the residual valueall else being equalthe lower your payments.
Residual percentages and residual values vary with lease term and miles
driven per year. Some makes and models of vehicles retain their resale
value better than others, and therefore have higher residual values. In
addition, manufacturers sometimes agree to buy back cars at lease-end for
more than the car is likely to be worth on the market. By subsidizing the
residual value this way, car manufacturers keep lease payments lower than
they otherwise would be in hopes of leasing more cars. Although a vehicles
residual value sometimes bears little relation to its real expected future
market value, residual value nonetheless is very important because it is
used to calculate monthly payments.
End of Lease Purchase Price and Option to Purchase
Lease contracts generally give customers the option to purchase the vehicle
at the end of the lease for the residual value. For example, if the residual
value is $12,000 after two years, you can purchase the car by paying the
leasing company $12,000plus a purchase option fee many plans impose.
Sometimes the option to purchase price is not the stated residual value
but rather market value plus the purchase option fee. Market value may
be computed by using one or more market guides.
A leasing company may use either a money factor or annual percentage
rate (APR) of interest to express the way it calculates the finance charge.
To calculate the APR for a given money factor, multiply the money factor
Money factors vary for different models of vehicles and lease terms, and
different leasing companies usually use various money factors. All else
being equal, a lower money factor means lower payments.
When manufacturers want to push leases or sales of particular models, they
often subsidize the money factor or APRoffering finance charges lower
than general market interest rates.
Many leasing companies charge an assignment fee, essentially a processing
fee, to set up a lease. The amount varies, but $300 or $400 is common.
Some dealers inflate assignment fees and retain the portion they dont
have to turn over to the leasing company. Some leasing companies hide the
assignment fee in the monthly lease finance charge calculation rather than
expressing it as a separate fee.
Allowable miles, the number of miles the lease allows you to drive for
no additional charge, typically range from 12,000 to 15,000 miles per year.
Additional contracted miles are miles above the allowable miles you contract
for in advance at the time the lease is executed for an extra charge, usually
expressed in cents per mile.
Excess uncontracted miles are miles you drive above the allowable miles
and above additional contracted miles in the lease. The penalty for excess
uncontracted miles at the end of the lease, usually expressed in a cents-per-mile
charge, can be quite costly. Try to estimate accurately in advance the
number of miles per year you will drive the vehicle.
Early Termination Penalty
Most leases impose a substantial early termination penalty for terminating
a lease before it expires. It may cost several thousand dollars, depending
on when the lease is terminatedthe earlier its ended, the higher the
early termination penalty. Make sure your lease term is correct for you.
If there is a significant chance you wont be able to make payments throughout
the lease term, a lease is probably not a good option.
Gap insurance protects you if your leased vehicle is stolen or totaled
in an accident. From the leasing companies point of view, total loss of
the vehicle is a form of early lease termination. Typically, your auto
insurance company would pay off the claim, but what happens if the cars
market value is less than the amount you owe the leasing company? This
difference is called the gap, and you would be responsible for paying
it to the leasing company. Some leases provide a gap waiver that protects
you against such shortfalls if you meet certain insurance requirements,
but others do not. Gap insurance covers your liability in leases with no
gap waiver. It makes sense to buy gap insurance from the leasing company
when you agree to the rest of the lease.
Option Discount Adjustment
Car manufacturers sometimes offer special discounts on an option package,
and leasing companies often treat these discounts in special ways when
calculating residual value.
For example, the invoice for a vehicle model might show an MSRP of $1,000
for a power package and a $600 discount for the packagea net price of
$400. The MSRP for vehicles with the power package is $400 higher than
vehicles without it. But when this model is leased, the MSRP used to calculate
residual value (residual value equals MSRP times residual percentage) will
include the undiscounted price of the power package ($1,000) rather than
its $400 discounted price. In other words, the $600 package discount is
added to the MSRP before residual value is calculated.
This peculiar piece of bookkeeping is good for you because it means your
residual value will be higherand payments lowerthan they otherwise would
Other Lease Language
Auto leases include a number of other features and requirements, among
A security deposit, typically one months lease payment rounded up to the
nearest $25, is usually due upon execution of a lease. You will get the
security deposit back at the end of the lease, unless it is applied to
settling excess charges you have incurred.
With a lease, unlike a loan, the first months payment is due upfront.
Your first months payment is part of the upfront amount you pay the dealer
at the start of the lease.
Lease plans have stringent excess wear and tear provisions, and leasing
companies will charge you if they determine that you have exceeded normal
wear and tear. Some leasing companies are more demanding than others.
If you do not choose to purchase the vehicle at the end of your lease,
some leases charge an administrative fee, usually referred to as a disposition
Leased vehicles usually have stringent insurance coverage requirements.
You may have to buy more insurance than you would buy on a vehicle you