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Consumers Often Surprised with Unexpected Charges for Wear and Damage at End of Auto Lease

Dec 23, 2015

Many consumers are opting to lease new or used motor vehicles rather than purchase them outright. Consumers rented more than one out of every four new vehicles and that figure has risen significantly in the past two years-some 27 percent, from 22 percent in 2012-Edmunds indicates.

Today's rise in auto leasing is occurring for a number of reasons. Today, more and more dealers are offering tempting lease programs on non-luxury vehicles, driving up leasing activity. A desire for the latest technology has also influenced the increased desire to lease. Consumers want the latest safety features, connectivity, and entertainment packages in their cars, and leasing offers a way to have state-of-the-art technology at more affordable prices, the New York Times reports.

But when the lease is up, many consumers find themselves being held financially responsible for "excess" wear and damage charges. Virtually all vehicle leases contain such wear-and-tear provisions, but there is no standard definition of "excess" wear and damage, according to the New York Attorney General's office. Vague descriptions can lead to unexpected charges for things the lessee considered normal wear and tear.

The lessee returning a vehicle may face charges for a wide variety of "excess" wear and damage including glass that is damaged; damaged body, fenders, metal work, lights, trim, or paint; missing equipment that was in or on the vehicle when it was delivered; missing wheel covers, jack, or wrench; missing or unsafe wheels or tires; any tire with less than 1/8 inch of tread remaining at the shallowest point; torn, damaged, or stained interior including dash, floor mats, seats, headliners, upholstery, interior trim, or trunk liners; and any damage or condition that causes the vehicle to operate in a noisy, rough, improper, unsafe, or unlawful manner, according to the New York Attorney General.

Some states have wear and tear laws touted to provide recourse when consumers feel they have been subjected to unwarranted wear and tear charges. The state may recommend arbitration to resolve such disputes, but consumers may not find satisfactory resolution through the arbitration programs or they may believe there is fraud associated with the charges, and they may file lawsuits to seek reimbursement.

To reduce the chances of a dispute over wear and damage charges, the New York Attorney General's office recommends that lessees do the following before returning a leased vehicle:

  • Read the lease carefully to learn what the wear and damage charges might be.
  • Thoroughly clean the vehicle inside and out take photographs and video of the vehicle. Document the remaining tire tread depth by taking a photograph of a Lincoln head penny upside down in each tire tread.
  • Replace any missing equipment and make necessary repairs; save receipts to document expenditures.

If there is a dispute about wear and damage charges, the consumer should ask for an itemized bill with the estimated or actual cost of repairing or replacing each item. This is required by law in New York and other states. Careful documentation can help the lessee establish that charges were unwarranted.

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