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Leasing a Car: What Type of Damage Will You Be Charged For?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro

If you're thinking about leasing a car -- or if you have a lease right now -- you might be worried about exactly what you'll be charged when the time comes to turn in the car. What if you live in a tight city where parking scrapes happen all the time? Or if you often parallel park and curb your wheels? Should you avoid leasing altogether? We've listed some of the items you'll be charged for and what they'll cost.

Tires

Our biggest advice when it comes time to turn in your leased car: Check out the tires. If there's less than an eighth of an inch of tread, you're better off replacing them yourself. The same is true if you have mismatched tires -- one brand in the back and another in front, for example. Tires are something the lease inspector is always going to notice. And believe us when we say that you'd rather pay for them yourself than pay whatever the automaker charges.

Bumpers

If your bumper is scraped to the point where paint has come off, or if it's been dented by another car, you're better off visiting a body shop and paying to have it taken care of before the lease is over. This is another common area where inspectors always look for damage. And once again, your cost before the lease ends is likely going to be far lower than the cost the automaker charges once your time is up.

Glass

No, you won't get away with a cracked windshield. You're unlikely to get away with any other cracked or chipped piece of glass, either. Get it fixed before the inspector notices. Otherwise, you'll definitely be on the hook for a replacement at a cost the automaker decides upon.

Dents

Most dents don't enter into the usual definition of excess wear and tear. The general rule is that if they're smaller than a quarter -- and there's no paint removed -- you don't have to worry. Otherwise, you should call a paintless dent repair company. They're usually mobile, which means they can come to you. And they can usually get dents out of doors and body panels for much less than the automaker will charge.

Scratches and Curbed Wheels

Just as you wouldn't expect a used car to be showroom-fresh, automakers expect you to get a dent here and a scratch there when you're leasing a car. The rule of thumb on scratches is simple: If you can cover it up with a standard credit card, you probably won't be charged. There's a smaller threshold for curbed wheels, but automakers will still allow small amounts of damage before billing you. In both cases, we'd recommend taking care of obvious damage, large scratches and excessive curb rash before even dealing with an inspector.

Anything Else?

Aside from obvious things, such as addressing major damage, our only other advice is to clean your interior before turning in your car. Inspectors will notice stains in the seats or carpets. While a small stain is OK, we highly recommend using soap and water to get out anything larger than a flash drive.

Don't Panic

Don't panic if you have a small bill when it's time to turn in your car. Many times, you can roll that amount into the payments on the next car if you buy another vehicle from the same dealer. Yes, you'll pay interest on your damages, but you'll never have to deal with writing a large, lump-sum check to cover your costs.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
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Leasing a Car: What Type of Damage Will You Be Charged For?