Car Buying

Leasing a Car: Does Spending the Money to Apply a Protective Film Make Sense?

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author photo by Russ Heaps December 2016

Leasing a car is all about what that car will be worth at the end of the lease, or, as it's referred to in leasing, the residual value. Ideally, you sign your lease, make your monthly payments on time and, at the end of the lease, hand the keys back to the dealer and walk away. Easy peasy, right? Not always.

The Naked Truth

Because the monthly lease payment is based on the car having a specific value at the end of the lease term, the person leasing it is responsible for any wear and tear contributing to a lower lease-end value. Minor wear and tear will be overlooked, but if the vehicle is worth less at the end of the lease because of excessive mileage or a network of scratches and chipped paint, you will be on the hook to pay the difference.

Excessive mileage is a fixed per-mile fee laid out in the lease contract. It's much harder to put a value on wear-and-tear damage like chips in the paint, scratches and stained upholstery. Doing this is almost always left to the discretion of the dealership accepting the returned lease vehicle. These are usually fair and reasonable evaluations of the damage, but things happen, and they can be an unwelcome surprise. Maybe you wouldn't consider $200 to be a big hit, but how about $400 or $600?

Film at 11

Applying protective film to the vehicle's finish is one way to minimize the chances of being dinged with wear-and-tear penalties on the back end of leasing a car. This involves an invisible urethane film that protects a vehicle's finish against chips, scratches, bug guts, tree sap, bird droppings, road salt and minor dings.

Adhering to the surface like a second skin, protective film is virtually undetectable. As simple to keep clean as the vehicle's paint finish, it can even be waxed.

What's Involved?

There are a number of protective-film brands out there -- like 3M and XPEL, to name a couple. Some brands encourage do-it-yourselfers by offering tools and how-to instructions. Think of it as applying window tint to the car's painted surface. DIY kits are often limited in the areas of the car they protect.

Brands like XPEL also have a network of installers. Basic installations require three to four hours, while filming the entire car might take as long as three days. If you choose to buy the car at the end of the lease, XPEL applications have a 10-year guarantee that includes film and labor.

At What Cost?

According to the experts at XPEL, the most common installation sites are the front bumper, hood, fenders and mirrors. Other than the rocker panels that run under the doors, these are the areas most likely to receive stones, bugs and other assorted hits. With installation, the tab is roughly $900. Doing it yourself would cost around $650. The more areas of the car covered, the steeper the cost.

When leasing (or buying, for that matter) professionally applied protective film can be folded into the purchase price and spread out among the monthly payments. For a 36-month lease, the $900 front bumper and hood package works out to less than $30 per month.

What Are the Benefits?

For people leasing a car, the main benefit of the film is that it protects the vehicle's finish, reducing or even avoiding any wear-and-tear penalties when turning in the vehicle. Protective film also keeps a vehicle looking its best.

But Does It Make Sense?

Peace of mind does have some value. Ponying up for protective film when leasing a car is really a form of insurance. That $30 or so it adds has much less impact on the monthly payment for a BMW 7 Series than it does on the payment for a Honda Accord. Ultimately, however, it's a hedge against a surprise hit on your wallet at the end of a lease. It spreads the cost over 36 months rather than shouldering it all in one lump at the end. If that appeals to you, springing for a protective film makes perfect sense.

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Used 2017 BMW 7 Series
Used 2017 BMW 7 Series
$51,100
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.
Leasing a Car: Does Spending the Money to Apply a Protective Film Make Sense? - Autotrader