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Return a car lease

We have put together some tips to help you return your lease smoothly - and save money too.
10 avril 2020

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At the end of the lease term, the leased vehicle has to be returned to the lessor, who may then charge the lessee for depreciation due to the wear. Therefore, one should not approach the return of the vehicle too recklessly and expect that everything will already be arranged by the provider. You often risk a hefty bill, but one which you can protect yourself from, if you observe a few basic rules and invest a little effort.

Contract clauses - What matters?

The first basic rule is very simple: You should know your leasing contract and the terms agreed upon it. In most contracts, the sum still outstanding at the end of the contract is calculated from the tabular residual value of the vehicle, taking into account extraordinary wear and tear and possible damages. This is also known as a residual value leasing. In rare cases, the mileage of the vehicle is decisive. In this case, a compensation payment is only due if the lessee exceeds the permissible mileage. In most cases, however, leasing companies offer the first option and may include the mileage restriction as an additional clause in the contract. In these cases, exceeding the permissible mileage is regarded as a reduction in value, irrespective of the condition of the vehicle.

Determine the value of the vehicle

Since the residual value of the vehicle is calculated from various factors such as age, model, mileage, engine and condition, the layman is usually well advised to have the value of the car estimated by an independent appraiser at the time of return. On one hand, you have a counter-assessment if the lessor's assessment is less favourable. Damages that the lessor may have discovered, which were valued lower on his own appraisal or were not present, offer a good basis for negotiation in the event of disputes over certain details. On the other hand, you can consider other options before returning the car.

Find a buyer for the car yourself

If you want to avoid the costs of returning the car, you can sell the vehicle yourself at the end of the contract. The purchase price achieved can often even be higher than the transfer fee still to be paid to the lessor. In addition to your own expert opinion, it is advisable to compare the prices for cars of comparable age and condition online. In many cases it makes sense to invest some extra time. Instead of selling the car privately, you can of course get an offer from a dealer, especially if you're thinking about leasing a car again. A new contract partner for leasing may offer you better conditions and a higher price for your vehicle if he can conclude a contract for it.

The condition is decisive

Regardless of whether you want to return the car to your leasing provider or sell it elsewhere, it is always in your best interest to know the exact condition of the vehicle and to document it. If you have already had an expert opinion drawn up, the garage has probably already documented the vehicle with photos. If not, you should make your own photos of all parts of the car that show the condition of the paint, headlights, rims and interior.

How are damages assessed?

This is also an important point. Not everything that appears to be a damage at first glance can be claimed as such by the leasing company. Leasing providers occasionally try to declare minor blemishes such as minor dents and fine scratches in the top coat, as damage that affects the residual value of the vehicle. It is good to know that small paint damages such as dents with a diameter of less than 2 cm are not regarded as damage, but as normal wear and tear. These must therefore not appear as defects in your acceptance certificate. The same applies to scratches in rims or wheel covers: these are also considered normal wear. Even 10 cm long scratches on the bumper and radiator grille are considered normal wear.
Here too, however, it pays to not only clean the car thoroughly before handing it over, but also give the paint a polish. This not only enhances the car's appearance and makes it look like new, but it can also remove lighter scratches. The interior should also be clean and free of odours. In particular smokers and/or animal owners should be particularly thorough here, in order to free the vehicle of traces of cigarette smoke, ashes or hair. Dirty and/or worn floor mats will also affect the residual value, as will worn upholstery. An intensive cleaning in a specialized workshop or with a special upholstery cleaner can possibly do a good job and save a few francs.
There are also requirements for the tires with regard to their condition when they are returned. Tyres must have a tread of at least 1.6 mm. You are not obliged to return the car with a second set of tyres if it was delivered with only one set at the start of the contract.

On return

If the return is actually due, you should consider the following points:

  • It is best to return the previously cleaned and documented vehicle in the presence of a second person and have the handover acknowledged with time and date.
  • It is important to discuss the condition of the vehicle with the lessor on the spot and have any visible damage described in detail in the handover report.
  • The length of existing scratches and the size of paint damage should be exactly listed there.

If there are any discrepancies between you and the lessor, the handover report should also state that you do not agree with the assessment. The actual approval of the residual value of the car is carried out in the lessor's workshop. Take your time to go through any defects in detail and compare them with your own appraisal. Especially minor paint damage and scratches are not seldom listed on the return certificate, but must not be evaluated. So don't just accept the expert opinion, but check it thoroughly so that you won't be overcharged here.

Conclusion

So if you take a little initiative on your own, you can estimate the additional costs you will incur at the end of the lease before you return the car. This provides you with a better basis for negotiation and you don't have to rely solely on the lessor's expert opinion, which sometimes contains points that can be challenged. In particular, you should pay attention to the exact recording of damages and possibly have an independent expert opinion drawn up, as this will enable you to counter any claims and better protect yourself against unforeseen costs.