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I have been reading that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, auto inventories are high and dealers often do not want lease returns. Wholesale auction prices are reportedly plummeting even as of a couple weeks ago. Because of this, I have heard that it should be possible to negotiate a lower buyout price than is quoted on the lease web site.

Is this really a thing, and would it be possible for me to take advantage of it to improve my personal finances? My lease is up in under a month, but I don't know how I would do such a thing - presumably I would have to call and talk to somebody, but I don't know the magic words to say. For comparison, I am the guy who hears that he can save money on his cable bill by calling and telling them he wants to cancel his service to get connected to the retention department, and instead of saving money they are following through on the steps to cancel his service!

Is the used car market still in a spot where it is possible to improve one's position by getting a lower lease buyout? I am skeptical, because I am offered a (slightly) higher price for my car from places like CarMax than my lease buyout, but in turn I don't see any good used car deals anywhere.

I was really hoping to buy out my lease, but financially it would make sense to either renegotiate a lower buy-out value (it would either wipe out my savings or get me into another loan I don't need right now), or get a less expensive price on a comparable car, but neither seems possible right now. Is this whole "COVID-19 means $$$BIG$$$ SAVINGS on used cars" I see all over the place fake news? And if not, how can I get in on it?

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  • The spreading rate of COVID-19 differs greatly from region to region, and so do its indirect effects on the local economy. What's true for one region might be false for another. So when you don't see any cheap offers for used cars around you, then your area might not be affected. – Philipp Jul 13 '20 at 10:18
  • I'd approach it as any other negotiation. It doesn't matter why inventory is high and prices are low, it's just the state of the market. Can you edit your question to add the following information: 1) The lease buyout price 2) The advertised value of similar make/model/trim in your area 3) any buyout options or stipulations in your lease terms and 4) any subjective attraction or attachment you have to your car. From there we should be able to readily work out what you HAVE TO pay per your contract and then identify what is up for negotiation. – Freiheit Jul 13 '20 at 13:56
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Actually I've heard the opposite, that auto inventories are low, since less cars are being manufactured due to factory quarantines. Fewer new cars means fewer trade-ins, so it should affect the used car market similarly, which may be why you're being offered a premium for your lease (and why you can't find good deals).

But, to answer the question regardless of the scenario, the proof is in the pudding: you can ask for a higher buyout, but I wouldn't be shocked if you don't get it. Also, a higher lease buyout likely means that you're going to may more for a comparable car, so you may be better off downgrading to find something that fits your budget.

As a side note - car dealers are ALWAYS telling you why prices are low to get you to come in and shop. I wouldn't put a lot of faith in their marketing gimmicks to actually reflect reality.

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The only way to know is to track car prices for models you are interested in. If something like COVID happens that disrupts the market, it might create opportunities [rental companies are rumoured to be offloading parts of their vehicle fleets, from what I've heard], and it might create problems [perhaps production is down, limiting new year models, which also increases value of the recent-used market]. If you don't know what a 'fair' price used to be 'before the event', then there's little way to know whether the current price is better.

Even if opportunities in the market exist, that doesn't mean that every used car will be selling at a discount now.

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