Why is leasing a car a bad idea?

8 Answers 8


If you are looking to build wealth, leasing is a bad idea. But so is buying a new car. All cars lose value once you buy them. New cars lose anywhere between 30-60% of their value in the first 4 years of ownership.

Buying a good quality, used car is the way to go if you are looking to build wealth. And keeping the car for a while is also desirable. Re-leasing every three years is no way to build wealth.

The American Car Payment is probably the biggest factor holding many people back from building wealth. Don't fall into the trap - buy a used car and drive it for as long as you can until the maintenance gets too pricey. Then upgrade to a better used car, etc.

If you cannot buy a car outright with cash, you cannot afford it. Period.

  • 12
    I think this is a bit hyperbolic. If you are able to save money, invest money, and still pay the monthly payment on a nice car, I think you're okay. Now, if you're paying $600 a month on a car and have $0 in savings, then thats roblem.
    – Jack
    Commented Sep 16, 2010 at 14:18
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    If you are able to save money and invest money, then you would be much better off buying the car with cash and then investing the money you would be using for payments. Commented May 19, 2011 at 13:57
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    This says nothing to answer the actual question of "Why is leasing a car a bad idea?" Commented Jun 21, 2011 at 16:21
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    While its true that new cars used value once they leave the lot, you're paying for a little more peace of mind that hopefully the car has fewer "surprises". This is also why you pay a little more for used cars from a reputable dealer then from a private individual.
    – Doug T.
    Commented Dec 13, 2011 at 21:08
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    @DJClayworth That is not always the case. Obviously if you can invest and see a larger return than the actual interest cost of loan, than any mathematician will tell you to take the loan. Problem is there is risk and your return on your investments is not likely guaranteed.
    – Triplell89
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 23:17

You SHOULDN'T lease one if you are going to get an economy car, if you don't drive too much (<15K / year), and you want to hang on to the car for a long time.

Otherwise, if you are a regular driver, driving a leased new quality car can be cost effective.

Many cars now have bumper-to-bumper warranties that last as long as the lease (say 80K). So there is rarely any extra costs apart from regular maintenance. The sweet spot for most new cars is in the 5th, 6th, or 7th years, after they are paid off. But at that point, you may find you have maintenance bills that are approaching an average of $200 - $300 per month. In which case, a lease starts to look pretty good.

I owned a 7 year old Honda Accord that cost only $80 less per month in maintenance than the new leased VW that replaced it.

Haven't looked back after that. Into my 3rd car and 9th year of leasing.

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    $200-$300 a month in maintenance on a Japanese car? I sure didn't see that. My wife's 9 year old Civic cost us nothing outside of the normal checkups & oil changes the last few years before we got rid of it.
    – Jim
    Commented Aug 28, 2010 at 19:19
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    One big piece of work can easily push the average maintenence cost to $200 per month. Commented Jan 4, 2012 at 19:53
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    @Jim i had the transmission go on my acura, 3500, which averages to almost 300 per month. Fortunately the repair shop had a free loaner car, or i would've needex to rent on top of that.
    – Andy
    Commented Nov 1, 2015 at 20:04
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    $200-$300 per month for maintenance on a six-year-old car? What are you driving? My 14-year-old CR-V with 150,000 miles on it costs about £400 per year.
    – Mike Scott
    Commented Mar 13, 2021 at 7:54

Here are the reasons I did not lease my current car.

  1. When you lease, you're tied in at a monthly payment for 48 months or more. The only way to get out of that payment is to transfer the lease or buy out the lease. If you buy/finance, you can always sell the car or trade it in to get out of the payments. Or you can pay down more of the vehicle to lower the payments.

  2. Most leases calculate the cost of leasing based on the 'residual value' of the vehicle. Often these values are far lower than the actual worth of the vehicle if you owned it for those months and sold it yourself. So when you do the math, the lease costs you more -especially with today's low financing rates.

  • 3
    #2 is only correct if you simply trade in your lease without knowing the value of a car. The lease itself does not lock you into this action or line of thinking, and if it is indeed worth more, you can sell it yourself and pay off the residual at the end, pocketing the difference.
    – Nicole
    Commented Sep 15, 2011 at 19:29

Also consider how cars fare under your ownership:

Does your current car...

  • Have flecks of yellow paint on the bumper from that tight corner of the parking garage?
  • Have stains from baby vomit, pets, spilled coffee or oil marks from drive-in movie popcorn?
  • Have Scratches and dents?
  • Live outside, exposed to the elements?
  • Frequently get parallel parked on the street overnight?

If any of the answers to these questions are "Yes", you're probably going to get hosed with fees when you return the car.


I agree with Speedbird389 - I leased an economy car 10 years ago, paid the residual at the end of the lease because I knew the car would last a long time, but that cost me $5000 more than if I had bought it in the first place...

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    @JaimeS: If you agree with an answer you can just upvote that answer and add comments if you desire. This way the question doesn't get duplicate answers and the strongest answer will float to the top.
    – brainimus
    Commented Aug 5, 2010 at 17:23

I never understood why people lease rather than buy or finance. I'm financing a new civic 09 @ 0.9%. At the end of the 5 year terms I will have paid less than $800 in interest.

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    One of the reasons people look at leases is the cash flow aspect -- their monthly payments could be lower. But yes usually they ignore the cost of financing, to their detriment. And auto dealerships are usually complicit in steering people towards leases by having them think in terms of monthly payment and not overall cost. Commented Oct 11, 2009 at 12:41
  • I just got out of school and the best they offered me was an 8.6% rate. Meh. I paid it off early, though. :)
    – user296
    Commented Mar 27, 2010 at 6:28
  • I would lease because I drive about 4000 miles a year, and only paying $350 for a Lexus seems fine to me. Financing it would cost me $600 a month.
    – Jack
    Commented Sep 16, 2010 at 14:12
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    Some people also forget the option of a proven old time classic idea of saving up for a purchase to afford it.
    – Troggy
    Commented Sep 27, 2010 at 0:19
  • Indeed, many people cannot envision a life without an automobile payment, whether it is for a lease or a purchase. A monthly auto payment is just a fact of life, like the rent or mortgage payment, or the tax withholding. Auto dealerships know this well, and that's why, as Chris Rea cogently points out, dealerships push people towards leases by showing them that the monthly payment is smaller with a lease than with a purchase. If an auto payment is always there each month (like rent or mortgage payment or tax withholding), why not get the smallest payment possible? Commented Jul 2, 2012 at 20:34

I have an eight year old Kia Spectra that my wife is after me to replace -- but it hadn't been giving me any trouble at all. Soon after she started telling me I should replace it soon it started having problems; compressor, tires, and so on. How did she know?

Anyway, so now I'm looking -- not ready to buy yet, but I'm looking. The reason I won't be leasing is mileage. I live 45 miles from where I work, so with incidental driving, I put at least 100 miles a day on a car. That's about 26,000 miles a year if I do nothing but drive back and forth to work.

On a monthly basis the lease is advertised as being less than most payments, but that is with a mileage limitation. Since most leases I've looked at top out the mileage well below that mark I won't be leasing.

I am looking at the new cars that are available now -- but I don't plan on buying until next year, and buying a lightly used car that is only a year to two old. So I'm looking at what I will be buying while I can still find information about them.

So yeah, mileage is a strong reason why I'm not considering leasing.

  • How did she know? (In my best Bugs Bunny voice) Diia-boh-lickal sabo-tay-gee. Seriously though, I'm surprised it lasted that long without any trouble. Commented Aug 28, 2010 at 15:55
  • yeah, so am I. At just under 150K miles it started falling apart. I'm now at 160K miles and beginning to doubt it will last till next year -- but that is the plan I'm stubbornly sticking with. Car shopping ranks just right under job and house shopping on my list of least favorite activities.
    – David Culp
    Commented Aug 28, 2010 at 20:27

It's a very simple equation. If we forget about the stress and limitations that come with the so-called "lease", and make the following assumptions:

  1. if we lease, then we will return the car after 3 years to the dealer
  2. consider the worst case scenario mentioned above, that the car will lose 60% of its value in 4 years (I'll take 50% in 3 years)
  3. The lease is $300 a month while financing is $600 at a negligibly low rate (around 5%)
  4. the original car price was $28000

Then after 3 years of using this new car:

  • For leased car, you have paid $10800 and ended up with nothing
  • For financed, you have paid $21600, but own most of the car (financing average is period is 4 years), which can be sold for 50% of it's original price which is $14000, so the net loss is $21600-$14000=$7600 which is, with all the extreme assumptions we made for financing, would be so much less than the leased car!!!

I will never understand why people still "lease" a car. Even for very low income people who have to have a car, financing a per-owned decent car would do, but it's just "show off" seduction and lure that either unknowing minded or idiot teenagers fall for.

  • Good math. Typically low income people tend not to be "well qualified buyers" which makes their payments higher.
    – Pete B.
    Commented Aug 5, 2014 at 14:56

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