Should I Get Out Of My Lease Early To Take Advantage Of Slow Car Sales?

Image: David Tracy (Jalopnik)

As Jalopnik’s resident car buying expert and professional car shopper, I get emails. Lots of emails. I’ve decided to pick a few questions and try to help out. This week we are discussing exiting a lease early to jump on slow car sales, relying on computers for scheduled maintenance, and whether it’s better to buy or rent if you only need a ride for six months.

First up, is it worth taking an early exit on a lease to take advantage of a slowing car market?

“I got a 3-year lease on a Dodge Charger about a year and a half ago. With the new-car market plummeting, would it make financial sense to turn in my lease early to take advantage of dealer incentives and the like?”

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While the new car market is slowing down—even brands like Subaru have seen their sales go down—what I have not seen happen yet are deals that are substantially better than in years past.

There are some heavy discounts on some cars, but the average discounts and rebates are fairly similar to previous years when automakers were clearing out old inventory. Of course, deals are likely to get better as we get towards the end of the year, but keep in mind the dealers and the automakers can only throw so much money at these cars from a financial perspective. No matter how desperate they get, we aren’t going to see new vehicles at 50 percent off.

The other factor here is that you have about 15 months left on your lease and to get out now will cost you a lot of money, so unless you really hate that car it’s probably best to ride it out until the end. There will still be deals when you’re ready for your next ride.

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Next, how come some cars no longer have a published maintenance schedule in their owner’s manual?

“I just purchased a brand new Acura, when it came time to read the owner’s manual, I found that Acura no longer has a published maintenance schedule. Rather, the on-board computers decide what needs to be done. While I don’t do that much work on cars, I do like to do small things like filters, etc. Is this really common nowadays?”

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When it comes to scheduled maintenance, it seems like very few people other than readers of this fine website consult the owners manual to know what a car needs and when it needs it. Most folks either rely on the dealer or their local shop to tell them what service is necessary or in some cases modern cars do have computers that can alert you when certain components need to be addressed. A lot of luxury cars are using fully synthetic oil so the days of changing your oil every 3,000 miles are gone. In some cases, you can go up to 8,000 to 10,000 miles between intervals (although personally I think that last one is a bit on the high side.)

However, if you insist on doing some of your own maintenance for minor items, there is probably no harm in changing the oil or the filter more often than the car requires.

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Finally, if you only need a car for a few months is it better to rent or buy?

“I’m a travelling occupational therapist, and I’m about to spend 6 months in Anchorage doing home health (driving from house to house to provide therapy), doing about 100-120 miles a week for work plus adventuring on the weekends. I could end up extending and spending a full 12 months there if I love it. It’s obviously about to be winter in Alaska and I don’t want to drive my car there and back (from Pennsylvania) and put it through the winter.

Does it make more sense to do monthly car rental, or to buy a used car (on financing) and sell it at the end of my time there? I was quoted $720 a month from Avis through my recruiting agency for the smallest, most basic car. Between that and needing AWD/4WD, I was thinking of buying and selling at the end of my time there made the most sense - am I right?

And my final question — does it make sense for me to buy something as cheap as possible and hope it makes it through 6-12 months, knowing depreciation percentages will represent a smaller dollar amount? Or to go for something closer to $20,000 from a brand with good resale value for higher reliability to avoid a possibly large maintenance bill? I know it’s a roll of the dice and I’ll need a pre-purchase inspection no matter what route I go.”

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If you need a car for more than a few weeks, it seems that buying something is the way to go especially in a location like Alaska. That $720 per month is a lot of money to spend on a basic car.

I would imagine if you picked up a nice used Subaru, Honda, or Toyota with AWD that was well cared for, you could likely sell it when you are done for fairly close to what you paid for it. You’d have to contend with sales taxes, insurance and whatever maintenance costs come up, but beyond that, you could more or less break even here.

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That cost of ownership is still way cheaper than the total rental cost over the same duration.

Got a car buying conundrum that you need some assistance with? Email me at tom.mcparland@jalopnik.com!

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About the author

Tom McParland

Tom is a contributing writer for Jalopnik and runs AutomatchConsulting.com. He saves people money and takes the hassle out of buying or leasing a car. (Facebook.com/AutomatchConsulting)