The One Time Jay Leno Was Wrong About Cars

Screencap: CNBC
Screencap: CNBC

Jay Leno knows a lot about cars, way more than I will ever know in my lifetime. He knows the modern cars, the classics, the weird stuff and everything in between—but when it comes to paying for them his advice is a bit limited.

In a recent interview with CNBC, Leno was asked to share his opinion on leasing, which has been steadily on the rise as transaction prices have increased.

“I always think it’s better to buy a car...Everyone seems to lease now. Everyone thinks you can write off this and write off that, and to a certain extent, you can. But at the end of the lease, you don’t have anything.”


Leno prefers to pay cash for everything and never take out a loan if he can help it. And he has a common reason for doing so:

“I don’t carry debt. I own everything. I own my buildings. I own my cars. That way, if it ends tomorrow, I know what I’ve got.”

This is a relatively easy strategy for someone with a reported net worth of about $350 million. The “pay cash for everything” mantra may help math challenged people get out of a cycle of unhealthy debt and sell self-help books to “take back your finances”, but it’s not advice that’s universally applicable.


We have had these debates plenty of times here on Jalopnik, and “financial experts” love to get on their high horse and lecture people about the perils of leasing. For some reason, people love to tell other people what to do with their money.

My philosophy has always been that there is no right or wrong answer to the lease vs. buy question, but rather it’s a case-by-case basis that depends on a variety of factors. It’s good for some people and not good for other people.


People who don’t lease want to paint others that do as financially irresponsible, and while that may be true from a very narrow perspective, plenty of people lease—and are smart to do so. Not that it will matter to the anti-lease crowd, but for those of you who are more open-minded on the issue, here are some examples.


I had a customer who was looking for a minivan but only planned on owning it for around three years while he needed room for three car seats. Once the kids got bigger, he wanted to get a truck. Instead of buying a used van that would have been out of warranty, he decided to lease a new one with everything he wanted for a lower monthly payment because the discounts and lease deals on Honda Odysseys are crazy cheap right now. He gets the benefit of a new van for his family with no worries and when it’s time to get his truck he just gives it back without the hassle of trading or selling.

Last month I helped another woman who was looking for a car around $12,000. Practically every dealer in the New York metro area either played games with the pricing, had subpar quality choices, or cars with very little in the way of equipment. She had a good job, but did not have the time or patience to hassle with repairs. I got her into an inexpensive lease on a Nissan Sentra. She’s happy with it.


Sometimes it’s not about the car budget itself, but looking at your expenses from a big picture perspective. I had a conversation with a man who was financing a Ford with a really high payment, but he’s anticipating an upcoming house purchase and the car was no longer meeting his needs. Since his commute has reduced, but the family has grown, his strategy was to lease a car with lower payments to help balance out the increase in his mortgage.

The “pay cash for everything” advice regarding major purchases that, for the vast majority of people, require the utilization of credit, is like telling a hungry person to go hunting. It is neither helpful nor realistic.


Millions of people lease cars all the time, and their approach to car ownership keeps the used car lots full for the rest of you. While some people may be overreaching for a car that they couldn’t afford otherwise, if they are doing so with an understanding how the lease impacts their overall budget, who are we to judge?

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

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I work in auto finance. We do specialty finance on classics, exotics, and collector cars exclusively. If you can stretch your term out and keep your interest rate in check, you’ll always come out ahead with your money invested, and your car isn’t going to be a depreciating asset like a brand new, daily driver.

Leasing has its advantages, but there is a law of diminishing returns. Leasing is perfect for a car from about $50K-150K, and depending on the rarity. M’s, AMG’s, cars like that depreciate like a rock, so the general lifecycle for them is 1.Lease, 2. CPO, 3. regular preowned.