Twenty-five percent of all new cars moved off dealers’ lots are leased. The contract that defines this relationship between the consumers and the owner of these vehicles is complicated, subject to regulation, and often the site of misunderstanding and fraudulent activity. Leasing cars allows people to drive cars they believe they could not afford to buy. It appears to give people access to a better class of cars, while another party remains in charge of the car’s mechanical problems. For many people, leasing a car feels like renting an apartment; it’s a way to live without the responsibilities of personal ownership. For some people perhaps leasing is a good idea; it is certainly a good idea for the owners of leased vehicles who profit generally at a rate of about three times the list price of their vehicles.
A car lease is a contract between the party who owns the car (lessor) and the one who will use the car (leasee). A contract signed between these parties governs the terms, those conditions under which the car may be used and the obligation of each party. Consumers sign their lease agreements with automobile dealers. Shortly thereafter, the dealers sell the leased vehicles to a leasing company. The leasing company may be, in fact, the car dealer, or it may be a finance company subsidiary to a car manufacturer, or an independent leasing company. This leasing entity now owns the vehicles and is thus the lessor. Besides profiting from the sale of the car, the dealer enjoys financial incentives from the leasing company and manufacturer rebates.
The leasee acquires no equity in the vehicle. During the lease period, in fact, the leasee pays the leasing company for the car’s depreciation, that is the difference between the list price of the car new and the value it has once it has been driven for the leased period. For this reason, consumers are better off leasing vehicles that hold their value.