Leasing a car has its perks, but avoiding common mistakes can mean big savings down the road

  • Article by: ALEX VEIGA , AP Business Writer
  • Updated: June 12, 2013 - 7:55 PM

Even with low interest rates that make buying a car more affordable, many consumers are leasing a new car or truck instead.

New vehicle leasing climbed in the first three months of 2013 to the highest level in seven years, according to Experian Automotive, a unit of credit data tracker Experian. Leasing made up nearly 28 percent of all new vehicles financed in the quarter — the greatest proportion in records that go back to 2006.

"Lenders have seen overall stability come back to the market since the recession, and leasing has gradually returned as a larger part of many lender strategies," said Melinda Zabritski, senior director of automotive credit at Experian.

Leasing has its perks, especially if you want to drive a new car every couple of years while keeping monthly payments low. But understanding whether leasing is right for you and how complex lease agreements work is essential to avoid ending up paying more than you bargained for.

Here are six tips to get a good deal when leasing a new car or truck:

1. UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LEASING AND BUYING

Generally, buying a car and holding onto it for many years is the least expensive way to own a vehicle.

While cars and trucks depreciate, or lose value over time, the vehicles retain some value that you can always turn around and apply toward your next purchase.

But if you lease, you only get to drive the car for a fixed period of time. Your monthly lease payments go toward paying for the depreciation in the vehicle, not ownership. And there are restrictions on how many miles you can rack up on the car during the lease period. When the lease term expires, you can buy the car or lease another new vehicle.

Leasing offers many benefits, particularly when it comes to payments.

While some dealerships will ask for some money down, the monthly payment will typically be less than what you'd pay if you borrowed money to buy the car.

And the short-term commitment opens the door for you to drive a newer car after a couple of years.

"If you're really focusing on your short-term financial situation, lease has much appeal," Jeff Bartlett, deputy editor at ConsumerReports.org. "But if you have the luxury of looking long-term, buying will be a better investment."

Still not sure whether it lease or buy? Try running the numbers through online calculators like this one: www.bankrate.com/calculators/auto/lease-buy-car.aspx

1. DON'T FORGET TO HAGGLE

Consumers have become accustomed to haggling over the price of a car, down payment or interest rate on a loan when buying a car, but few realize you can employ the same strategy when you lease.

"Many people fall into the allure of the low monthly price that is being offered to them," Bartlett says. "You're just handing over to the dealer more money."

As in a purchase transaction, experts recommend someone contemplating a lease take steps to familiarize themselves with the sticker price and any factory incentives being offered on the car. Then haggle with the sales staff to get a lower price before applying the lease terms.

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