What is a Car Lease Return Inspection?
How does a return inspection work?
When you lease a car and decide that you will return it at lease-end, instead of buying it, the lease finance company will want the car inspected to determine if there is excessive mileage or wear-and-tear, or damages. If there is mileage or wear that is outside the specs stated in the lessee’s contract, the lessee will be billed later for those charges.
Lease finance companies such as Honda Finance, Ford Credit, Ally Bank, and others all have different ways of inspecting their lease vehicles. Many use outside independent inspection companies who arrange the inspection time and place with the lessee. An inspection usually takes about an hour.
Others may have the dealer, to which the vehicle is returned, do the inspection at the time of return. This is not a good way to do it in our opinion. It provides no time between inspection and return to have any problems fixed before the return. Furthermore, dealer personnel are not professional inspectors.
What do lease inspectors do?
An inspector’s job is to thoroughly check out a lease vehicle for indications of excessive wear, damages, and unrepaired damages. He uses a standard checklist and form to make detailed notes of his findings. He will take photographs of problem areas.
The inspector will send you a copy of the report at the same time he sends it to the lease finance company. If you disagree with anything in the report, notify the lease company, not the inspection company.
Although the inspector’s report will be thorough and detailed, it doesn’t mean that the lease company is going to send you a bill for every little thing noted as a “problem” in the report.
What do inspectors look at?
Inspectors look for unrepaired damages, poorly repaired damages, large dents and scratches, broken or cracked glass, badly scratched wheels, non-working equipment and lights, equipment that may have been removed or modified, worn, patched, or mismatched tires, signs of mechanical or engine problems, burned seats, and interior damage.
Get your inspection done early
If your inspection is done at least 6 weeks ahead of your scheduled return date, it gives you time to have any problems or damages repaired. In most cases, the cost of having the repairs done yourself will be less than the lease company’s billed cost to you. Be sure to save detailed receipts and send copies, possibly with photographs, to the lease company to prove that you made the repairs. It’s possible that a partial re-inspection may be required by the lease company.
Even if you have no excessive wear or mileage, the lease company will bill you for the “disposition fee” that is in all lease contracts. The fee is typically about $350. If you made a security deposit at the beginning of your lease (such deposits are not common), it will be refunded to you, minus any charges.
If you have damages or inspection issues
As previously mentioned, you should have serious damages professionally repaired before the return of your vehicle. Be sue you read your lease contract to determine what damage is significant enough to require that you fix it. Don’t unnecessarily spend money repairing minor dings and scratches for which the lease company will never charge you. If you are unsure about whether a particular “problem” should be fixed, the best course is to ignore it and take your chances.
One inspection topic, tires, needs special mention because it’s one that catches many people off-guard. Most car lease contracts require that you return a car with no less than 3/32″ or 1/8″ of tread depth at the lowest wear area of any tire on the car. They also typically require that all tires are of the same size and rating as the original tires (assuming you have replaced tires during the lease) and that all tires are of a matching set. Some even require that the spare in the trunk be part of the matching set. Other companies are much more lenient (see this Ford Motor Credit inspection guideline document).
If you need tires for your leased vehicle, we recommend TireRack for prices, free shipping, and installation support. In case you plan to purchase your leased vehicle, the company also sells wheels and performance parts, as well as all the accessories you might need for your car.