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Why me? I didn't get penalties when I returned my last lease car.

If you have suddenly found yourself with an end-of-contract bill larger than you expected, you may be asking yourself "Why me?". But it isn't just you, everybody is in a similar boat these days.There have been many changes in both the car industry and the leasing industry over the last few years.

The reason for this guide...

'Drivers and fleet operators can expect to incur refurbishment charges if a vehicle is returned with unreasonable levels of wear and tear or unrepaired damage.'

According to latest research for FN50, 37% of returned cars incur a fair wear and tear recharge averaging £231.
However figures vary significantly between car leasing companies, ranging from 8% to 78% of cars and from £51 to £600 in charges.

"Almost the only way to tackle this problem is for fleet decision makers to persuade drivers to take better care of their vehicles."

Firstly, cars have become far more mechanically reliable, as a result of this it's not so much of a factor in determining the value of used cars. So if your car has a complete service history when it is handed back to the lease company and they try to sell it, the cosmetic appearance is a far bigger factor in determining re-sale value than ever before. Obviously the lease companies want the cars returned in the best condition possible or they lose money.

But while the mechanical reliability of cars has improved, modern materials as dictated by environmental and safety legislation are sometimes not as hard wearing as they were in the past. Paintwork has become thinner and softer - plastics are environmentally friendly and recyclable, but may fade or stain.

Fig 35. Black plastic rumble strip - prone to fading but otherwise hardwearing.

Fig 36. Newer cars have these rumble strips painted which means they are as prone to damage as any other area of the car. The latest cars tend to be devoid of rumble strips completely, or they have been replaced with thin chrome coloured trim.

And because car manufacturers are under pressure to produce cars that look better and smarter than before, they have made design changes which may not be as hard wearing and may be more expensive to repair. For example, the last generation of Fords had black plastic 'Rumble strips' (Figure 35) which could take quite an amount of wear and tear before looking too tatty, but now these strips are painted the same colour as the bodywork (figure 36). They look nicer to begin with but show damage more and are more expensive to repair.

Slight damage here and there all adds up to make a car look tatty which seriously devalues the car - much of this damage is avoidable. But aside from the slight damage, there have been people who have completely abused their vehicles. One vehicle car leasing company reported that a van driver had decided to mix concrete on the floor of his vehicle which dried hard and jammed the doors shut. A car returned by a senior executive had so many cigarette holes that the interior had to be replaced, an Alfa Romeo was returned with the engine on the back seat and another car, or at least bits of it was returned in a hold all.

Fig 37. Old Mondeo had smaller wheels and thicker tyres. And was fitted with plastic wheel trims which are cheap to replace.

Fig 38. A newer Mondeo has larger wheels and low profile tyres. The lower profile of tyre, the closer the wheel is to the ground and the less the tyre bulges at the bottom which improves handling. But bulging tyres protect you wheel from kerbstones. These wheels are easier to scuff and being alloy, they are more expensive to repair.

Curb Kickers

Curb Kickers - bear in mind that the height of curbs isn't decreasing, the low profile tyres on this wheel are not much over an inch. Furthermore, the alloy wheel actually protrudes further than the tyre wall. It's an accident waiting to happen!

Bling Bling Wheels

'Bling bling' - There has been a trend toward hip-hop wheels this year, and although factory fitted spinners are yet to make an appearance, gold and chrome coloured trim is sprouting up all over the place. It has been our experience that it corrodes very quickly and once it does, it is impossible to find anybody who can repair it -- The chrome inserts on the above wheel are actually plastic (the same as the badge) and it is a complicated process to chrome them, which is only economical in mass production. This means the only option is to buy replacement parts if they are available!

Please note, that although this car was only 6 months old, these wheels had already been refurbished because they had been scuffed. The chrome in this instance hadn't been damaged so they were unbolted and removed while the alloy part of the wheels were repainted... but this only highlights another potential problem which is corrosion to the bolts and around the bolt holes at the back of the wheel. (I'm not a betting man, but I would put a tenner on this being a problem in about 2-3 years.)

"In our experience, all contract agreements have a clause that states very clearly that cars must be returned in a good condition.

The cost of any chargeable damage, is based on current market pricing for a quality repair with the age, mileage and value of the vehicle taken into consideration.

Well cared for vehicles will not only reflect a positive image for you or your company, but will likely reduce costs when the vehicle is returned."

Stefan H Erentraut, FIMI, MICFM , Senior partner – The Car Leasing Centre

If you have damage similar to that shown on this page and you are wondering if and how it can be repaired, and how much it will cost, upload a photo to Ask the Experts and we'll advise you - no obligation.

Ask the Experts
De-Fleet Services

Our End-of-Lease Services provide quality repair for excessive wear and tear, and is acceptable and appropriate for Contract Hire, Personal Contract Purchase (PCP), Private Lease, Contract Purchase and Lease Purchase. Fleet managers wishing to efficiently prepare off-lease vehicles can contact us or send their drivers directly to our Q&A. Our advisors are trianed by Manheim to work to the BVRLA guidelines.

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This page was last updated on Wed, 12 October, 2011
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