How to Get Out of a Car Lease Early Without Penalty

So, you're turning in your vehicle that's still on a lease?

Not so fast. Before you do, make sure to go over the list of possible fees and charges that could drain your pocketbook before handing the the dealer those keys earlier than agreed upon. Start with these car-lease cost drivers:

1. Inspect Your Car For Body Damage

Know what body damage manufacturers will cite when they ding you with an extra fee. Mechanical problems in the engine or any of the car's systems, along with any dents, dings, scratches and scrapes on the car's exterior and interior will cost you, Maaco reports. So will "abnormal or excessive" wear to the tires, mismatched tires, and tears or stains on the upholstery that can't be cleaned or repaired with normal refurnishing, Miller says.

2. Visit the Body Shop

Make a quick trip to the body shop. A thorough detailing inside and out, repair of minor scratches in the clear coat and repair of the dents and dings can leave your vehicle looking brand new, notes Melissa Miller, vice president of operations for Maaco Auto Painting and Collision Repair. "Leasing companies are looking at the residual value of the vehicle, and anything that diminishes that adds to your turn-in costs," Miller notes. "If they have to cover additional restoration of the paint finish, repairs to dings and dents or correct other damage, it's going to cost you much more than if you get them fixed on your own."

3. Check the Fine Print

Make sure to read all the small print before you sign on the dotted line. At the end of the lease, expect to be hit with a residual payment, notes Lauren Fix, treasurer and board member at the New York-based Car Coach. "That payment is determined in advance, so you will know what the vehicle will be worth at the end of the lease," she says. "In some rare instances, your vehicle actually can be worth more than the payout at the end. In those instances, it makes sense to purchase the vehicle at the end of the lease and either continue driving it based on miles, sell it on your own, or trade it in toward another vehicle." Make sure to check in with your local DMV to find out how the rules apply to your state.

4. Trade Your Car In

Trade the car, as is. Auto lease consumers can trade their vehicles through sites like Swapalease.com or other similar services, says Jarrod Holland, a North Carolina-based business owner who leased more than 30 vehicles. "I used Swapalease once and it was a pretty decent experience," Holland says. "It took about six-to-seven weeks for the process to complete but it was relatively painless. The new buyer just took over my payments and I walked away from the car." Trading your car in an option to use before you terminate your lease and get hit with major fines and penalties. 

5. Seek Out an Affordable New Car

Look for a heavily discounted new car. If you're upside down on your leased trade and you're looking for a new car, you can find a new car with heavy discounts and/or incentives and use that money to cover your negative equity, says Holland. "If done right, you'll break even or maybe even be a little bit ahead," he notes.

6. Check if You Can Get Payment Relief

Ask for a temporary payment relief. Payment relief could include suspending your payments for a temporary amount of time or lower those payments, says Daniel Yuabov, CEO of Carvoy, a tech solution that allows any car dealership to easily create an online marketplace for their cars. "You'd have to make up the difference later on, but this would buy you some time without having to pay any penalties," Yuabov says.

There's no good reason not to shave down fees and charges on auto lease returns -- and getting smart about what dealerships are looking for is a great place to start. With your credit on the line, make sure you're making smart decisions. 

"With a small investment, you can potentially save thousands of dollars on your lease turn-in," says. Miller. "That can become the down payment on another vehicle or a great contribution to your bank account."

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