What to Know About Short-Term Car Leases
If you need a car for a few days, you rent one. If you need a car for a couple of years or longer, you lease or buy one. But what about when you need a vehicle for the short term? For example, while you’re on a temporary work or military assignment? What if you want to try out a model or type of vehicle, or when your life situation is just in flux? Can you get a car for longer than a typical rental period, but for less than a period of years?
It is possible to lease a car when you don’t want to commit to a long lease contract. Here’s what you need to know to get started:
- What is a short-term lease?
- The pros and cons of a short-term auto lease
- Where to find a short-term auto lease
What is a short-term lease?
The vast majority of auto leases are for 36 months, according to Scot Hall, executive vice president of operations at Swapalease.com, based in Cincinnati. Car rentals, on the other hand, can be had for hours or days in most cases.
A short-term car lease fills the gap between short-term car rental and longer-term leasing. There are basically two types of short-term leases you can get: assumed regular vehicle leases, and long-term rentals, sometimes called mini-leases.
- Assumed lease (also called a lease swap). This kind of short-term lease allows you to take over someone else’s lease while they still have time on it. When you assume a lease, you are still subject to mileage limits, possible penalties for wear and tear, and other fees, just like you would be with any other lease. You must pass a credit check just like you would with any auto lease, and you generally have a set time for the length of the lease, meaning you can’t easily turn in the car sooner or keep it longer. At the end of the lease, you typically turn the car back into the dealer that the original lease owner got it from, or you can choose to buy it out.
- Car rental company long-term rentals, or mini-leases. Rentals from car companies are more flexible and generally, are not subject to deposits, mileage or other fees. You may pay significantly more per month for the convenience and lack of commitment included in a long-term rental or mini-lease however.
The pros and cons of a short-term auto lease
Consider these pros and cons of short-term auto leases:
- Get a newer car, sooner. If you want to drive newer cars, more regularly, you may want to assume someone else’s lease for the short term. You’ll get more car for less per month than you would buying a car or by starting a new, longer-term lease, and you’ll put less money down to get started. The average monthly payments to lease a new car are around $430. You should expect to pay less per month on a lease that you assume. (A long-term rental, on the other hand, may cost more – possibly $600 to $700 per month, according to Hall.) With a newer car, you shouldn’t be spending much on car repairs, either.
- Less commitment. When your life situation is changing, you may not be ready to buy a car or sign up for a multi-year lease. A short-term lease can get you on the road now. If you decide later that you need a minivan instead of a sports car — or vice versa — you can switch it out at the end of the shorter lease. “Many people prefer taking over a lease,” said Hall. “They prefer a shorter term commitment.” If you rent a car, long term, through a car rental company, you have even less commitment and more flexibility.
- Possible financial incentives for assuming someone’s lease. “People can often take advantage of somebody else’s down payment or equity payments when taking over a lease,” said Hall. That means less or no money down, and a potentially lower monthly payment. “Someone taking over a lease may even be able to take advantage of a cash incentive offered by the person who wants out of the lease,” he said. “It’s not uncommon.”
- No risk of being “upside down” on a car loan. If you buy a car with a long loan term; say four years or longer, at some point you may owe more on the car than it is worth. If you want to sell and get something else, or if the car is stolen or wrecked, you may have to come up with the difference between what you owe on the car and its current value. With short-term leases, you have less ownership time and thus, less opportunity for the car to depreciate below its value. That’s not to say it can’t happen, but it is less likely.
- You get the same benefits as the original leaseholder. This may even include the same manufacturer incentives to lease another car when this lease period is over. It also will likely include any manufacturer’s warranty, as well. Be sure to read the fine print to ensure that you are getting the benefits, however.
- Mileage limits. The most affordable lease deals often have one big catch — limitations on how many miles you can drive before you start paying an additional surcharge. You may be restricted to 10,000 or 12,000 miles per year, which isn’t much if you commute or do much traveling. You could burn through those miles in no time. If you are assuming someone else’s lease and they are already close to the limit, you may end up having to pay more at the end of the short-term lease.
- You never own the car outright. You could lease a car for years and still never own it. Cars typically run for about 12 years, and by using a short term lease (or a regular lease) you’re missing the opportunity to use the money you’re not spending on car payments to save.
- You’re responsible for more of the depreciation. The value of a car goes down the most quickly at the beginning of its life. That loss of value is called the depreciation. If you are always leasing a new car, you will be paying for that steep depreciation cost in your lease payments, and your total cost of owning a car will be relatively high. In a short term lease, you are spreading the cost of that depreciation over fewer payments.
- Ending a lease early can cost you money. As a lease transferee, you have the same responsibilities as the original lessee. You may have to pay a termination fee if you want out of the lease early.
Where to find a short-term auto lease
The average new vehicle lease term is just longer than three years. Car dealerships don’t typically offer leases for less than two years. So where can you find a short-term lease? You have two basic options:
- Assume someone else’s lease. Taking over someone’s existing lease may save you money. Most leasing companies allow leases to be transferred. To find a transferable lease, you can visit sites like Swapalease.com where people looking to get out of their current leases list their vehicles. You benefit from any warranties, low mileage, and other benefits that come with the original lease. Of course, as we noted above, you also are stuck with any excess mileage, damage, or other issues that crop up with the car. Motivated lease sellers may compensate you with a cash payment for taking over their lease. The leasing company must approve the lease transfer for it to be legal, and they may charge a small lease transfer fee, usually about $300. Hall estimates that by taking over a lease on a luxury car, you might save $20,000 instead of getting a new lease yourself.
- Try rental companies. If you need a car for about six months or less, you probably want to rent a car. This is especially a good idea if you aren’t sure how long you’ll need it. For example, Hertz offers monthly car rentals with no mileage limits or penalties, no long-term commitments, and the option to swap vehicles when needed. The rates are discounted from the daily rates you would pay to rent a car, however, they are typically higher than the cost to lease a car.
Trying to decide between assuming a vehicle lease and renting a car? If you can see far enough ahead in your situation to take over a lease, and you have time to go through the details of finding and getting the lease, that may be your best bet. It’s a cost-effective way to get on the road in a good car, without putting a lot of money down or making a huge commitment.
If you need a car right this minute, or if your situation is such that you can’t make even a moderate time commitment, you might want to just go to a car rental company and rent a car on a longer-term arrangement.
The flexibility of a short-term vehicle lease may turn out to be just what you need to get through changing or uncertain times in your life. Think about your long-term goals and needs, understand the risks and expenses, and then decide if a short-term lease could be right for you.