Wondering How to Negotiate a Car Lease? Use These 11 Strategies

A woman stares into the distance while resting her head on her hand that's on her steering wheel inside her car.
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Many personal finance blogs will tell you leasing a car is a bad move, but that’s not to say it may never make sense for you.

Maybe you like the idea of not having to worry about increasing car repair costs. Maybe you don’t want the hassle of selling a used car down the road. Heck, maybe you just like the idea of driving a shiny, new car every few years.

The whole point of managing your money smartly is so you can afford to live the lifestyle you want. If you’re willing to cut back in other areas to budget for an auto lease, that’s your prerogative.

That said, plenty of people have gotten themselves into financial trouble by negotiating a car lease without doing their research first.

11 Tips on How to Negotiate a Car Lease

  1. Know your numbers
  2. Know what you want
  3. Get quotes ahead of time
  4. Test-drive the dealership (and the salesperson)
  5. Check dealership inventory
  6. Shop when you’re having a good day
  7. Bring backup
  8. Have your phone out
  9. Look for the manufacture date
  10. Negotiate a car lease like a purchase
  11. Be ready to walk out

You might guess that it’s harder today than it used to be to negotiate a car lease. After all, inflation is at an all-time high, and the market is still plagued by vehicle shortages across the country such that supply cannot keep up with demand.

But in fact, despite the ongoing issues presented by the pandemic and current economic conditions, today’s world is ideal for negotiating a car lease. You can use the internet to arm yourself with knowledge, and you can even use apps in real time to make smart moves during lease negotiations.

1. Know Your Numbers

A lease has more components than just the monthly payments, so make sure you sit down ahead of time and figure out how much you’re able (and willing) to spend on:

  • The down payment
  • The total cost of the car (known as the “cap cost”)
  • The buyout or purchase-option price (i.e. what you must pay at the end of the lease if you choose to purchase the car)

It’s also important to understand how the mileage limit works. A mileage limit on a lease restricts you to a set number of miles you can drive each year (typically 10,000, 12,000 or 15,000). The higher the mileage limit, the higher your monthly payment will be.

And if you exceed your mileage limit? You’ll be assessed a fee per mile at the end of the lease, so make sure you know what those fees are going in.

Finally, if you have a vehicle you plan to trade in and apply toward your lease, visit Kelley Blue Book to find out how much it’s really worth so the dealer doesn’t shortchange you.

2. Know What You Want

Showing up at a dealership without a particular car in mind is like showing up with a sign around your neck that reads, “I’m open to the priciest option you can sell me!”

Do your research ahead of time to find out what makes and models are the best for your needs, and also give some serious thought to the options you can’t live without and those you can.

Showing up knowing your stuff keeps you from getting pushed into more car than you need — and it also sets a solid first impression that you’re on top of things and won’t be easily persuaded.

3. Get Quotes Ahead of Time

It’s pretty hard for a salesperson to upsell you when you already have a quote in hand from their dealership.

4. Test-Drive the Dealership (and the Salesperson)

Most of us check out online reviews before trying out a new restaurant. Why shouldn’t you do the same when you’re about to make a much bigger purchase?

For example, Edmunds offers a dealer ratings and reviews page where you can read other customers’ experiences at area dealerships.

5. Check Dealership Inventory

If your ideal car is in stock (read: sitting on the lot taking up valuable space), you’ve got an immediate upper hand in negotiating a car lease.

If a salesperson has to get a car for you from another location, they can play the “I’m doing you a favor by going out of my way” card.

But if you’re offering to take a car off their hands, you can play the “I’m doing you a favor by helping you move this off your lot” card.

You can check local dealership inventory here.

6. Shop When You’re Having a Good Day

The old saying “Never shop on an empty stomach” doesn’t only hold true for grocery stores.

If you visit a dealership when you’re feeling off your game (hungry, sick, tired, etc.), you’ll be less clear-headed and easier to push into a bad deal because you’ll want to just get things over with.

Go when you’re feeling rested and ready to handle the stress of negotiations.

Also, try to start shopping for your next car before your current car completely breaks down on you, so you’re not stressed into making a quick purchase without thinking things through. And if your current car does break down or gets totaled in an accident, don’t let the salesperson know. They’ll use your motivation to their advantage.

If you have more wiggle room in your schedule, wait for holiday sales, if possible. Memorial Day and Labor Day in particular are known for big discounts at dealerships.

But if you can’t wait for the holiday weekends that bookend the summer, try going at the end of the month, end of the quarter or end of the year. Salespeople are desperately trying to sell and lease vehicles to hit their quotas — and thus will already be more open to wheeling and dealing.

You can also get great deals on Presidents Day, the Fourth of July and Black Friday and around Tax Day.

7. Bring Backup

Even if you feel fairly confident in your negotiating skills, it always helps to have someone along to keep you on track.

Whether it’s a friend, family member or a coworker who’s good at looking intimidating, bring someone who can point out the pitfalls of a potential deal, remind you of your original budget and prevent you from falling for any sweet-talk trickery.

8. Keep Your Phone Out

Plenty of apps can give you real-time assistance with how to negotiate a car lease — even during the conversation.

TrueCar shows you what other customers have paid for similar cars at a dealership.

The Cars.com app lets you compare in-stock vehicles at several local dealerships side by side and also helps you calculate loan terms based on current negotiations or your budget.

Not only do these apps help you be armed and ready, they send a clear signal to the salesperson that you’re not someone they can take for a ride. Unless it’s a test drive.

9. Look for the Manufacture Date

Chances are, there’s one key bit of information you’ve likely been overlooking as you browse cars at the dealership, and it could give you extra leverage: the manufacture date.

We all look at a car’s window sticker, which tells us things like price and fuel mileage, but don’t forget to check out the manufacturer’s sticker (usually found on a vehicle’s driver’s side door). On the upper left-hand corner of the sticker, you’ll see a date and month, which tells you when the car rolled off the production line.

The further in the past that date is, the longer the car has been sitting on the lot — and the more the dealer has had to pay carrying costs on it. Meaning: They’re ready to get rid of this car.

10. Negotiate a Car Lease Like a Purchase

One of the easiest ways to get roped into agreeing to spend more than you want is by focusing only on a lease’s monthly payment. This gives the dealer leverage to zing you on other lease terms. (See this diagram of the “cash flow shell game” to see how this works.)

To get the best deal, negotiate the cap cost first, as though you intend to purchase the car outright.

In fact, don’t even mention leasing until you and the dealer agree on a price. Once that’s settled, then you can bring up financing options (which include leasing).

11. Be Ready to Walk Out

If you seem to be getting nowhere with a salesperson, don’t be afraid to simply leave.

One of two things will happen: The salesperson will panic and stop you halfway out the door to try sweetening the deal, or they’ll let you leave — in which case you can go find a dealership that is willing to work with you.

Contributor Timothy Moore is a writer and editor in Cincinnati, focusing on banks, loans insurance and automotive topics for The Penny Hoarder. Kelly Gurnett is a former contributor to The Penny Hoarder.