Car lease buyouts are increasingly attractive, but they often come with extra fees

Erin McCarthy, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Business News

Nadine Hughes drove an hour from her home in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, to buy her 2020 Chevy Equinox off its lease.

A dealership in Reading, Pennsylvania, was the closest one she could find that wouldn’t tack on additional charges, such as a $449 document fee or a $200 safety inspection, she said.

Dealerships in the Philadelphia area, as well as in Allentown and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, all told her that they had to at least charge the document processing fee, which Hughes knew was not mandated by law.

“Little did they know, I did my homework,” she said of the other dealers. Still, “it just frustrated me to no end that they don’t understand that people are out here on a strict budget and they just can’t afford it.”

Hughes, 53, who works as a surgical scheduler at an area hospital, was one of several readers who responded to The Philadelphia Inquirer’s story earlier this month about a Malvern man’s experience being charged a $1,000 lease buyout fee. His initial lease agreement stated that there would be no fee if he opted to purchase the 2020 Kia Optima when the lease expired last year.

That man, 36-year-old Benjamin Sugarman, ended up paying the extra fee at a now-shuttered dealership in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, because he felt he had no choice. He wanted the car, he said, and he couldn’t find a dealer that would charge him less.


“I believe the dealers in Pennsylvania are taking advantage of customers by imposing these fees and charges that are not in a contractual document, a lease,” he told The Inquirer. “That’s just not OK.”

The trend itself is not new: Car dealers have long been known to tack on some additional fees for lease buyouts and other transactions.

“All these dealerships, they’ll tell you the same thing: That is what they charge,” Hughes said, in regards to safety inspections and documentation fees.

However, lessees whose three-year contracts have expired in the recent years have much more equity in their vehicles on average than consumers whose leases expired pre-pandemic, CNBC reported earlier this year, citing Edmunds data. At the same time, buying a car, not off a lease, is more expensive than ever, and the autoworkers strike brings new uncertainty.


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