Anatomy of Vehicle Lease Fraud

I hope the economic downturn is not beating you up too badly. Obviously it’s taking its toll on several sectors of the economy, one of which is car dealers.

I would hope that car dealers will fight their way out of the downturn with ethical and honest sales and service, and undoubtedly some will. However, there will be those that will not, and will turn instead down the dark path of deceiving consumers. To prevent against these dealers and these deceptions, we offer the advice and insight as found on my blog and in several articles I have written for many publications.

One area of car dealer fraud that we continue to see quite a bit of involves fraud in car leases. Even with the credit crunch, dealers are still able to arrange for financing for car leases, and car leases are frequently more expensive for consumers, although they appear as less expensive on the surface.

The classic lease fraud is the “bait and switch,” where a consumer goes to a dealer to buy a car and believes he is buying a car, but is instead switched into a lease. Sometimes dealers will tell consumers that they need to sign up for a lease “for a short time” to let interest rates come down, or some other malarky, and promise to change the deal to a purchase deal “in a few weeks.” When the consumer returns “in a few weeks,” the salesperson who negotiated the lease with him is nowhere to be found and no one at the dealer has any interest in changing the consumer into the promised purchase transaction.

There are various reasons why dealers would prefer to put you into a lease as opposed to a purchase. For one thing, dealers often get larger incentive bonuses from the leasing companies to put consumers into a lease, so dealers frequently make more money from the lenders on leases. Same with the manufacturers: depending on what is going on with vehicle inventory, manufacturers will often give dealers incentives to put consumers into leases instead of purchases. Finally, lease contracts are confusing, permitting dealers to throw more curveballs into the lease which result in higher hidden fees and payments by the consumer.

Currently, as of today, GM sales are off by over 40% and Ford sales are off by over 30%. I do not know the current status of Chrysler sales, but it’s probably similar. GM and Ford are in a position where they, and their dealers, will do just about anything to move vehicles off the lot. As stated above, there are truthfully quite a few dealers who will respond to the current pressures with honest ways and means of promoting vehicle sales, but there are also those that will respond dishonestly.

I do have a few tips if you are concerned about being switched into a vehicle lease, or if you are confused as to whether you will be paying more for a lease than for a purchase. Here are a few tips and pointers:

1. Remember that, with a lease, you are not buying the car. You are borrowing it, or renting it, for a longer period of time, and a lease deal actually has much in common with renting a car. There are often hidden fees at lease end which can make a seemingly less-expensive lease actually cost you more. There are hidden fees for excess mileage and wear and tear to the vehicle. If you know you drive 25,000 miles a year, then your lease should reflect that you drive 25,000 miles a year. If you lease a vehicle with a lease allowance of 15,000 miles a year, you would be penalized severely at lease end for the additional 10,000 miles a year.

2. It would be virtually impossible to describe all of the ways in which a lease can be more expensive than a purchase. First and foremost, you are buying nothing other than the use of the vehicle for a period of time within certain mileage limits, nothing more. You are not buying any ownership interest in the vehicle. Right then and there, a lease is usually more expensive because you have no trade-in at lease end. Many consumers are confused because they believe they can trade in a lease at lease end and receive credit, as if they owned the vehicle. This is not true.

3. At lease end, if you have any outstanding obligation on the lease (mileage penalty, condition penalty, unpaid lease payments), these are often rolled into your next vehicle purchase or lease. Watch your contract carefully to make sure that you get a fair deal on your next purchase or lease.

4. I recommend to all of my clients that they not sign anything on the spot at the dealership. Take the lease or purchase contract home and digest it overnight. Discuss it with a friend or a spouse. Go over it more than once. If consumers took this step alone and nothing more, they would likely avoid much of the fraud and monkey business at dealers because they would not be signing documents in a pressurized situation, after having been worn down by hours at the dealership.

If you, or your friends, have any further questions on leases and the potential for lease frauds, please do not hesitate to contact us. And, if you have been cheated on a lease, please consider us for your attorneys to resolve the situation.