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Leasing vehicles – beware of the sting in the tail

Feb 24, 2015
David Jordan offers a warning to anyone planning on leasing a vehicle. All may not be what it first appears!

With new cars and vans typically used by businesses costing upwards of £20,000 pounds these days, many companies and individuals now choose to lease their vehicles rather than pay cash. While there are clear advantages in doing this, lower capital outlay and tax benefits for example, there can be a sting in the tail when to time comes to return the vehicle. 

Recently The Mover’s Editor Steve Jordan returned his very tidy three-year-old (45,000 miles) Alfa Romeo and a few days later was sent a bill for £352 for what the leasing company called ‘unfair wear and tear’.  This despite the car being returned 15,000 miles short of the contracted mileage. The charges were for a hole worn in the carpet under the driver’s feet – which had been reported to the company six months into the contract – a small scratch on the nearside front wheel, and a repainted door panel that the leasing company said was not up to the required standard. They also claimed that the spare tyre only had a tread depth of 2mm, which was rather mysterious as it had never been out of the boot!

Steve reluctantly paid for the scratched wheel and the re-painting of the door but dug his heals in when it came to paying £100 for the worn out carpet.  He pointed out that the carpet was clearly not of merchantable quality and was, therefore, not fit for purpose as required by the ‘sale of Goods Act 1979’.  The company, ALD Automotive, agreed to waive the charge ‘as a gesture of goodwill’.  Indeed!

I had a bad experience myself when I returned a Saab 93 a few years ago.  My car wasn’t leased but I had bought it on a PCP (Personal Credit Plan) that required the payment of a balloon sum at the end of the contract or the return of the car, which I chose to do.  My car was collected by one of the big car auction companies who examined the car for any blemishes, the finance company then issues an invoice for repairs, which I suspect are seldom carried out.  The day after my car was collected I received a bill for several hundred pounds for ‘car park damage to the doors’.  The damage was very slight and as the car was 4-years old and had 60,000 miles on the clock, I thought it was a little harsh.  Two days later I had a call from a debt collection company working for GM who demanded I pay the fee straight away insisting that I paid the bill immediately and then negotiate with GM later.  Being a fully paid up member of the awkward squad, I held my ground.

Four days after the car was collected I had a letter from a local vehicle recovery company.  My poor Saab had been written off by the car auction’s driver three miles from my home.  As the registered keeper, I got the £500 bill for recovery and storage!  Now it was time to turn the tables on Mr. Nasty at the debt collection agency, who this time was somewhat lost for words.  I never heard any more from him or GM about the incident, never had an explanation and certainly no apology for putting me through all that trauma.  What a way to treat a customer.

I’m sure the leasing companies are not doing anything we haven’t agreed to.  But to charge £60 for a two-inch scratch on an alloy wheel after 45,000 miles, or £50 for a tiny dent in a door panel, especially when it’s pretty obvious the work is never carried out, seems very unfair.  Add to that the heavy handed way they pursue the debt, and the whole customer experience becomes very ugly indeed.

The leasing companies argue that their charges reflect the reduction in the hammer price. The amounts involved are small and most of us will just roll over and pay up.  But with millions of vehicles being returned every year this amounts to a multimillion pound bonus for the leasing companies and I don’t think we should take it lying down.



Photos: The Editor’s Alfa photographed by the leasing company. Not in bad nick after 45,000 miles but still requiring over £350 of repairs to get it up to scratch, apparently;
worn carpet.  Ever tried driving without resting your heal on the floor; Scratched wheel.  Just the one after three years driving but not considered fair wear and tear; off-colour door.  Can you tell the difference?

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