Elizabeth Traynor is upset that after turning in her leased 2013 Kia Optima to the dealership in West Nyack, NY, she received a bill in the mail for $400.
Traynor’s been hit with the infamous “lease disposition fee,” which, according to Edmunds, can range from $300 to $400, and is due at lease end if you don’t buy the car. The fee represents the cost for the leasing company to take the car back into its inventory, clean it up and get it ready to sell again. Think of it as a restocking fee.
Leasing has become an increasingly popular way to finance cars among Americans, but the terms of the deal can be tricky. The idea of getting a new car every few years, coupled with a lower monthly payment, is enticing. But there are a few catches. And the disposition fee is one of them.
Traynor complains that the fee was “100000 percent glossed over,” and that may be true. After all, there’s a lot of glossing over that happens in the finance office of car dealerships.
Unfortunately for Traynor, now that she has turned in her vehicle, she’s going to have to pay the fee. She admits she is sure that the fee was disclosed, but not explained.
I’m also sure the fee was disclosed, because it has to be under Federal law. The Federal Consumer Leasing Act, an amendment of the Truth In Lending Act, “requires that certain lease costs and terms be disclosed, imposes limitations on the size of penalties for delinquency or default and on the size of residual liabilities, and requires certain disclosures in lease advertising.” The disposition fee falls into this category.
Traynor calls the disposition fee a “junk fee,” which I love because she’s speaking our language. And because she’s right. If the fee represented any real cost to Kia, they wouldn’t waive it for repeat customers.
Traynor is feeling bad for herself and identifies as a naive car lessee. I feel bad for her, because she probably could have gotten out of the fee, had she known what to do.
The disposition fee is commonly waived if you buy or lease a car of the same make. Had Traynor wanted another Kia, it is unlikely that the dealership would have sent her a bill for the fee. It’s a way for them to keep you brand loyal. Almost like a bribe. A really effective one. But she didn’t want a Kia again. Instead, she leased a new Ford.
Had there been equity in the vehicle, Traynor could have sold her Kia to Ford, which would have had the legal effect of “purchasing the vehicle,” and would have eliminated the fee. The fee only applies when the lessee turns in the car, hands over the keys and walks away.
The trouble with leasing a Kia (or a Ford, for that matter) is that these cars don’t retain their value as well as luxury brands, or even Hondas and Toyotas. At lease end, a Kia may be worth less than the buyout price, giving a lessee few options but turning it in and paying any lease end fees.
I have purchased and leased many cars over the years. I have been talked down to, treated poorly by sales staff and lost entire days of my life in car dealerships. I have watched hours of my life slip by while the guys on the other side of the glass act like they’re Wall Street traders. I have no idea why they make us suffer.
The only way to fight the system is to be smarter than them. Do your research, know what car you want and what you’re willing to pay for it before you walk into the dealership. When they start wasting your time, be willing to walk out. Don’t let them wear you down. Make them work to earn your business.
When it (finally) comes time to sit with the finance manager, make him go slowly. Ask questions and keep asking until you understand. Some things are non-negotiable, but there is a lot of wiggle room, and that’s the time you need to be sure you’re comfortable with the deal — not at lease end.
Traynor reached out to Kia Finance to request that it waive the disposition fee. Legally, Kia has a right to collect it. Unless a lessee finds a way out of it while she still has the asset, the fee is all but a certainty. From our perspective, there’s not much we can do to help.
Leasing is a tricky game, but if you play it well, you can come out on top. Knowing the rules, however, has to be part of the winning strategy.