Leasing a car

Leasing allows you to drive a new car every few years, with relatively low monthly payments and no worries about the car’s resale value. There are two main types of car leasing deals – personal contract hire (PCH) and personal contract purchase (PCP). Both come with strings attached, so make sure you understand how they work.

How does car leasing work?

Leasing a car is effectively long-term rental – you pay a fixed monthly fee to use the car for an agreed time period and number of miles.

Under a PCH agreement, you never own the vehicle and you have to hand it back at the end of the term.

With a PCP agreement, you have the option to buy the vehicle at the end of the term in exchange for a balloon payment.

With PCP you also need to pay a deposit and with PCH you usually have to pay three months’ rental in advance.

Restrictions when you lease a car

Top tip

It’s good to compare APR rates, but make sure you look at the total repayment amount as well as balloon payments are not included in the APR rates.

As with all rental agreements, there are some restrictions you need to bear in mind:

  • If you cancel your contract and return the car you’ll probably have to pay a fee, or might even be liable to pay all the outstanding rental payments.
  • You won’t be able to modify the car in any way – for example, adding a tow-bar – without permission. However, you can ask the leasing company to make modifications before you take it.
  • If you exceed the agreed mileage, you’ll have to pay a penalty for this extra mileage at the end of the agreement.
  • You must return the car in “good repair and condition” (taking into account “fair wear and tear”). So if, for example, your dog scratches the car, you might be charged to cover the cost of putting this damage right.
  • If you plan on taking your car abroad, you might need to get written permission from the finance company each time you do so and there might also be a charge.


Top tip

If you’ve taken out a PCP plan and intend to buy the car at the end of it, start saving up the balloon payment now.

People save money faster if they have a definite savings target, so find out how to set a savings goal.

If you decide leasing a car is your best option, here are the main points to consider when choosing between personal contract hire and personal contract purchase:

Non-fuel running costs: with PCH your monthly payment might include a maintenance package to cover non-fuel running costs, such as annual car tax (commonly known as road tax) and routine servicing.

With PCP an optional maintenance package is sometimes available.

Monthly payments: these are generally lower for PCH than for PCP, although you often have to pay for the first three months in advance.

The monthly payments for PCH also tend to be lower than for a personal car loan.

Freedom to change supplier at the end of the contract: with PCH you’re free to choose whether to start leasing a new car from the same company or shop around for a better deal elsewhere.

Whereas with PCP you might have to stay with the same dealer to be able to use any remaining equity in your car as a deposit for a new car through PCP.

Worries about the car’s future: with PCH you don’t have to worry about depreciating value, warranty expiry, or selling it on – this is the leasing company’s concern.

The same applies to PCP, unless you’re planning to buy the car at the end of the contract (see below).

The big difference between PCP and PCH

Top tip

Four out of five people with PCP plans don’t opt to buy the car at the end of their contract (Source: the Finance and Leasing Association).

Is it likely you’ll be one of them? If so, leasing a car through personal contract hire (PCH) might work out cheaper for you.

The big difference between PCP and PCH is PCP gives you the opportunity to buy the car and become its legal owner at the end of the leasing contract.

To do this, you have to pay a ‘balloon payment’ – also known as the Guaranteed Minimum Future Value (GMFV) – at the end of the contract. This is in addition to your deposit and monthly payments.

With PCP the total amount you repay in monthly instalments is based on an estimate of how much the car will lose in value though depreciation between the start and end of the contract.

If at the end of the contract you don’t want to buy the car, you simply hand it back.

As long as the car is in good condition and hasn’t exceeded the agreed mileage, you won’t have to pay any more money.

With both PCH and PCP the lender can repossess the car without a court order.

But for PCP, once you have paid at least a third of the total amount payable, they can’t repossess it without a court order.

Using your car as equity to lease a new car

Usually the finance company or car dealer will set up a PCP plan so the balloon payment agreed at the start of the contract will be less than the car’s market value at the end of the contract.

Assuming this difference in value still exists by the end of your plan, you can use the money as a deposit for leasing a new car through PCP.

Your rights if you want to cancel a PCP plan

Choosing the right PCP term is important. Opt for a lengthy period and you’ll end up paying more for the car.

But if it’s too short, you’ll have higher monthly payments and could risk not being able to meet them.

  • If you can’t keep up your payments or simply want to cut costs, you have the right under the Consumer Credit Act to return the car as long as you’ve already made half of your payments. This is called ‘voluntary termination’.
  • To find out more about voluntary termination of PCP plans, read our guide Cut your car finance costs.

Compare car leasing deals

If you’re thinking of leasing a car, remember to look at a few different comparison sites.

Here are some suggestions:

Your next step

If you get behind with your monthly leasing payments, you might lose your car. So make sure you can meet your car payments.

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