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Comparing Car Costs: Buy New, Buy Used or Lease?


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How does the cost of leasing compare to buying the same car new in terms of out-of-pocket costs? Or if you decide to buy a used car, how much more will that save you? And finally, what do those costs look like in the long run?

These are important questions for consumers who want to carefully manage their automotive expenses over the years. It's hard to give one definitive answer that covers all people and all situations. But here we will divide this question into two parts:

1. An analysis of the cold, hard costs of three different ways to get a midsize family sedan: leasing, buying new and buying used.
2. A discussion of some intangible, non-monetary issues that might affect your decision.

2015 Honda Accord

One Car, Three Financing Methods
In this analysis we look at an average car ownership period, which IHS Inc. estimates at almost six years. We then look at transaction data for the financing information on a midsize sedan such as a Toyota Camry or a Honda Accord, like the 2015 vehicle pictured above. For each category (leasing, buying new or buying used), the averages in this article are based on thousands of recent transactions across the United States. These reveal the average cost of the car, interest rate, down payment and monthly payment.

Since most people lease for three years, we compared two lease cycles to one buying cycle for new and used cars. In other words, in the buying comparisons, the person purchased the car, financed it for five years (60 months) and then had one payment-free year of ownership. (We don't actually recommend financing a used car for 60 months but, for purposes of comparison, we have included those figures here.)

Here's how we structured the different deals:

Leasing: The average midsize car lease is based on a car that sells for $24,775 with drive-off fees of $1,154. This results in a $294 monthly payment for three years.

Buying New: When buying the same car, the average down payment on a five-year loan is $4,104. The average interest rate is 1.64 percent, resulting in a monthly payment of $400.

Buying Used: The average price of a similar 3-year-old midsize sedan is $15,688. The average interest rate is much higher: 6.04 percent. The average down payment is $2,304. The monthly payment is $301. (Fewer low-interest deals are available for used cars, and the credit scores of people shopping in this category are lower, according to Edmunds data.)

After six years, here are the total out-of-pocket costs of each financing method:



Buying New

Buying Used

Total out-of-pocket costs




In terms of out-of-pocket expenses, leasing costs $4,628 less over six years than buying a new car, excluding any repair costs the new car might incur. The out-of-pocket cost of buying a used car is $3,112 cheaper than leasing and a whopping $7,740 cheaper than buying a new car. Again, any costs of repair for the used car are excluded here.

Here is something essential to remember about the apparent lower cost of leasing versus buying new: At the end of two leasing cycles, the person who leases doesn't own the car. He or she has to start a new lease-or-buy cycle. Meanwhile, the person who bought a new car now owns a 6-year-old vehicle worth about $9,687 on the private-party market, according to Edmunds data. The person who bought the used car now owns a nine-year-old car worth about $4,794.

When we deduct the current value of the new and used car from the out-of-pocket costs, the long-term cost picture changes:



Buying New

Buying Used

Final costs




In this basic comparison, it appears the person who leased the two midsize sedans paid $5,059 more to drive these cars for six years than did the new-car buyer. Buying a used sedan saved the purchaser $7,906 as compared to leasing during this six-year cycle. Buying used rather than buying new saved $2,847.

Related Expenses
We should point out that the person who leases escapes the repair and maintenance costs — and related hassles — that owners typically encounter with aging cars. It's true that the person who leases has to pay for routine maintenance, but that is usually just oil changes and tire rotation. (Some people avoid maintenance costs altogether if they lease a new car that has a free maintenance program.)

The car leaser also might have to buy a new set of tires, which could cost about $1,000. Of course, the new-car buyer typically has to pay for maintenance, too, as does the used-car buyer. The used-car buyer might have to foot the bill for some additional repairs as well.

On the other hand, leased cars may require the driver to carry higher levels of insurance, which might offset some of the repair and maintenance costs that car leasing avoids.

Leasing's Other Advantages
While it is true that the people who lease have no car at the end of the lease, they do have the opportunity to purchase the car at a preset price that is often the current market value of the vehicle. The finance company sets the purchase price for the leased car at the beginning of the lease. This offers the person who leases a car several advantages.

First of all, leasing protects against unexpected depreciation. If the market value of the car drops due to unforeseen circumstances, such as rising gas prices, this drop in value doesn't hurt the person leasing the car. Conversely, if the lease car holds its value especially well, the consumer can buy the car at a bargain price, and either keep or resell it. In some cases, people can leverage equity in leased cars.

One other big financial advantage to leasing is that it can offer an attractive tax deduction for someone using the car for business. An accountant is the best resource for more information on this subject.

There are aspects of leasing that are more difficult to monetize, but which appeal to some shoppers:

  • Leasing provides the enjoyment and prestige of driving a newer car more often.
  • Leasing provides a new car that has the latest safety, technology and comfort features.
  • Leasing in three-year cycles means the car is always under the manufacturer's bumper-to-bumper warranty.

The Appeal of Ownership
It's hard to put a price tag on the value of ownership. But beyond the abstract enjoyment of possessing a nice car, ownership does offer several other advantages:

  • You can modify the car exactly as you want without fears that you will break the terms of your lease contract.
  • Excess wear and tear, which can be charged on a leased car, is not a concern for the car buyer.
  • You have the flexibility to sell the car when you want to, not when the lease is up.
  • Once the car is paid for, you're free from the weight of a monthly car payment. You can convert that money to savings, apply it to other household expenses or set it aside as a repair and maintenance fund for the car you own.
  • Finally, owning a car versus leasing one allows you unlimited driving with no mileage penalty. Leasing includes only 10,000-12,000 miles per year. After that, each mile typically costs 15 cents.

While there are many factors to consider when making the lease-or-buy decision, the best place to start is with the numbers. Do your own calculations, factor in the intangibles and the best decision for you will emerge


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