Leasing a car or buying one on finance is becoming an increasingly popular option in the UK, allowing drivers to invest in a modern vehicle they would be unable to afford outright.

However, drivers aren’t always aware of some of the major differences between a lease scheme and typical ownership, causing lots of people to make mistakes that cost them hundreds (or even thousands) more than they need to in the long-run.

If you’re currently driving a lease car – or are thinking about getting one – here are six of the most common mistakes to avoid, especially when returning your car.

1. Underestimating the Mileage You’ll Do

When you’re looking at lease car quotes, you’ll probably notice that one of the biggest factors of the cost is the amount of mileage you expect to do in the car. It might be tempting to submit a lower mileage estimate when it comes to applying for your lease car in order to keep your costs down, but if you exceed the agreed amount, it will usually result in a nasty sting when it comes to returning the car.

Use your previous MOT to calculate your mileage and don’t forget to factor in changes to your commute or extra journeys over the longer term. Don’t worry – you can often change the mileage if you realise later down the line that you might exceed the amount that was initially agreed.

2. Failing to Get it Regularly Serviced

Just because the car isn’t “yours” doesn’t mean you’re not responsible for anything other than petrol. You’ll be expected to take it in for proper servicing, usually with a specified dealer (even if it’s more expensive than your local garage). Keeping the car in top condition will minimise its depreciation in value, so it’s essential to get your service book stamped correctly to satisfy the lease company.

3. Not Reading the BVRLA Standard

Each lease company will have a different tolerance for acceptable scratches and level of wear. If you’re in any doubt, it’s best to check the terms with your company to avoid any extra charges.

However, the BVRLA (British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association) lays out a standard process for inspecting a lease car’s condition when it’s brought back in. Requesting a copy of these guidelines through your lease company is a good idea and can help you identify any problem areas before your lease ends.

4. Leaving the Car in a Less-Than-Perfect Condition

When it’s your own car, you might not mind the odd little scratch or chip in the windscreen. However, if you return a lease car with any damage or in a generally poor condition, you can expect a fee. This goes for any personalisation you’ve made too, like decals, steering wheel covers etc.

This goes for:

  • Scuffs or scratches
  • Magnetic signs
  • Decals and stickers (be mindful not to remove the paintwork)
  • Windscreen chips or cracks

It’s recommended that you give the vehicle a once-over about 12 weeks before the lease is up, so you’ve got plenty of time to spot any issues and get them booked in for repair. Taking the car for a valet service at this time will help you to identify areas of wear and tear, and you should also take it for a freshen up just before handing it back over to the dealer, so it looks as good as new.

5. Not Having Repairs Taken Care of Professionally

If you notice a dent or scratch, it’s worth taking it to a professional body shop to have it repaired before handing your lease car back over. Trying to cut corners and have it fixed on the cheap will usually end up with the lease company being unsatisfied and you being out of pocket twice.

6. Forgetting to Top Up the Fluids

Of course, checking the oil, washer fluid, brake fluid and coolant levels should be a regular task while you own the car, but it’s particularly important to top them up before returning your car. Make sure everything under the bonnet is looking as it should and you’ll avoid some hefty fines.

As you can see, most of these errors can be avoided with a little bit of care and planning. Before leasing a car – and certainly before returning it – make sure you understand exactly what condition is acceptable to bring it back in, and you should save yourself a good chunk of money.

It might be tempting to leave the cleaning and repairs to the leasing company, but remember that they will almost always charge significantly more than just taking care of any damage or dirt yourself.