How to Avoid Excess Fees When Returning A Lease Vehicle

2012 Mercedes-Benz C350 Sedan lease vehicle
TFLcar Fun Fact: About 56% of all Mercedes-Benz vehicles are leased. Source: Mercedes-Benz Financial Services USA, LLC.

Recently, I turned in the first lease vehicle I’ve ever signed for, a 2010 Mercedes-Benz C300 Sport. Save for the obligatory “lease turn-in fee” that I had agreed to in the original lease contract, I was able to turn in the vehicle sans any additional fees, an occurrence a buddy of mine was not so lucky to mirror.

My amigo Mark ended up getting hit with over $1800 in excess fees as a result of poor maintenance of his car before the lease ended. Here’s how not to be a Mark:

About two months before your lease is up…

Give your car a good scrubbing and interior cleaning. This will let you inspect the paint and upholstery for anything that might need tending to in the Ding and Tear Department.

Schedule a pre-turn-in inspection. Visit the dealer a two months before you turn in the vehicle to have them perform a pre-turn-in inspection. A helpful inspector will be able to tell you anything that looks like it might result in additional charges. You’ll still have time to get the issue fixed at a lower price than going through the dealer.

A 2010 Mercedes-Benz C300 being inspected at lease turn-in.
My 2010 Benz gets the once-over by Merc inspector. A dealer pre-inspection for your lease turn-in could help you save hundreds, even thousands of dollars.

Does the paint pass the credit card test? If there are any scratches or dents on the body of the car, place a credit card on one of them. Does the plastic completely cover up the damage? If so, you’re in the clear and don’t have to get it repaired. If it is bigger, now is the time to take the car to a trusted body shop. Remember, you don’t have to take it to the expensive dealer to get the repair performed. Taking it to an independent shop could save you some serious bucks.

If a scratch is bigger than the credit card, but looks like something you might be able to buff out of the clear coat, go for it. I was surprised how many scratches on the trunk of my Benz came out with a little elbow grease and some simple paint care products from the auto parts store.

Touch-up paint could save you thousands. For $28 I purchased a little bottle of touch-up paint from the dealer’s parts department. I had a very thin, 7-inch scratch on the lower side of the front bumper. After a little neck craning and Picasso-like strokes, the white plastic groove in the bumper was now color matched Mercedes-Benz Steel Gray Metallic. Nice. If scratches are wider than 1/8-inch, take it to your paint and body independent.

Replace or mend damaged interiors. If you have a tear in your seat, don’t forget about turning to online auction or forum sites for the correct replacement part. Going through the dealer’s part department will undoubtedly result in a coronary when you get the price quote from the manager behind the counter — so take it from me — the Interwebs are your friend.

Make sure your tire treads are in good shape. Do the penny test: Grab an Abe Lincoln and stick it into the tread of each corner. If you always see the top of Abe’s head, the dealer is going to hit you with a tire replacement fee. Save money by getting new tires from the Web or a local independent reseller.

Make sure your maintenance is up to date. If the “check engine” notification is lit up on your dashboard at turn-in, you’ll definitely get dinged for more fees. Using your favorite mechanic to get regular maintenance sorted helps avoid this situation.


Ryan’s passion for automobiles began at age eight when his father brought home the quintessential sports car: A Guards Red, 1974 Porsche 911 Targa. Ever since, his free time has been consumed with following the latest developments of the automotive industry.