Leasing is a perfectly viable and legitimate way to finance a new car. Although leasing offers attractive benefits, it is somewhat more complex than buying with a loan. This means there can be pitfalls if a decision to lease is made for the wrong reasons.
Therefore, a comparison of leasing versus buying is always a useful exercise when considering automobile financing. One option will generally be decidedly better than the other in any specific situation.
Let's first look at the financial side of the analysis.
Leasing always results in lower monthly payments than a conventional automobile loan, assuming the same vehicle, same down payment, same interest rate, and same term. Lease payments will be as much as 60% less than loan payments. Therefore, if monthly payments are your most important consideration, leasing is a good financial option (although there may be other reasons you shouldn't lease -- see below).
However, in the long term, leasing actually costs more than buying assuming that the buyer keeps his/her vehicle for a long time after the loan has been paid. It doesn't take rocket science to figure out that leasing a new car every two or three years costs more than buying one car and keeping it until it falls apart. So if long-term cost is your highest priority, then leasing is not for you.
Even if leasing makes financial sense to you, there may be reasons that it won't work for you.
If you drive more than about 15,000 miles a year, leasing is not a good option for you. The reason is that leasing is designed for people who typically drive only average miles and don't want to pay for the entire value of a vehicle. They only pay for the relatively small part of the value of the vehicle that they actually use.
Leasing may not be a good option, too, if you don't typically maintain your vehicles well, carry only minimum insurance, like to modify your vehicles, or prefer the idea of ownership.
Furthermore, if you expect lifestyle changes (marriage, divorce, job change) that might cause you to want to end your lease before its normal end date, don't lease. Leases are designed in a way that makes it both troublesome and expensive to terminate early.
Al Hearn is owner and operator of LeaseGuide.com (http://www.LeaseGuide.com), a popular web site for automotive consumers interested in leasing. The web site has helped thousands of visitors since 1995.