Once you start, it’s hard to stop.

People who lease cars lease again and again. More than four out of five people who lease an are repeat customers.

“That’s been the same for four or five years now,” says Art Spinella, vice president of CNW Marketing/Research in Bandon, Ore. “People who lease tend to lease on a regular basis.”

Every three years …
Blame it on the three-year itch.

Every three years or so, Americans start itching for a new set of wheels. It’s been happening since the 1950s.

Year one is the honeymoon period — you love everything about your car.

In year two, some of the new-car euphoria has faded but you still feel comfy and content as you zoom around town.

By year three your eye is beginning to wander. Newer, hipper models are everywhere. What’s parked in the driveway seems boring. Your car is still nice, you guess; and yeah, it still runs OK; but it’s starting to take some work to maintain. And what’s up with all those little noises?

“The tires start to look bad. The rattles start to really rattle and the creaks start to really creak,” Spinella says. “The car isn’t as shiny as it used to be no matter how much you wash and wax it.”

And soon it’s replaced with another. Is it possible to satisfy your desire for a new car and still get a good leasing deal? The answer is yes, but be prepared to do some work.

Don’t be in such a rush
A car dealer will be eager to get you into a new lease lickety-split. Don’t be rushed. Make it clear to the dealer that you have other options.

“I think it’s very important if you’ve leased before to say ‘I’m going to lease a car but I may not lease it from you,’ ” says Remar Sutton, president of the Consumer Task Force for Automotive Issues. “Make them earn your business.”

That means shopping around.

“Shop dealer to dealer, and if you’re not sold on a particular brand, shop between brands,” says Jack Nerad, author of
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Buying or Leasing a Car.

It’s important to know your alternatives before it’s time to return your leased car to the dealership.

“The only thing you really have as an advantage is you can drop off the keys and walk away,” Spinella says. “Find out the leasing information from another manufacturer and take it into the dealership. Make sure the salesperson knows you have an alternative. If you don’t get the right deal, feel free to go down the street.”

Web sites such as
Intellichoice and
Edmund’s Automobile Buyers Guide list leasing specials and incentives.

Un-cool cars the best deals
Some of the best leasing deals can be found on the slowest-selling models.

“Take advantage of an automaker’s dilemma of cars they can’t sell,” says Mark Eskeldson, an auto expert and author of
CarInfo.com, a consumer information and advocacy Web site. “They give them away in leases.”

Staying on top of what’s hot, what’s not in the auto business can help you nab a good deal.
Automobile Magazine Online,
Motor Trend Online,
TheCarConnection.com and
Automotive News are among the sites covering the twists and turns of the auto industry.

Leasing a car that’s getting killed in sales by an ultra-hot competitor can mean big savings. If you’re willing to give up a smidgen of hipness, you could walk away with more cash in your pocket.

“You’re not going to keep it. You’re not going to lease more than three years,” Eskeldson says. “Since it’s not your car, you might as well try to save some money on the deal.”

Whether you lease the hottest-selling car or the slowest, every leasing customer can save money by negotiating the capitalized cost, which is lease-speak for the car’s current value.

“Many people are paying over sticker price and it’s unknown to them,” Nerad says.

In a lease, you pay the difference between a car’s current value, its “capitalized cost,” and the amount the car is expected to be worth at the end of the lease, its “residual value,” plus a monthly financing fee.

Be sure to crunch the numbers on your own before signing on. This
worksheet will show you how.

Haggle a little
Repeat leasing customers shouldn’t be afraid to ask for a break on excess mileage and wear-and-tear charges.

“Say, ‘I’ll lease with you again if you waive excess mileage charges and you waive excess wear-and-tear charges from that little shopping-cart ding,’ ” Eskeldson says. “It has to be reasonable.”

Be sure to get the security deposit on your old lease shifted to your new one. Ask for it in writing. Remember, that wasn’t a down payment you made when you started the lease; it was a security deposit and you get it back unless you lease another car.

Remember, too, your car company and your dealer
want you to lease again. Six months before a lease is up auto manufacturers start sending out loyalty coupons. They’ll waive a monthly payment or give $500 cash back to anyone who leases another car from them. Dealers want you to come back. They can sweeten the deal when they have to. Make them.

“There’s always incentives in the background that you may or may not know about that the dealer knows about,” Spinella says. “A dealer may also be able to dip into their own profit margin to seal the deal.”

Keep your emotions in check. No matter how much you
want to hop in that new car and drive away, don’t let it show. Stay focused on the matter at hand — negotiating the best leasing deal that you can. Don’t let the dealer pressure you into signing anything you don’t want to. Bring a friend for support.

“The reason you want to bring someone with you is to give you the courage to walk out,” Eskeldson says. “A friend can whisper in your ear and say, ‘That’s not a good deal. Let’s go.’ “

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