Should You Buy an Off-Lease Car?

honda used car dealership jpg Honda Used Cars dealership | photo by Christian Lantry

Buying a vehicle that’s been returned on a lease is a good way to get a relatively new and lightly used car, one that might even have some of the factory warranty remaining. If you’re uneasy about buying a used vehicle, getting an off-lease vehicle that’s being sold as certified pre-owned can add an extra layer of peace of mind with factory-required preparation and additional warranty backing from the automaker.

Related: Have Used Car Prices Finally Plateaued?

Off-lease vehicles attract budget-conscious shoppers looking to upgrade their ride at a lower price, as the lessee already paid the initial new-car depreciation in value. Even more shoppers these days are looking for good two- or three-year-old vehicles coming off leases because new-car prices continue to climb — the average new-car transaction passed $45,000 in September — and supplies of popular new vehicles continue to be low thanks to the chip shortage. The trade-off for the savings on an off-lease vehicle, however, is that you still are buying a used car with inherently more risk than with a new car.

Advantages of an Off-Lease Car

There is relatively steady supply

There has been a boom in leasing. While the share of new vehicles leased has declined some in the pandemic, it hit record highs of about a third of the market about three years ago and those cars are now coming back as used cars.

They have low mileage

Because of lease mileage limits — typically about 12,000 miles a year — and high excess mileage charges, most off-lease cars won’t show high numbers on the odometer.

Most have been gently used

Off-lease cars tend to show just normal wear and tear because of lease penalties for excess defects.

They’ll likely be safer and more updated than what you’re driving now

Safety, media and convenience technology on mainstream vehicles has changed markedly even in just the past five years. Meanwhile, the average age of a vehicle on U.S. roads in 2021 is at 12.1 years old. A two- or three-year-old vehicle could be a big change from your current daily driver.

They might have some warranty left

Off-lease cars from some brands may still have some factory warranty left that can be transferred to a second owner.

Off-Lease Vehicles Still Have Risks

It’s still a used vehicle and requires the same checks

Foremost is to get a vehicle history, such as a Carfax report, to verify details including previous ownership, type of use (you want personal use, not fleet) and mileage, as well as major damage or accidents. You can buy one, but many dealers will provide one for free. Many of the used car listings on also offer a free report by clicking on the Carfax link in the listing.

The vehicle history report won’t tell you everything

It doesn’t include all accidents, only those reported to police or insurance companies. It also won’t tell you how the off-lease vehicle was treated, and it may be thin on maintenance details since required maintenance in the first few years is usually minimal. You should also consider budgeting for an independent mechanic to inspect the vehicle before you buy.

You should budget for routine repairs relatively soon

Off-lease vehicles are likely to still have their factory battery, tires, and brake pads and rotors. These “wear items” won’t be covered by any remaining factory warranty, and their replacement as needed will be on you.

What About CPO?

Many off-lease vehicles are sold as CPO — a special category of late-model, low-mileage used cars that come with some added warranty. A CPO designation can add peace of mind about the risks of a used car in exchange for a higher price — generally a few hundred to thousand dollars — than comparable non-CPO cars.

The CPO tag means that the used vehicle has passed the automaker’s prescribed inspection and that any mechanical or cosmetic issues have been fixed. And a CPO vehicle typically comes with an automaker-backed bundle of extras such as an extension of the factory warranty, a vehicle history report and sometimes roadside assistance.

If a CPO used vehicle sounds good to you, offers a lot more detailed answers to your CPO questions in our roundup here, and you can search for certified used vehicles near you among’s nationwide listings.

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Former D.C. Bureau Chief Fred Meier, who lives every day with Washington gridlock, has an un-American love of small wagons and hatchbacks. Email Fred Meier

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