Experts say you can sometimes obtain a better lease by breaking the deal into its components and negotiating each point.
Start with the capitalized cost of the vehicle, which is simply the negotiated price of the car if you were to purchase it outright.
Edmunds.com, Kelley and TrueCar.com all are useful sites that can help you figure out the lowest price for the vehicle.
TrueCar.com just unveiled a tool that can help you get to the low price range quickly. Its website will generate a graph charting the price of closed sales transactions in your region for the model and trim level you want. A "lowest certified price" shows what several dealers have agreed to sell the vehicle for, plus taxes and registration fees. (This is operated by a company affiliated with TrueCar.com that manages sales referrals.)
A Southern California shopper looking at TrueCar.com would see an $18,552 offer for that Honda Accord, along with prices as much as $1,200 higher from other dealers. The car has a sticker price of $22,565.
Honda's lease offer assumes a sales price, or capitalized cost, of $20,961. So, use the $18,552 as the starting point for negotiating the capitalized cost portion of your lease. Other dealers might not move all the way down, but some are likely to drop their price by a significant amount.
The next piece of the puzzle is what's called the "money factor." Jesse Toprak, an analyst at TrueCar.com, says that this is just a different way of expressing an interest rate and is "designed to confuse consumers."
The money factor on this Honda deal is 0.00137. It seems pretty meaningless, but if you multiply it by 2,400 (this always works regardless of the number) you get 3.29%, or the true interest rate on the deal.
Now you know if that component of the transaction is competitive with what you might get from a bank or credit union and whether it is in line with your own credit rating. It never hurts to ask for a better rate. (In this instance, American Honda says lease customers must accept this money factor to take advantage of a popular option of having their first monthly payment waived.)
The next piece of the puzzle is listed in the lease as the residual value of the vehicle, an estimate of what the car will be worth at the end of the lease. New vehicles with high residual, or resale, values typically have lower lease payments than other autos in a similar price range.
Manufacturers will disclose the residual value in the lease offer, but it is usually stated as the dollar amount you can pay to purchase the car at the end of the contract. You have to convert it to a percentage of the sticker price to be able to compare to other offers. Honda says the Accord's purchase option is $13,539, which translates to a 60% residual. Residuals vary depending on the lender funding the transaction.
Remember, you want the residual to be as high as possible and the capitalized cost and interest rate to be as low as possible.
Other factors that affect the contract include how much cash, if any, the manufacturer puts into the deal as an incentive, the size of any down payment you might make, the length of the lease and the miles allowed.
Edmunds.com has a handy lease calculator that lets you alter variables to see how different residual, money factor and capitalized cost numbers change the contract.
In any deal, make sure the contract includes gap insurance, which covers any difference in what an insurance company will pay out if a car is destroyed in an accident and the value the lease company has assigned to the vehicle. Many manufacturers automatically wrap that into the transaction, but you should never sign a contract without checking that it includes this coverage.
You also want to be sure you're getting a closed-end lease. (The Honda contract says so upfront.) That means that if you return the car with normal wear and tear you can walk away with no further expenses, even if the vehicle's resale value is below what was estimated at the time the contract was signed. Most dealers write closed-end leases, but still double-check.
Never lease a car for a period longer than its warranty. One of the advantages of leases is that you should never have to worry about having to pay for repairs beyond normal maintenance.
Finally, be sure to "keep verifying that everything is in fact as good as it seems to be," said Reed of Edmunds.com. "It is very easy to be bamboozled."