What Is a Short-Term Car Lease?

How to know if it makes sense for your temporary driving needs

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If you are looking to drive a car for a few days, you might head to a rental car company. If you want your own set of wheels for a longer period, you might buy or lease a vehicle. But maybe you only want to be on the hook for the vehicle for a couple of months. It can be tricky to navigate the logistics of a short-term lease of a vehicle. However, a variety of options do exist for those who want this sort of temporary arrangement.

What Is a Short-Term Car Lease? 

First off, most traditional car leases last for 24 to 60 months. In a conventional lease, you agree to pay a set amount of money per month and stick to a maximum number of miles throughout the lease, usually around 15,000 miles per year. At the end of the lease period, you either turn your vehicle in or negotiate an agreement to buy the vehicle near the conclusion of the lease term.

For some individuals, two years is more than they want to commit to a particular make and model of vehicle. If that is you, you have a few options. A short-term lease can come in the form of a long-term car rental or a lease swap. 

Long-Term Rentals

Many rental car companies offer longer-term rentals. However, you can expect to pay a lot for the privilege of not having to pay a deposit or stick to a mileage limit. A recent search of car rentals from national companies found that you can expect to pay between $700 to over $1,100 per month for a midsized rental vehicle. Instead, a typical lease would cost around $457 a month, depending on the car and your location. 

Lease Swap

This is a much more affordable option, assuming you can find someone willing to swap. In a lease swap, you “take over” another person’s lease (also known as “assumption”), including the mileage limits and any other restrictions that come with the existing lease. This could help you pay less per month than a long-term rental and only have the car for a few months or a year.

You may have to pass a credit check with the original car dealership that authorized the lease you’re taking over to ensure you qualify for it. 

Pros and Cons of a Short-Term Car Lease 

  • Perfect for commitment-phobes

  • A rare good deal can be found

  • Can be expensive

  • May be a hassle to find one

Perfect for Commitment-Phobes

If you know that you won’t want to drive a particular vehicle for longer than a year or so, it might not make financial sense to have a longer lease that you might end up breaking. And it doesn’t make sense to buy a new vehicle, only to have to go through the hassle of selling it a short time later. The financial hit from the vehicle’s depreciation might be too much for most drivers. 

A Rare Good Deal Can be Found

If you see someone eager to break their car lease, whether it’s because of a cross-country move or they are just tired of the same leased vehicle, then you might be able to take it over. If you’re lucky, maybe they’ll even offer you a financial incentive to help them out of a tricky situation.

Keep your eyes peeled for a motivated seller. They might offer a cash incentive or cover the transfer costs.

Can be Expensive

If you pick a short-term option from a car rental company, you can expect to pay a lot of money for the privilege of short-term commitment. And whether you choose to lease from a dealership or take over someone else’s, you could end up stuck with required monthly payments that are more than you’d really like to spend. Buying and selling a car after a short period of time could also cost a lot in the form of a down payment, monthly payments, and depreciation in value (you could end up selling the car for much less than you originally paid). 

May be a Hassle to Find One

If you want to take over an existing lease, you will have to find one through a lease swap site or dealership. You’ll also have to go through the same approval process that a typical car lease seeker would with the dealership, but you will have less time to benefit from the vehicle, despite the equal amount of trouble it took to secure. 

Should I Get a Short-Term Car Lease? 

Generally, it makes more sense for most individuals to stick with a regular two- or three-year lease or to maybe buy a vehicle. However, if you always insist on having a new set of wheels and you’re willing to do a lot of research, you can often find a decent deal on a lease takeover. Likewise, if you need a vehicle only for a few weeks, then it might make sense to bite the bullet and pay the high fees from a car rental company—especially if your employer will help cover the costs.

Article Sources

  1. U.S. Federal Reserve. "Negotiating Terms and Comparing Lease Offers," Accessed Nov. 25, 2019.

  2. Federal Trade Commission. "Should I Lease a Car?," Accessed Nov. 25, 2019.

  3. Experian. "State of the Automotive Finance Market," Accessed Nov. 1, 2019.