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ask joanne

The lease on our Honda Odyssey is almost up. Four years ago, when we returned our old van, they ran the vehicle through a micro-scanner and tried to nickel and dime us on every little mark. What is a reasonable amount of wear for a leased vehicle? We have some large scratches from wear and tear that we plan to take care of. Does Honda really expect a vehicle with 90,000 kilometres on it to be in mint condition when we return it? – Kevin in Maple, Ont.

It's wise to know your lease-end terms before you sign on the dotted line. At the end of the lease, if the lessor is not satisfied with the condition of the vehicle, you can be penalized – and this isn't necessarily because they're out to get you.

"Going back about 15 years, what was happening was all these vehicles were coming back and they were badly damaged, and no one was being held accountable," says Craig Martin, director of Canadian operations at Apex Inspection Solutions.

Leasing companies are a little more stringent these days. Unfortunately, though, no standardized set of guidelines exists. What constitutes a reasonable amount of wear and tear to one company is not necessarily acceptable to another.

Most leasing companies supply an end-of-term booklet at the beginning of the lease. That way if damage does occur, you have a guide as to what you'll be charged at the end of the term. If it's not stashed in the bottom of your glove box or hiding in a desk drawer, contact the dealer or lease company (in your case, Honda) to obtain a copy.

Honda Canada's definition of acceptable wear and tear includes items such as: up to nine stone chips on the hood and a maximum of four chips per panel on other body panels, and minor scratches and scuffs to the bumpers that can be buffed out. Examples of excess wear and tear provided by Honda include: chipped, cracked or broken glass, and rips, tears or burns in the upholstery. You'll have to contact Honda for the comprehensive list in its Lease Maturity Guide.

Once you're familiar with the terms, and armed with a list of chargeable items, at the very least you can have a look at your vehicle and get an idea of which items might trigger a charge when your lease is up.

Some companies, including Honda, offer an inspection before the lease-end to determine the condition of the vehicle and make the customer fully understand whether there is any excess wear and tear. Honda Canada offers a free, third-party inspection that takes about 30 minutes, and is typically conducted 45 days before the end of the term. This can be performed, Honda says, at your home, office, or another location that's convenient. For those leasing with companies that don't offer this service, you can always choose to hire a third-party inspection company such as AutoVIN, DataScan, or Apex Inspection Solutions.

"This gives the consumer the option of getting the repairs done him or herself, rather than waiting for it to go back to the dealer and getting nickel and dimed. If you simply take it in the day the lease is up, you'd be at their mercy at that point, you've got no recourse – and I'd say that's living dangerously," says George Powell of the Automobile Protection Association.

If you've had an inspection ahead of time, you can take your list of damages to the appropriate repair specialists and ask for an estimate, compare it to what the leasing company will charge, and decide whether you want to have the damages repaired on your own, or be billed for them.

A word of caution: tempting though it may be to cut corners, you'll want to be selective about where you take your vehicle for repair.

"One thing many people don't realize is that if you're involved in an accident, you're not dinged at the end of the lease for the accident, but you are responsible to ensure the repairs are done well. That's why it's always important to take it to a reputable body shop," says Martin.

"None of the leasing companies expect a perfect vehicle when it comes back. It really all depends on those end-of-term guidelines, and what the liable damages are."

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