How Residual Values are Calculated
The residual value is simply the estimated value of the car at the end of the lease.
It's the price at which you can buy the car from the leasing company if you decide to keep it when your lease is up - and this figure is always stated in the Lease Contract.
The residual value is shown as a dollar figure, but it's actually calculated as a percentage of MSRP (Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price).
For example, let's say the car you're leasing has a sticker price (MSRP) of $25,000 and its residual value is 50% after a 36 month lease. The car will have a residual value of $12,500 at the end the lease - pretty simple.
So how do leasing companies determine the residual values? Most use the Automotive Lease Guide (ALG) as a starting point. ALG publishes a Residual Percentage Guide that lists each vehicle's predicted wholesale value after 2, 3, 4, and 5 years.
The wholesale value is the price the car will typically sell at auction, which is how some leasing companies dispose of their vehicles after the lease ends.
The wholesale value is lower than what the car would fetch at retail price - so it's good to keep that in mind.
In order to view the latest ALG residual values, you need to purchase a one-year subscription through their web site at ALG.com. The subscription costs about $100.
Alternatively, some leasing software programs such as Expert Lease Pro include the ALG values as part of their licence.
Cars.com also lists the ALG residual values, however, the information is not completely up-to-date.
Although most leasing companies use ALG as their main guide, the residual values you'll get quoted tend to be a few percentage points higher than what ALG quotes. This is because many leases are subsidized by the manufacturer and they artificially raise the values in order to lower the lease payments.
Different leasing sources will often quote different residual values for the same vehicle. These are not negotiable, so that's why it really pays to get lease terms from multiple sources including banks, car dealers, credit unions and independent leasing companies.
One easy way to see what the going rates are: call up the finance department of a local car dealer and ask them what the best current residual values and money factors are for a 36 month, 15,000 miles per year lease (or whatever your preference is) for the car of your choice.
You should have no problem getting this information.
My Recommendation for Car ShoppersTrueCar No-Haggle, Edmunds Price Promise and 1-800 Car Show are the quickest way to see the lowest car prices in your area. These sites show you no-haggle prices from dealers closest to you - and the deals are usually really good. This should be the first step you take when negotiating your car price. Follow this up with my checklist to make sure you squeeze out every last bit of savings.
- Gregg Fidan
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About: Gregg Fidan
Gregg Fidan + is the founder of RealCarTips. After being ripped off on his first car purchase, he devoted several years to figuring out the best ways to avoid scams and negotiate the best car deals. He has written hundreds of articles on the subject of car buying and taught thousands of car shoppers how to get the best deals.