Drivers at the end of their car lease typically have three options: walk away, trade the vehicle in, or buy it outright. As the pandemic and a chip shortage drive up the cost of used rides, the last option might now be the most appealing: You could make a lot of money flipping a leased car.
"This is probably going to be the best time to sell for the rest of the year," says Ivan Drury, senior manager of insights at Edmunds.
"Everybody wants your car," he says, including dealerships and private buyers. "You have a lot of control in this situation."
Researchers at iSeeCars.com analyzed roughly 10 million new and pre-owned car sales to find the top vehicles from model year 2018 that you could buy at the end of a lease and then quickly sell for the most profit.
They estimated depreciation values for the now 3-year-old rides and applied that to the original sticker prices. Once they found the residual value, or the car's forecasted worth after wear-and-tear, they compared it to the average price tag of a used vehicle sold from May to July.
Here are 10 used cars that owners can profit most by flipping, according to iSeeCars.
Potential profit: $8,677
Difference between market and residual value: 61.3%
Potential profit: $11,806
Difference between market and residual value: 55.9%
Potential profit: $12,346
Difference between market and residual value: 52.9%
Video by Stephen Parkhurst
Potential profit: $6,228
Difference between market and residual value: 49.4%
Potential profit: $6,400
Difference between market and residual value: 49.3%
Potential profit: $8,084
Difference between market and residual value: 49.2%
Potential profit: $6,167
Difference between market and residual value: 48.3%
Potential profit: $6,392
Difference between market and residual value: 48.2%
Potential profit: $5,319
Difference between market and residual value: 47.9%
Potential profit: $7,193
Difference between market and residual value: 46.8%
With new vehicles more expensive and used ones harder to find, it makes sense that the value of pre-owned cars is rising, even after depreciation. But people who are leasing have unique circumstances.
"If you're currently leasing a vehicle, you have a buyout price," Drury explains. That's the predetermined value dealers estimate the car will be worth after you use it.
Say you signed a 36-month length lease in 2018: At the start of the lease, the dealer will estimate the number of miles your drive and the car's anticipated condition at lease-end to get the residual value and the buyout figures. But "they didn't see a pandemic coming, or that the U.S. market was going to go completely crazy. Because of that, you can stand to benefit from those baked-in assumptions."
The average three-year-old used car is worth 31.5%, or $7,019, more than its residual value predetermined at the beginning of its lease, according to iSeeCars. Across the board, the average transaction price for all used vehicles hit a whopping $21,558 in July, per Edmunds, up more than $700 from June.
Dealers determine and lock in a car's residual value based on its projected depreciation. But drivers can sell their used cars at market value now, he adds, "versus a lease buyout value." Check in with websites like Edmunds and Kelley Blue Book to find out what your ride is worth.
Video by Jason Armesto
It can be tempting to sell your used ride considering how hot the market is, but if you need a car right now, it may be best to hang onto it, says Matt DeLorenzo, senior managing editor for Kelley Blue Book: "Even if you sell it in this market, your replacement will likely cost more."
The average transaction price for new cars in June was $42,258 in June, reports KBB.
If buying your car at the end of the lease and selling it makes sense for you, though, lay the groundwork before hitting the gas. Traditionally, you'll get better deals selling on the private market to another driver, versus to the dealership. But given the competitive market, do some digging to see where you can get the best price.
"That's how you can make money," says Drury. "That's why it's imperative that you shop around and get those quotes from everyone. It's gotten so much easier to sell a car now, versus back in the day. That's the best part."
More from Grow: