Starting in May, BMW customers with expiring leases will get a little help in assessing whether paint dings and other blemishes will cost them money when the vehicle is turned in.
BMW Financial Services Inc. will send its lessees a device it calls the 'ding-o-meter,' a clear plastic circle about the size of a compact disc. It can be laid against dents and scrapes on a vehicle to determine if the problem areas are smaller than the maximums allowed.
BMW says it will not charge for door dings smaller than two inches in diameter, or for windshield cracks or 'stars' smaller than a half-inch in diameter. In addition, there is a one-eighth-inch gauge to check tire wear.
Rival Mercedes-Benz Credit Corp. introduced a similar test in 1997. Mercedes does not charge for dings, scratches or carpet or upholstery stains that are smaller than a credit card.
Fear of lease-end charges is high on the list of consumer concerns about leasing, said Bob Devine managing director of BMW Financial Services.
'The idea of this (the ding-o-meter) is to take some of the anxiousness out of the lease-end process,' he said.
About 30 percent to 40 percent of BMW customers are liable for excess wear and tear charges, Devine said, although not everyone ends up paying.
'In many cases, the dealer takes care of it, or the customer buys the car,' Devine said.
According to CNW Marketing Research of Bandon, Ore., about 38 percent of U.S. lease customers are charged for excess wear and tear, and they pay an average of $1,842.
That was up from about 36 percent and an average payout of $1,711 the year before, said Art Spinella, CNW vice president.
Charges for excess mileage are far more common, especially for leases with an annual allowance of 10,000 miles. About 56 percent of 10,000-mile lease customers paid for excess miles at lease end last year, and the charges average $2,009, CNW said.
About 12 percent of customers with a 15,000-mile annual allowance had to pay, he said, and the average payout was $2,600.