One of the most common objections to contract hiring a car is that when you hand it back you need to worry about its condition.
Anyone handing back a shed can expect to be for all intents and purposes hammered by the finance company. Equally, someone handing a car back in near mint condition will not expect a bill. The grey area in the middle is where the issues tend to come about. Fret not, there are guidelines by which all funders adhere to when it comes to the condition in which the car can be handed back.
The British Vehicle Rental & Leasing Association (BVRLA) has a set of guidelines by which the funders must adhere when considering charging a customer for damage on a vehicle at the end of its lease. These guidelines are freely available to the public, but few finance companies or brokers provide this information to their customers.
What this means is that if you objectively look over your car at the end of the lease and it does not exceed the damage guidelines set out by the BVRLA, you should be fine.
But what if there is damage outside of the guidelines? Well worry not. Rather than handing the vehicle back and awaiting a bill, you can take it to any body repairer of your choosing, and get the remedial work done before the car goes back. You have control over the price charged, can shop around, and your expectations are properly managed (no surprises).
If however you don't like the idea of having to fix the car you have damaged, contract hire may not be for you. But that doesn't mean leasing is not for you. A contract purchase, hire purchase of finance lease may suit your needs as the car will have a final payment (unless an HP without a balloon) which you can pay by selling the car in the state it is. If you get more than the balloon (usually likely unless it really is a shed), happy days, if not...well chalk it down to experience.
At the end of the day it is best to look after your car, whether you are contract hiring it or purchasing it in one way or another as this will affect its residual value and either way a drop in residual value due to damage would always need to be paid for whether you can only sell it for X instead of Y, or because the finance company sends you a bill.