What is Normal Wear and Tear on a Car?

When you're browsing used car listings, you might come across the term 'normal wear and tear' to describe a car's condition. Outside of these listings, understanding exactly what wear and tear means has become especially important now that so many of us are leasing or buying on PCPs. Finance companies can impose stiff penalties if the wear and tear on a car isn't normal – but what exactly is normal wear and tear? Read our guide to avoid getting caught out.

What is normal wear and tear on a car?

Fair wear and tear

Your finance agreement will usually make reference to the phrase ‘Fair wear and tear’, and many will use the guide provided by the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA). Before you finance or lease, it’s worth checking that the company you’re going with is a member of the BVRLA so you can be assured they’re sticking to professional industry standards. Your company should share the association’s ‘Fair Wear and Tear Guide’, but you can also find it online or even order a hard copy.

Deterioration not damage

The BVRLA defines fair wear and tear as deterioration through normal usage, rather than damage caused, for example, by an accident. Some small chips, scuffs and tyre wear (as long as the tyres are still legal) are usually fine, but if you’ve kerbed your alloys, that’s damage you’ll need to get repaired.

Negligence or omission

The ‘Fair Wear and Tear Guide’ talks of negligence or omission. In other words, something you did or didn’t do that caused avoidable damage doesn’t count as fair wear and tear. So, a bit of wear on the seat from getting in and out of the car is fine, but if you’ve burnt a hole in it because you weren’t careful enough with a cigarette, that’s on you. Likewise, if you’ve ignored that nagging engine management light for six months instead of getting it seen to, it’s going to cost you.

So what’s normal?

It’d be easy to over-complicate this so let’s keep it simple: basically, if you were buying the car in its current condition at a dealership, would you be happy? It’s no longer a new car, so it’s not going to look like it just rolled off the production line, but you’d still expect a three-year-old car to look and drive well.

If the car you’re handing back was sat on a garage forecourt, would someone want to buy it? If there’s a clunking from the gearbox, a scrape on the bonnet, the seats are stained and it smells of that milk your little one dropped and you didn’t clean up properly, the answer is probably no – or, not unless it’s very, very cheap. That’s exactly the point. If the finance company can justify that the value of the car is unnecessarily reduced, they’re going to want that money from you.

In short, anything outside of the below will likely not count as normal wear and tear, and so will be liable to charges.

Bodywork, windows and lights

Small surface scrapes, scuffs and chips on bodywork should be fine and even small (1 cm) dents. The same is true of windows and lights/lamps. However, chips on the windscreen must have been repaired and not be in the driver’s sight-line.

Tyres and wheels

As long as tyre treads are at or above the legal limit and there’s no damage to the tyre, that should be okay. Tyre wear needs to be even across all four tyres too. If it isn’t, that suggests that you haven’t kept them inflated evenly or there’s a mechanical issue you should have addressed.

As with most of the vehicle exterior, very small marks on the wheels are okay, but a kerbed alloy won’t fly so you’ll need to get it fixed. Luckily, that’s not such an expensive job these days and there are plenty of specialists around.


Acceptable faults here are what the BVRLA refers to as normal wear and soiling. After years of driving, the driver’s floor mat is going to have picked up some damage and your seat may have got a little worn, but holes, rips and tears to any part of the interior aren’t considered fair wear and tear. Nasty odours are something the finance company will probably (ahem) make a stink over, too.

So, wear and tear is something you really need to think about, especially when leasing or financing a car. Our best advice here is the same as we would give to any driver: look after your car and it will look after you. Treat it well, service it regularly and get things fixed in plenty of time. Before handing it back, it’s wise to get a full valet and even a once-over from a local bodyshop.

Latest advice articles

Latest best of articles