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Auto leasing surges to record high

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American car buyers have once again fallen in love with leasing.

New data from Experian Automotive shows auto leasing hit a record high with 27.6 percent of financed new vehicles purchases in the second quarter being a lease.

"Leasing has become very popular and it's been rising steadily," said Melinda Zabritski, Experian's Senior Director of Automotive Credit. "Right now, the average monthly payment on a lease is about $50 less than it is for buying a new car with a traditional auto loan."

In the second quarter, the average monthly payment for a new vehicle lease was $408, down $8 from the same period in 2012.

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Todd Skelton, who oversees AutoNation dealerships in Palm Beach and Broward County, Florida, said customers are now hunting for the lowest monthly payment with a new car or truck, and often that means taking out a lease.

"People are much more open-minded about leasing. Nowadays, almost any make or model can be leased and that's attractive to a lot of customers," noted Skelton.

Leasing comeback with auto rebound

Three years ago, just 17.7 percent of vehicles bought with financing were leased.

But leasing has soared since then due to a combination of more aggressive leasing offers by automakers and buyers searching for the best option to keep monthly payments in check amid rising new car and truck prices.

"Manufacturers have enhanced their lease options so leasing is often a better deal than financing with a loan," Skelton added.

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Consider what's happened with pickup trucks. Skelton pointed to a few years ago when the monthly payment for a three or four year pickup lease was often around $500 while buying the same truck with an auto loan would cost approximately $400 a month.The opposite holds true today as better terms and the extremely low interest for lease packages make it often less expensive to lease pickups rather than buy.

"Pickup truck leasing has become much more popular," said Skelton.

Amount Financed, Loan Length Climbs

With the average transaction price (what buyers actually pay dealers) for a new car or truck now greater than $31,000, the average amount financed by buyers in the second quarter climbed $812 to $26,526.

Meanwhile, the duration of a typical auto loan in the second quarter has increased by a month to 5 years and 5 months.

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Experian said the average new vehicle auto loan rose $5 in the second quarter to $457.

Almost 20 percent of all new vehicle loans issued between April and June called for buyers stretching out payments over 6 to 7 years. Because they are taking out longer loans at interest rates that are usually just over 4 percent, many car buyers are changing their approach in dealerships.

Car buyers are increasingly taking cash back over the lowest interest rate being offered because rates are already so low," said Zabritski.

—By CNBC's Phil LeBeau. Follow him on Twitter @LeBeauCarNews.

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com.

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