Buying a new car can be a stressful experience for even the most experienced consumer. Whether buying their first new car or their twentieth, the excitement of that big purchase is usually tempered by that nervous feeling as the salesperson goes to “talk to the manager” and work out a deal. The dealership and their salespeople have numerous techniques and secrets to attempt to part a buyer from more of their hard-earned cash than necessary.
The cards are stacked in the dealership’s favor, with years of experience and training, as well as the knowledge of what their products actually cost. The goal is profit, as it is for any retail business, but what the automobile dealership has that many other businesses do not is a plethora of add-ons, accessories, and extra fees that customers have to wade through before driving their brand new vehicles off the lot. Buying a pair of shoes usually doesn’t require numerous fees, taxes, and a large list of potential accessories to sort out.
Certain accessories are deemed necessary by some customers and paying for them simply can’t be avoided; some drivers simply must have that sunroof or rear spoiler. Some extra fees are unavoidable or difficult to escape paying, like taxes. However, there are those add-ons and fees that are unnecessary, available cheaper elsewhere, or simply just don’t make sense and are purely moneymakers for the dealer. The following is a list of 10 options and fees that are best to avoid and 10 that can often be negotiated into the price of the vehicle for free.
20 Options to Avoid: Rustproofing
“Gotta get that TruCoat!” Jerry Lundegaard insists. This fantastic scene from the Coen brothers’ brilliant movie “Fargo” echoes one seen millions of times in car dealerships across the world. But there are a couple of reasons why you shouldn’t purchase rustproofing from your dealer: cars are built much better these days, with better protection for their metal parts against corrosion. Also, much like many dealer-installed or dealer-performed options, the service can be purchased elsewhere for much cheaper. Finally, if, like many car buyers, you won’t be keeping the vehicle long term, it won’t make a difference for you or any real benefit in terms of resale value. So, don’t listen to Jerry Lundegaard.
19 Options to Avoid: Extended Warranty
The extended warranty is a game played by almost all retailers of expensive products. New 4K TV? Gotta get that extended warranty. Just had hardwood flooring installed? No good without the extended warranty. But what the extended warranty amounts to is a layer of pure profit for the seller and an expensive gamble for the customer. The gamble is: will the product break? It probably won’t. Will the warranty cover the product if it does break? In some cases, no. Will this outlay of cash leave my bank account, never to be seen or benefitted from again? Very likely.
18 Options to Avoid: GPS Systems
More and more cars these days come with GPS navigation as standard, but if pressed to upgrade for the sake of the GPS alone, it just is not worth it. Smartphone apps like Google Maps and Waze (incidentally owned by Google) make even the best in-car navigation systems obsolete. The nav systems from the manufacturers are simply not designed as well and lack the massive database required, especially compared to Google’s systems. Even worse, some in-car units require costly updates just to keep current, adding insult to expensive initial injury.
17 Options to Avoid: Fabric Protection
Fabric protection is an example of the kind of add-on that seems perfectly sensible when peering into the back seat of a pristine new car in the showroom. At that moment, it is very easy to forget that fabric protection doesn’t actually absorb all the Cheerios and chocolate bar wrappers your kids are going to leave back there and only really helps if you meticulously vacuum your car or have it detailed three times a year. Leave the fabric protection for the day you buy a Rolls-Royce and the chauffeur will be in charge of wiping up your Chateau de Chasselas for you.
16 Options to Avoid: Paint Protection
Like the fabric protection option, the paint protection gamble looks great when the brand new car is just about to drive off the lot. Yet to date, they have not invented a paint protection system that is an actual force field around the car because that is what would be needed to keep it in the pristine condition you imagine it will be with this magical dealer option. Sure, it the paint might bead water quite well when clean and maybe even resist UV fading a bit better but what the paint protection won’t do is wash your car after every rainfall or keep the salt from sticking to it all winter long.
15 Options to Avoid: Roof Racks
In places like the Pacific Northwest, roof racks are a cultural institution. With all the kayaking, skiing, and biking you’re going to do with your rugged SUV, you’re going to need that array of bars and holders up there permanently, right? Well, if you really must, your best bet is to purchase your roof rack at your local bike, ski, kayak, or car accessory retailer because the dealer-installed ones are overpriced. Not only that, but the dealer racks typically fit only the car you just bought, whereas the non-OE brands such as Yakima or Thule will adapt to different vehicles you might own down the road.
14 Options to Avoid: Tire And Wheel Packages
While it might be convenient to buy your winter tire and wheel package or “plus one” upgrade from the dealer, be prepared to pay considerably more for that convenience. Original equipment (OE) wheels are expensive and if your dealer is selling aftermarket wheels and tires, they will be charging an increased markup compared to the price you will pay at your local tire shop. Shop around town a bit or do some research on the internet and chances are very high you will get the same (or a similar) setup for much cheaper and with more choice than the limited selection available from dealerships.
13 Options to Avoid: Extra Insurance
Having extra insurance to pay off your vehicle in the event of some unforeseen incident can be smart, especially if you have family that would be stuck with the payments if you can’t make them. However, the extra insurance that dealerships offer is almost certainly more expensive than the same or similar policies offered by outside representatives. If you think you require insurance of this type, it really pays to shop around. Multiple quotes will ensure you get the most bang for your insurance buck. Keep in mind that some lease programs require insurance of this type, so do your research beforehand.
12 Options to Avoid: Dent Protection
After you have finalized the sale of your brand new car or truck with your salesperson, you will inevitably be sent to see the dealership’s "finance" person. Once in their cozy office, they will proceed to offer several different options and add-ons that were not discussed when the salesperson sealed your deal. One common ruse is dent protection, whereby for a not-insignificant fee, your car will be protected against the cost of dent removal for a certain number of years. Beware, however, that these warranties are not handled by the dealership, but by third-party insurers who simply contact local dent repair specialists when you make a claim. And read the fine print because many types and locations of dents are not covered.
11 Options to Avoid: Window Etching
There was a time when boosted cars went to the fabled “chop shop” to be broken down and sold, bolt by bolt. If the authorities raided one of these establishments, the fairy tale is that they could somehow reunite you with your beloved Volkswagen. Those days, however, are long gone (if they ever existed). Cars that go missing today are, within days or even hours, loaded into containers headed to another continent with much less stringent certification procedures. Paying the dealership to have a serial number or some other identifying barcode will only pad their profits and is highly unlikely to result in vehicle recovery.
10 Get For Free: Car Mats
The lowly car mat: stepped on, grimy, rarely noticed, but custom-designed to fit your vehicle (and often with snazzy logos on them). They keep your car’s floor a little cleaner and look quite nice if you happen to glance down there. However, quite often, the car mats come in the car as it is delivered to the dealership from the distributor, so if the salesperson asks if you would like to buy them, politely request that they be thrown into the deal for free. There's a good chance the salesman is willing to let them go to seal a deal.
9 Get For Free: Window Tinting
The window tint has become so ubiquitous that cars often look a little strange without it. A slight tint cuts down on the glare from the sun and keeps a vehicle’s interior cooler in hot weather; too dark of a tint can be dangerous and against the law, though. As far as dealer options go, the window tint falls into the area where getting it thrown into the deal is a definite possibility. Dealers have to get so many cars tinted that they will either be getting large discounts from their tint guy or they actually own the tint shop, so even though the list price might say $600, they are usually paying a lot less than that.
8 Get For Free: Protective Film
Like window tint, the protective film on the front of the car us a useful upgrade that is a prime candidate for working into your new car deal. Something as simple as a 20-cm strip on the leading edge of the hood will protect the most vulnerable area from rock chips, but if the front of the fenders and even the bumper cover can be thrown in, all the better. Back in the 1990s, the automotive “bra” was the big thing for protecting the paint from rock chips, but they didn’t do well when wet and dirty—and, if left that way, they could damage the paint all on their own. Luckily, clear bras are now widely available.
7 Get For Free: Nitrogen Tire Fill
If you don’t like drinking regular tap water at your favorite restaurant and prefer the $10-a-bottle spring water, you probably won’t want regular old air in your tires, either. Filling them with nitrogen is the latest craze in car dealership add-ons—but our atmosphere is already 78% nitrogen, so why pay extra for it? Nitrogen does not leak out of tires as fast and does not expand or contract as much with changing temperatures, so it does hold a slight advantage over regular air. Have your salesperson throw the nitrogen tire fill-up in and save the usual $70 to $100 charge.
6 Get For Free: Dealer Prep Fee
There are several dealership fees that may or may not show up on your invoice when purchasing a new vehicle; some you are required to pay and some are simply a way for the dealer to try and make more profit. The “dealer prep fee” is one you shouldn’t pay, since prepping the car for sale is something the dealer has to do anyway—and is something that is often worked into the cost of the vehicle or even paid to the dealership by the manufacturer. It is akin to Ticketmaster asking you to pay an extra service fee for simply buying a ticket from them. Hey, wait a minute…
5 Get For Free: First Oil Change
With some auto manufacturers offering different levels of free service with the purchase of a new vehicle, getting at least the first oil change for free on your brand new vehicle is a no-brainer. For the dealer, this is a great way to get the customer into their service department to see how (hopefully) good it is and have a chance to persuade them to continue to use their services. For the customer, this allows them to see how good or bad the dealership’s service department is—but also allows one of their mechanics to deal with the invariably over-tightened from the factory oil filter and drain bolt. Win-win!
4 Get For Free: Fog Lights
Fog lights, or accessory lighting, are becoming more and more integrated into vehicle packages and trim levels but some models still offer them as dealership add-ons or upgrades. Whether or not you agree with their effectiveness, who doesn’t want more candlepower shining from the front of their brand new vehicle? If your trim level doesn’t come with them, have the dealer throw them in. Their cost on the parts is going to be considerably less than the $400 or so they want to charge at retail and their mechanics have installed them hundreds of times, so it won’t be time-consuming for them.
3 Get For Free: Mud Flaps
Similar to fog lights, the cost of mud flaps and their install for the dealership is small compared to their typical retail list price. Unlike the fog lights, the usefulness of mud flaps is pretty undeniable. The amount of dirt and mud that can accumulate on the lower sides of the body of a vehicle is dramatically reduced with the addition of mud flaps and the factory ones are typically well integrated into the car’s design so as not to stand out too much. Unless, of course, you prefer the look of the large, rally-inspired flaps in bright red or blue, in which case, the aftermarket is where you will want to look.
2 Get For Free: Cargo Net
The innocuous cargo net seems unimportant until your tomatoes and watermelon come crashing together on the drive home from the local farmer’s market. The best ones are custom designed for your car and attach to existing or easy-to-install hooks in the trunk or behind the hatch. Your dealership will almost certainly have some available in their parts department for any model they sell. They are not too expensive, easy to install, quite handy, and a great little add-on to have your salesperson throw into the deal on that brand new hatchback or SUV you just ordered. Your farmer’s market produce will thank you.
1 Get For Free: Dealer Documentation Fee
The dealer documentation fee, or processing fee, is a way for the dealership to recoup the cost of filling out all the paperwork and other office duties that must be performed when selling a car. For most other businesses, this cost would be worked into the price of each vehicle they sell but by charging this fee separately, the dealer can show a lower advertised price than they could otherwise. Some states and provinces limit the amount the dealer can charge for this or even require the dealer to list the charge in their advertising. If the dealer won’t waive the documentation fee, have them reduce the price of the vehicle by the same amount.
Sources: Consumer Reports, Autotrader, and Autoblog.