Car dealerships have a rather sordid reputation. Most are high-end places that are wonderful for customers and run by honest people who really want to help. Sadly, there are also a lot of used car dealerships that seem to be little more than openly questionable enterprises. They will sell clunkers that look great but collapse after just a week of driving. Then, when the customer tries to return them, they’re met by a contract that prevents them from getting their money back.
Even the more honest dealerships can be tricky with things like fees or other costs that no one was prepared for. Thankfully, the internet has led to car customers being able to scope out a car in advance to know what they’re looking for. Yet, the intricacies of a car deal can still trip anyone up. It’s vital to always know what to bring to a car dealership and how to handle the deals.
Every dealership is different in how they handle customers and even the state laws that can affect a car purchase. Again, most places are honest yet there are a few bad apples that can ruin the car buying experience. It’s important to ask the right questions to make sure you get the right price for your car and to ensure a positive long-term experience.
There are also some things to grab before you leave the dealership that many buyers might not think of. Here are 10 things to always grab before leaving a car dealership and 10 questions to ask to make sure buying a new car goes well.
20 GRAB: A Calculator
Too many people make the mistake of overestimating their grasp of math. It’s astounding how one tiny number can put a person into serious debt. A prospective owner should not be afraid of looking foolish by bringing a calculator to the dealership when making the deal. From the overall prices to figuring out issues like the warranties, loans and other tidbits, being able to add things up on the spot is terrific. Most phones have calculators to make it easier and can be useful. It’s always better to do the calculations yourself rather than just take the dealer’s word about how the math works out. Thus, a calculator should be something to grab, both going to and from a dealership.
19 ASK: The Best You Can Do?
Getting a car can be a game of sorts. The dealer wants the customer to pay as much as they can while the customer wants to pay less. It’s about the negotiation and that involves bluffing a lot. Thus, even if a car looks perfect, a good question to ask is, “Is that the best deal?” Making it sound like you’re about to walk out and find a new dealer is a great tactic to convince the seller to lower their price. It also pertains to the car itself and acting like the one you want is beneath you can sway the dealer into cutting the price down. This tactic should continue from the fees to the warranties because playing hardball can get the right car for a good price.
18 GRAB: The Buyer’s Guide
This should actually be something to bring before you leave for the dealership. However, a buyer’s guide specific to your car is still something to grab before you leave. The better dealerships will have their own copies to provide some insight and let you check out competing prices. It also gives an impartial rundown of the cars available as well as some of the tricks of dealing with the automobile itself. It’s a pretty valuable resource as even with scores of web sites easily available, a good buyer’s guide is key to any great car deal. If one is going to get a new car, a buyer’s guide is a must-have at all times.
17 ASK: The Fees
If there’s one way an underhanded car dealer messes with their customers, it’s in the fees. They’re brought to attention just before signing and can include everything from vehicle registration to various extras. They tend to vary from state to state, which just makes it easier for a dealer to throw in some higher costs. Asking about the fees at the onset should be a good idea. It’s also important to have the dealer itemize the fees and then compare them to other dealers to ensure that no one is being taken advantage of. It can be complex but asking about the fees should be done before making a buy.
16 GRAB: Loan Approval Forms
It’s pretty risky to buy a car these days and that’s especially true for younger people trying to buy their first car. Thus, loans are often needed to handle the costs. Bank loans are the usual form although some dealerships might have a loan department of their own. There’s also the complexity of working out agreements involving credit cards and other forms of payment. That’s a whole separate set of paperwork but having the approval forms before making the deal is critical. Never forget to leave them behind and perhaps make copies for the dealership to use for their own records. No one really likes a loan yet it could be the only way to ensure you drive off with the car you want.
15 ASK: The Car on the Lot
This should be a no-brainer yet it’s also a critical question to ask. Nowadays, most prospective car owners use websites to look up a car and its history and go into detail on what they want. This leads to the mistaken idea that the car will be right there on the lot and ready to go. Before you bother asking any questions about a car’s history, the price, or other details, you should ensure it’s actually on the lot on the day you go in. Don’t go by, “We have one just like it,” because the specific model is the one that should be checked out. As obvious as it seems, don’t bother going into a deal for a car that’s not present.
14 GRAB: A Photo of the Car
Thankfully, most car dealerships are good places that are on the up and up. Sadly, there are a few rotten apples who do perform sneaky tricks on their customers. One involves a last minute “switch” of a car for a model that looks just like the one the customer saw but has little differences. That’s why it’s important to get photographs of the car you test and inspect. This proves which car you were looking for and can be used if the automobile has any issues down the road. It’s also good just for having records to show the condition of the car when bought, in case a repair is needed. Thanks to camera phones, snapping a pic of the car is even easier these days.
13 ASK: The Return Policy
Obviously, no one wants to have to return a car they just bought. But some cars just won’t work out right and need to be turned in; in which case, it’s vital to have an in-depth discussion about a dealership’s return policy. Some can be sneaky in creating issues that would prevent a customer from returning a car for a full refund. Most dealers are far more honest and yet will still not give back the full price for something that’s been driven already. And that’s not mentioning the possibility of getting a new model. Most dealers are honest but a few can be underhanded with their return policies so it’s a smart idea to know before you make a purchase.
12 GRAB: The Down Payment
The down payment on a car can be a major issue at times. Some dealerships may ask for a bit too much than a person is willing to pay. However, offering too little doesn’t win trust and gets a relationship with the dealer off on the wrong foot. The down payment can be debated as much as the price of the car itself. Just like the final price, an owner shouldn’t be afraid to call a deal off if the down payment is too much. It’s important to grab the right paperwork and make sure the payment fits the deal correctly. As long as the down payment works out, the car deal itself has a good chance of working, as well.
11 ASK: The Mechanic’s Certificate
This pertains more to used cars but new models can require it, as well. Any car should have an inspection from a certified mechanic who gives a full list of its specifications and any issues. A customer should directly ask to see the certification and study it carefully. They also should press on the history of the mechanic and how experienced they are. After all, it’s quite easy to have a low-rent mechanic give a certification that a better-regarded mechanic would disregard. Don’t assume the certification alone is fine without the mechanic’s stature to back it up. A dealer should always have these on file and ready to show and if they don’t, it’s time to walk out on a deal.
10 GRAB: A Test Drive
It’s not just the test drive of a car itself that should be a go-to but also asking questions during the test drive. Usually, the drive is on a quiet road near the dealership yet it might be smart to test it on some rougher roads to ensure the car handles well. Also, it should be asked if the car has been used as a test model a lot because that can affect its long term driving use. And that’s not mentioning how things can hurt the future resale value of a car. A test drive exposes issues that may not be obvious at first and learning more about a car is always critical.
9 ASK: The Long-Term Maintenance Costs
When someone buys a new car, future maintenance rarely crosses their minds. But it should, though, because every car inevitably has some issues. Thus, a major question to ask is how high such long-term costs can pile up. From simple oil changes to how much it would cost for new exhaust or tires, the fees need to be addressed. That includes asking about what repair shops are nearby the dealership and which offer the best prices. Some dealers might have agreements with certain shops to ensure they aid their customers better. The long-term care of a car is vital and knowing costs from the start is a great way to avoid trouble down the line.
8 GRAB: One Long Look At the Contract
It’s astounding how many people make the mistake of not reading a contract all the way through. Countless car customers have made the mistake of just signing and then finding out too late they were “agreeing” to fees or other items they had no idea about beforehand. Now, bringing a lawyer to a car dealership might be going too far. However, it’s still recommended that a car buyer take the time to carefully pore over the contract and ensure it’s totally on the up and up. This avoids any unwanted surprises down the line and ensures both sides of the deal are honest. One should never sign anything without knowing what it says and that goes double for cars.
7 ASK: The Warranty Coverage
Warranties can be very tricky given how they differ by manufacturer, car model, and even model year. Some dealers can be tricky, skipping on the details of warranty coverage and not listing what would cause the coverage to be voided. That’s in addition to separate warranties for the battery or engine. The prospective owner should press their salesperson for how long the warranties last and how much they cover in repairs. This can be trickier for a used car because the warranties can already be out of date. It’s very important to go in-depth on every part of a warranty and how much is covered to ensure you’re not taken by surprise by something down the road.
6 GRAB: Setting Locks and Lights
It used to be that just about every car, no matter the make or model, had the same type of locks and lights. Today, of course, that’s much different. Several models still use the classic “key in the door” and yet there’s a huge rise in remote locks and key codes. It’s a good idea to spend a few minutes with a new car, setting the locks correctly and ensuring one won’t accidentally be locked out when they get home. It’s also important to ensure the lights work correctly—and don’t be afraid to test them in a dark garage. This may seem like a minor issue but should still be done before the final decision on a car is made.
5 ASK: Aftermarket Features
A common misconception is that a brand new car at a dealership is still just how it was when it rolled off the assembly line. The truth is that scores of dealers add on some features that don't show up on a website about the car. Asking about the features is also important because it can affect the price. Like most things, this can be negotiated and a dealer might agree that the owner shouldn’t be charged for features that weren’t listed or even wanted. If the add-ons are too much, that can just mean getting a different car. It’s important to double-check a car’s features before you pay too much for things you don’t want.
4 GRAB: A Listen to the Stereo
Today, most drivers just use their smartphones or other electronic devices to play songs. Tape players aren’t even manufactured in cars anymore and a few aren’t bothering with CD players either. Still, the stereo system is something that should be checked out with the rest of the car. That’s especially true for long drives, whether one listens to music or talk radio. Before leaving a dealership, run through the stereo system, testing the volume, controls, and a range of stations. Just like other parts of the car, the stereo may seem fine at first but then have numerous problems. It’s good to know how a car sounds in multiple ways.
3 ASK: Its History
Most dealerships are very honest about where a car comes from. If it’s a brand new model, it’s not as important to press on its background. If it’s used, however, it becomes vital to get as much information as you can about its history. If a dealership starts claiming they don’t know much about it, that’s an instant red flag that this car has problems. Dealers should have a good background of past owners and past issues a car has endured. Honest dealerships probably have a better record of the car than just its past owners, including repairs and modifications. Never be afraid to walk away from a deal if the dealership refuses to share a car’s past.
2 ASK: Was This From an Auction
This tends to be an overlooked question by many car owners. Car auctions can be top-notch, high-class affairs but plenty have earned a seedy reputation. Auctions are known for making a car look good that might fall apart within days of its purchase. Some dealerships will buy from auctions and then turn around to sell those same cars for a profit. Many do repairs so the car can run well...but some don’t. The fact is, if you’re getting an auction car, you might as well be going to one. It’s important to make sure this car didn’t come from an auction and it’s always better to deal with a fresher car from a dealership.
1 GRAB: How it Handles a Car Wash
This may sound silly but one of the first things an owner should do when they get a car is to take it a car wash. Some places are able to handle a wash far better than others and some cars may not be ready for a standard wash. A few may require special treatment and could even need alterations to make things work. If the car is from a used car lot, a quick wash may end up exposing the old trick of covering dents or holes with a paint job. If nothing else, it should be done to ensure there aren’t any ugly surprises that are exposed via a hard wash.
Sources: Edmunds, Autotrader.com, and Forbes.