At any dealership, the price on the car window is not the price you’ll pay for the vehicle. Taxes, fees and other add-ons can inflate a final bill of sale by thousands of dollars. But contrary to what the dealership insists, you can decline and remove many of these costs.
First things first, you have to pay sales tax on any vehicle you purchase, used or new. And similarly, fees for title and registration are inevitable (and it’s also more convenient to have this done at a dealership). But there are many items you can and should decline. Here are 10 add-ons and hidden fees to look out for.
1. Fabric protection: Of all the upsells, this one is an absolute no. For an additional $500, a tech at the dealership will spray a $15 bottle of stain and water-resistant formula on your car seats. You can find the same product at any hardware store after the sale and do this yourself.
2. Dealer preparation fees: Many dealerships will charge for the labor needed to “get your car ready” to drive off the lot. This often includes a quick wash and checking the tire pressure (work that is never justified by the cost of the fee). Should you encounter this fee, question it. Most likely, the dealership will remove it from the final bill of sale.
3. VIN etching: This legitimate, anti-theft measure stencils your VIN to your windshield and windows. Resold car parts displaying identification numbers is a huge red flag to auto parts buyers, and they will often question the legality of the sale before buying. But because car windows typically come stock without the VIN labeled, they are attractive to thieves hoping to resell them. Etching your VIN to your windows and windshield is a great theft deterrent.
The problem with accepting the VIN etching fee at the dealership is the price tag. For $20, you can purchase a VIN etching kit and complete the job in about 10 minutes at home. The dealership, however, will charge you hundreds of dollars for the privilege. This is an easy no.
4. Gap insurance: Should you ever total your car, gap insurance pays the difference between your vehicle’s value and what you owe on it. For instance, if your car is worth $8,000 but you still owe $15,000 on the vehicle, insurance would typically pay $8,000. Gap insurance saves you from the continued car payments on a vehicle you no longer have.
Gap insurance may potentially be a good idea on a new vehicle, especially because a newer car means more financing upfront. But if you’re buying a used car and able to responsibly pay much of the cost without loans, gap insurance is something you can probably live without. In any occasion, you are likely to get gap insurance much cheaper with your car insurer, rather than through the dealership.
5. Nitrogen-filled tires: The theory behind nitrogen-filled tires is that they maintain air pressure for longer, which also helps with fuel economy and overall tire life. But for $100, this is a fee you can safely skip. Instead, regularly check your tire pressure and use good-old-fashioned air (which you can often get for free).
6. Destination and delivery fees: A destination fee is what the manufacturer charges the dealership to deliver the vehicle from the factory to their lot. Oddly enough, this fee is then passed on to customers. The destination fee is often not something you can expect to negotiate away. However, if you should notice both a destination and delivery fee (which is the same fee with a different name), you should be able to have the fee removed (unless the car is being delivered to your house).
7. Window tinting: This service is almost always cheaper to have done elsewhere. And should you ever purchase a vehicle with existing tinted windows, keep an eye out for a tinting service fee on the bill of sale. Any existing tinting done to the car’s windows should be included in the overall vehicle price, just like the paint.
8. Extended warranties: This insurance kicks in after your manufacturer’s warranty expires. Extended warranties should be considered on a case-by-case basis. In general, the odds favor the dealer, where more often than not consumers spend more on the warranty then they need for repairs. But should an extended warranty interest you, understand that you do not need to purchase this insurance at the time of sale. You have until your manufacturer’s warranty expires to purchase an extended warranty, so it’s best to sit on the decision and get to know your vehicle before investing.
9. Paint protection and sealants: Your car’s paint is likely to last as long as you have the car, with or without special coatings. Instead of paying hundreds for this service, occasionally wash your car and it will have the same effect.
10. Documentation fees: This fee covers all the administrative work to process your car purchase and isn’t something dealers will typically let go. But know that most states have laws capping the amount a dealer can charge for their documentation fee. Know your state’s regulation before you go, to ensure you’re not being overcharged.
Putting it all together.
Don’t be fooled by skilled salesmanship and negotiations when purchasing a vehicle. At a car dealership, you don’t have to buy anything you don’t want to. And while the dealership won’t budge on some fees, always ask to explain a suspect charge. If the answer sounds bogus, the fee or add-on probably is too.