17 Hidden Auto Costs Your Dealer Will Never Tell You About

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11. Overpriced VIN Etching

Your vehicle identification number (VIN) is a serial number that is unique to your specific car. It’s located in the front corner where your dashboard meets your windshield, which car thieves know. When they steal cars, they often remove or deface the VIN in an attempt to make the car anonymous and difficult to trace back to the owner. For a few hundred bucks, the dealership will etch that number into each of the car’s windows to deter thieves and make your car less valuable if it’s stolen.

Do It Yourself

Before you spend $400 on VIN etching, consider that this might not deter thieves at all if they’re just joyriding, stealing a car to commit a different crime, selling it for parts or simply are unaware of VIN etching. If you do want the service but not at the dealer’s price, you can do it yourself with an $18 kit available on Amazon.

12. Getting Talked — or Tricked — Into a Lease

Dealers love leases because they make a lot of money off of them. Interest rates are easy to manipulate, the buyer never owns the car but they still end up eating all the depreciation. Then, the dealers get the car back in great shape with low mileage — and get to sell it all over again. Dealers have been known to tout the benefits of leases — including lower monthly payments and the fact that you’re always under warranty and get a new car every few years — which pressure buyers into leasing. The most unscrupulous dealers might even lead customers into thinking they’re buying a car but instead set them up with a lease.

Know What You Want and Stand Firm

There are pros and cons to both leasing and buying, and if you’ve decided that you want to one day feel the joy of making your final payment and owning your car free and clear, politely but firmly say “thanks, but no thanks” when the salesperson asks if you’ve considered leasing. In the rare case the salesperson tries to trick you into signing a lease, the remedy is to read all the paperwork carefully before you sign anything — as you should with any contract.

13. The Classic Bait and Switch

One of the oldest tricks in the car salesperson’s book has been updated for the digital age. Dealerships advertise a stellar deal online and when you stop by to check out the car, the one from the ad has been sold, but a similar model is right there in the showroom or on the lot. Of course, it’s more expensive than the car that got you into the dealership. Alternatively, a dealer might show you a car you thought was from the ad, only to find out it’s a higher trim package that costs thousands more.

Walk Away

As the buyer, you have one fallback position that gives you all the leverage. You can just walk away and give another dealer your business. In the case of the bait-and-switch tactic, you should play this trump card. If your relationship with the dealer starts out with a lie, then you can expect dishonesty and self-dealing throughout the entire transaction.

14. Sales Tax

Most states charge a sales tax when you buy a new or used car that usually ranges from 2% to 8%. Although this is a legitimate and unavoidable fee, sales tax is not included in the sticker price or MSRP, so this hidden cost might catch you off guard if you are not prepared for it.

Know the Total Cost Before You Go

Consult with a tax professional or do online research to determine how much sales tax your state and city charge for cars and factor this cost into the total cost of a car when you are browsing based on sticker price or MSRP. Edmunds has a handy chart of the maximum sales tax by state.

15. Registration and Title Fees

Just like sales tax, registration and title fees are necessary expenses that are not included in the sticker price or MSRP. These fees vary widely from state to state.

When you talk to your dealer about the price you are willing to pay for a vehicle, they will likely show you cars that sell for that price before accounting for sales tax and registration and title fees.

Visit Your Local DMV Website

Your state’s DMV website likely has a registration fee calculator that can provide you with a good estimate of how much this will cost you. The calculator will take into consideration whether it is a new or used vehicle and if it’s a nonresident vehicle.

16. Pricier Car Insurance

If your state requires car insurance — and even if it doesn’t — you likely already know that this is something you will have to or should pay for. However, the dealer might try to sell you on a car that — unbeknownst to you — will require a much higher insurance premium than you’re currently paying. That’s because the type of car you drive is one of the factors that determine your insurance costs. If you’re currently driving a compact car with many safety features and the dealer tries to sell you on a car that has fewer safety features, more expensive parts or a greater ability to inflict damage when in an accident, your premium will likely go up significantly.

Get a Quote

Many insurance companies will allow you to get a free quote. Be sure to get an estimate of what your new insurance premium will be with a new car before signing on the dotted line. You don’t want to end up paying more for your insurance than you can fit into your budget.

17. Hefty Maintenance Fees

Unless you work maintenance into your extended warranty, you’ll likely be paying maintenance fees out of pocket. These can be especially pricey if you buy a used, older car, as they will need maintenance more often.

Ask the Dealer What Typical Maintenance Services Cost

Ask the dealer what their service center charges for regular maintenance services, including oil changes, tire rotations and fluid changes. Knowing how much these services cost before you buy will prevent you from getting sticker shock when you bring your new car into the shop for the first time.

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