Monday, November 18, 2019

Hidden Fees and Accessory Charges Defeat Buyers’ Online Buying Advantage

For years I’ve advised car buyers to go online to get the lowest price on new or used vehicles. Online, you can avoid the haggle and hassle of dealers’ game-playing when you’re inside the dealership. Online, you can even maintain anonymity by not giving them your real phone number and giving them another email address. Car dealers know that they have just one chance to sell you a car and if their price is too high, they may never hear from you again.

As the percent of cars bought online has soared, car dealers have had to “adapt” in order to maintain their profit margins. This “adaptation” amounts to lying about the prices they give you online. They give you a very low price, lower than their competition’s, to which they later add thousands of dollars in hidden fees and dealer installed accessories.

I use the word hidden fee rather than dealer fee because dealers learned long ago that car buyers were becoming more aware of the hidden profit named “dealer fee”. Some dealers advertise “No Dealer Fee” because they renamedtheir dealer fee something else. Dealers name their hidden fees whatever they choose…usually something that sounds like an official government fee. Some commonly used examples are “tag agency fee”, “electronic filing fee”, “e-filing fee”, dealer services fee, “administrative fee”, “documentary (doc) fee”, “dealer prep fee’, etc. Most car dealers employ multiple fee of this nature totaling at least $1,000 and some over $3,000.

Dealer installed accessories are added to the vehicles but not included in the price you get. These accessories cost the dealer very little and they mark them up as much as 1,000%. Examples are nitrogen in the tires, pin stripes, window tint, floor mats, paint sealant, fabric protection, road hazard insurance, emergency road service, etc. The total extra profit to the dealer for these averages at least $1,000.

Third party buying services can be the best way to buy a vehicle. Consumer Reports, American Express, GEICO, True Car, AutoTrader, Car Guru, and Cars.com are all legitimate companies that try to obtain the lowest prices for their members and users. However, all of these companies are deceived by their dealer members when they quote customers their supposedly low price. A buyer can go on AutoTrader to buy a specific year-make-model vehicle and sort by lowest price. The car dealer that comes out first should have the lowest price. But what the buyer doesn’t know is that this car dealer is adding thousands of dollars to the price in hidden fees and dealer installed accessories. TrueCar advertises that their TrueCar price includes hidden fees and dealer installed accessories, but that claim is only as good as the honesty of their dealers. Third party buying services deal with well over 10,000 car dealers and it’s impossible to inspect and be sure that they all are playing by the rules. The fact is that most car dealers do not play by the rules.

This all means that the responsibility for getting an honest price lies with you, the car buyer and it’s BUYER BEWARE, CAVEAT EMPTOR. Whether you’re dealing through a third-party buying service or directly online with a car dealer, burn this term into your brain, OUT-THE-DOOR-PRICE. Never set foot into a car dealership without previously obtaining a written document stating the full, complete out-the-door price of the vehicle you’re buying. The only legitimate, honest fees that should be added are government fees of state sales tax and license plate/registration. To be absolutely safe, ask that all fees (including tax and tag) be included in the price they give you. A good way to clarify this and be certain they can’t pretend like they misunderstood…tell the dealer you’re bringing a check from your bank or credit union marked PAYMENT IN FULL.

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