While finishing the paperwork, some car dealers may try to pad your final tab and their profit by offering last-minute options. It’s important not to cave, and to thoroughly inspect your paperwork for any charges that have been “mistakenly” added.
Christopher Schnieders was in the final stretch of a lengthy and arduous car buying experience when the dealership sprang a not-so-unexpected surprise on him. “It was a real stressful thing, just negotiating the price and knowing something was going to come up,” says the resident and administrative coordinator for a University of Southern California-based think tank.
“So we worked it all out and the paperwork is right there ready to sign, literally with the pen in my hand, and the salesman offers an alarm for around $850. He says it's already installed, and if I don't want it I'll have to wait or come back so they can take it off the car.
“I couldn’t believe it, but somehow I knew it was coming,” Schnieders adds. He decided to get the alarm rather than spend more time at the dealership or have to return. “And the kicker is that the alarm sucked. It kept going off randomly. Now I never turn the thing on.”
The Hard Sell
Schneiders’ experience is not unusual. When it comes time to finish up the paperwork and finally take delivery on a vehicle, many car dealers will try to pad your final tab and their profit by offering — or sometimes adding on without the customer’s approval — a bunch of last-minute options. And it’s typically when car buyers are most vulnerable and just want to drive away in their new ride.
They’ll urge you to protect the car’s underside from rust, its immaculate interior with fabric guard and the shiny paint job with a sealer. They proffer stereo and video systems, alarms and window etching. And though repair bills are the last thing on your mind when you’re buying a new car, you’ll undoubtedly be pressured to buy an expensive extended warranty. Of course, all of these can be easily added to your financing. No matter what scare tactics, finesse or sleight of hand a dealer uses to convince you otherwise, you do not need most of this stuff.The Car You Want
Since these options are typically pushed on you when you’re finishing the deal (or ordeal) and ready to drive away, it’s essential to stand firm, stay focused and not cave in to an insistent salesperson. It’s also an important time to thoroughly inspect the final paperwork on your purchase, since deceitful dealers have been known to “mistakenly” add extra charges.
And if something seems amiss and can’t be resolved, be prepared to walk away from the deal if it means saving a significant amount of money. While no one wants to start over at that point, keep in mind that the dealer doesn’t want to lose the sale and will likely back off on the additional options — and will focus instead on selling you the car you want.
Here are eight of the most common dealer options and how to avoid them.
Rust-Proofing: Some dealers charge up to $800 for this service, which sometimes amounts to no more than spraying a coating from an aerosol can in the wheel wells. But most vehicles these days come with warranties that cover rust damage for several years. If the dealership tells you it’s already been applied to the car without your consent, refuse to pay for it.
Fabric Protection: For a couple of hundred dollars, some dealers will try to sell you fabric protection for your car’s interior that will repel stains. You know it as Scotchgard. So instead buy several cans and spray it on the seats and carpet yourself. You’ll save some dough and buy some peace of mind the next time you spill coffee in your car.
Paint Sealant: This is another instance where the dealership hopes the car buyer will be gullible enough to believe that it’s using some special technique and material that’ll keep your car’s paint looking factory fresh, when it’s typically the same products found at any auto parts store. The best way to preserve your car’s finish is to wash and wax it regularly. Better yet, take the money you’d pay the dealer to “seal” your paint and instead spend it on the occasional professional detailing.
Window Etching: Another easy-money markup for car dealers; they etch your vehicle’s VIN on a window so that your car can allegedly be tracked in case it’s stolen. But that’s not going to scare off thieves, particularly if they break the window to gain entry. If you think it will, don’t pay the car dealer a couple hundred dollars to do it. Buy a $20 kit from a local auto parts store and do it yourself.
Alarm System: Many cars come with a basic form of security, such as coded keys, but many dealers will also try to sell you a full-featured alarm system. While a good security system is a wise investment if you live in an area with high auto-theft rates or drive a vehicle that’s popular with car thieves, you’ll usually get a better deal by going with an “aftermarket” alarm installed by a car stereo shop. But if you do decide to go with the dealer’s add-on alarm for convenience’s sake, make sure it’s a reputable brand, such as Code-Alarm or Automate, and that you’re not being overcharged by comparing the features you’re getting with what’s available from the aftermarket.
Extended Warranty: Since vehicles come with longer and more comprehensive warranties these days, extended warranties are usually not worth the extra money. If you plan to hang onto the vehicle for a long time, an extended warranty can be a good investment if and when your car needs major repairs. But don’t buy it from the dealer, since you can often get a better deal through independent insurers, such as Warranty Direct.
CD Changer: The price of a CD changer at a dealership can be twice what it is at a car stereo shop or electronics store. That’s because carmakers use proprietary connections and cables that force the owner to use the brand’s CD changers — unless you know better. Many car stereo shops carry adapters that can connect an aftermarket CD changer to a factory radio that has CD-changer controls at a fraction of the cost of the dealer option. But these days you’ll probably want to skip the CD changer altogether and just make sure your car has an auxiliary input that allows you to connect an MP3 player, or a system like Ford’s Sync that can also control an MP3 player by voice activation.
Rear-Seat Video: Whether to choose this dealer option is not as easy to decide as the ones above. While you can typically get an equivalent aftermarket rear-seat video system for several hundred dollars less, some people prefer the seamless integration and functionality (such as being able to control the system from the in-dash radio) of a dealer-installed system. Plus, you can roll the price of a dealer’s system into the overall cost of the vehicle and, if you’re financing or leasing the vehicle, pay for it a little at a time.
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