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Common Car Dealer Options Explained

Get the best deal on your next car. Our experts look at common car dealer options when buying a new car. Read our tips for the best dealer options.

Common Dealer Add-Ons Explained

Car salesperson with customers
Car salesperson with customers

The prospect of buying a new car at a dealership can seem intimidating, and for good reason. There is no shortage of horror stories about salespeople that will do anything to make a buck. Of course, there are plenty of honest car dealers that treat their customers right. Regardless of which side of the experience you end up on, you are likely to encounter the dreaded “dealer options” in one form or another. This is just one of the many layers of the car buying experience that is worth understanding before stepping foot inside the showroom.

When you’re shopping for a new car, you’ll see a lot of talk around the MSRP, or manufacturer suggested retail price. This figure will be listed on the window sticker along with things like the destination charge and fuel economy. However, as it says, this is a suggested price and dealers are free to sell the car for whatever they want. In the case of a hot car in high demand there could be a “dealer mark-up” adding thousands of dollars to the MSRP. Our explainer article on MSRP and dealer mark ups dives deeper on this subject.

Car dealership lot
Car dealership lot

The next layer of extra costs to watch for come in the form of dealer options or add-ons that can add hundreds or even thousands to your bottom line. Fortunately, many newer cars come with some of the most desirable equipment like the backup camera and panoramic moonroof discussed in this list of 10 must have new car features. However, there is always an opportunity for the dealer to add more, which you might find listed on a “supplemental” or “addendum” sticker.

This is not something you are likely to see while on the dealership website and may be options you’re not interested in. To avoid being surprised, call ahead and ask if the vehicle you’re looking at already has these add-ons. If the answer is yes, find out how much is being charged so you can do some homework on what is fair and what is not, before showing up. Below are some examples of common dealer options you may encounter.

Pickup Truck Tonneau Cover

2022 Ford F-150 - ford.com
2022 Ford F-150 - ford.com

There is a reason this list of top tailgating vehicles features so many pickup trucks. Pickups come from the factory with all manner of tailgating toys and typically, an even longer list of dealer accessories like tonneau covers. Prices on these vary widely so don’t accept one of these without verifying the pricing is fair.

Nitrogen Tire Fill

Nitrogen tire valve cap
Nitrogen tire valve cap

The sales pitch here is that nitrogen is more temperature stable so tire pressure won’t move much as seasons change. It is also said to seep out of tires more slowly than air and perhaps lend a longer life to the rubber thanks to that pressure stability. This is the definition of losing the forest for the trees. Save your money and fill up with free air.

All-Season Rubberized Floor Mats

2022 Ford Bronco rubberized floor mat - ford.com
2022 Ford Bronco rubberized floor mat - ford.com

Not a bad thing in and of itself, you may in fact want to have heavy-duty floor mats to keep the carpeting clean and tidy. However, be sure to check how much these mats would cost you from other sources, as the dealership is sure to add a healthy markup.

If you encounter dealer options already fitted to the vehicle you want to buy, but do not want to pay for them, just say so. Certainly, the dealership will not want to remove these add-ons, so it’s worth doing a quick Google search to illustrate comparable pricing from outside sources. That gives you price data to negotiate the pricing of these accessories before agreeing to a purchase. You can read our article on vehicle price negotiation for more insight. Of course, a lot of this boils down to common sense. If you feel like you’re getting a bad deal, you probably are so be prepared to walk.

Should you go forward with purchasing the car, you will likely be sent to the F & I manager to complete the deal. Short for Finance and Insurance, this person handles the trove of legal documents you’ll need to sign to bring your new car home. They are also there to peddle even more dealer options for a thicker pad of profit. F & I options are typically more in the vein of services versus tangible products as the examples below illustrate.

Extended Warranty

Kia service center - owners.kia.com
Kia service center - owners.kia.com

An extended warranty is commonly pitched to protect you once the factory coverage runs out. There is a ton of fine print with extended warranties so be sure to read closely. And remember, you can always purchase one post-sale if you can’t get through the legalese on the spot.  

Tire and Wheel Protection

Wheel and tire inspection
Wheel and tire inspection

Essentially a warranty covering tire punctures and wheel damage, this could be beneficial if you regularly drive on poorly maintained roads. However, for the couple hundred dollars these plans tend to run, you may be better off creating your own vehicle maintenance slush fund as a typical tire patch costs just $20. Check out our car wheel evolution article for more on this topic.

This list barely scratches the surface of all the dealer options you may see out there, but keep in mind that you do not have to pay for any of them. This is easy to say but harder to do when you’ve been sitting in the dealership for hours and the pressure is on. To avoid that situation, all ahead to find out if any accessories have already been tacked on and do some research on pricing for typical F&I options.

You can also pull up sample pricing for thee options on your smartphone to give yourself a bargaining chip during negotiations. Above all, remember to treat it is as business transaction, keep your emotions in check and be prepared to walk out the door if you are not getting the deal you want.

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Niel Stender

Niel Stender grew up doing replacement work on his 1990 Cherokee and 1989 Starion, so it’s not surprising that he would put his mechanical engineering degree from the University of New Hampshire to use in the car world as a vehicle dynamics engineer. Now engineering sentence structures, his writing infuses his auto experience with his time in marketing and his sales experience. Writing about cars for close to a decade now, he focuses on some of the more technical mechanical systems that are found under the hood and throughout a vehicle.

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