Your Money

How to avoid pesky new car fees

Cutting costs on dealer fees
Cutting costs on dealer fees

Checking the sticker price is only part of the deal when it comes to car shopping. Knowing the value of your trade-in, ancillary products, sales tax and fees also are part of the overall cost. If you know what those numbers are before you walk into the showroom, you may be better able to negotiate a lower price before driving off the lot.

"People get focused on 'what am I paying for the car?' In their mind, they're thinking 'what price can I wind up at for negotiation?' But they're only thinking about the actual price of the car," said Carroll Lachnit, a consumer advice editor at "They may not be focused on sales tax or fees. We recommend people always discuss not only the price of the car, but the 'out of the door' price."

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Car buyers should know when to put the brakes on a purchase if the total cost with fees and other expenses busts their budget. "Know what your fees are in advance so you can plan your overall negotiation strategy," Lachnit said.

Here are some of the fees that often pop up and tips on how you may be able to safely swerve around them:

Documentation fees

Documentation fees are charged by just about every dealer. Yet in many states, the amount is unregulated. Go to to find out your state's typical doc fee before you go shopping.

Dealer prep fees

These could vary widely. Yet, other than a car wash, there's little the dealer does to a new car before you drive it off the lot. If that number is in the hundreds, you may be paying too much. Make sure no additional dealer fees have been included.

Advertising charges

Advertising fees are where dealers can get sneaky. It's normal for this charge to show up on the car's invoice and for the buyer to pay for it if it's an actual charge made by the manufacturer to the dealer. But some dealers try to make you pay twice by adding another advertising fee into the sales contract to offset their own advertising costs. Don't pay that or at least try to negotiate down to a lesser amount.

VIN etching

VIN etching is one of the easiest fees to avoid. Putting the car's vehicle identification number (VIN) on the window is a proven antitheft measure. While some dealers may charge $200 for the service, you can get a kit and do it yourself for as little as $25.

Before you buy, ask the sales person to explain all fees and other costs. You should always be in the driver's seat when it comes figuring out what you're really paying for your new car.