5 dealer options to skip when buying a car

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The traditional car-buying process can be incredibly stressful. When you buy a new car, you deal with experienced sales professionals who use various time-tested methods to sell you add-on products and services. With profit margins on new car sales tighter than ever, these adept salespeople have plenty of incentive to sell you whatever car dealer options they can.

Although some of those dealer options, upgrades and extras can be worth the investment, it’s important to know the worst dealer options when buying a car so you can avoid them. Rust-proofing, VIN etching and extended warranties are just a few of the options that may not be be worth your money.

What are dealer options?

Dealer options are accessories and equipment that the dealer adds to the vehicle to increase the sales price of the vehicle. There are three types of options you may come across:

  • Factory-installed options: Installed at the factory before the vehicle is shipped to the dealer.
  • Port-installed options: Installed on vehicles imported from overseas as they arrive at the port of entry.
  • Dealer-installed options: Installed by the dealer after the vehicle reaches the dealership’s lot.

Options installed at the factory and port are approved by the vehicle’s manufacturer, and they’re typically included in the new vehicle’s warranty. You’ll find them listed on the official window sticker that’s required for new cars. What’s more, the cost is uniform, so they won’t vary from dealer to dealer.

In contrast, dealer options aren’t approved by the manufacturer and, therefore, aren’t included in the vehicle’s warranty. They’re not listed on the official window sticker, but they should be detailed on a second sticker on the car. Also, because they’re installed by the dealer, prices can vary depending on where you go.

In general, though, many dealer options are overpriced and used to increase profits on new vehicle sales.

5 worst dealer options when buying a car

If you’re buying a new car, it’s important to check the vehicle’s stickers for all options. While you typically can’t negotiate factory- and port-installed options, you may have some wiggle room with dealer-installed options.

Here are the five worst dealer options to look out for when buying a car.

1. Rust-proofing

Dealer-applied undercoating can cost as much as $1,200, depending on the car, the type of treatment package (basic or premium) and whether it includes an extra option, such as sound-deadening.

Rust-proofing can be sold to the new car buyer as a separate dealer option or be included in a pricey bundle called an “environmental protection package” that also can include paint sealant and fabric protection.

“Cars leaving the factories today all have excellent rust-proofing,” says Mike Quincy, auto content specialist at the Consumer Reports Auto Test Center in East Haddam, Connecticut. “[Dealers] have an incentive to do it because there’s a fair amount of markup they can get on these services.”

Why to skip it: All new cars already come with rust-proofing, and some automakers will void the factory corrosion-perforation warranty if the car is undercoated by a third-party.

2. Fabric protection

Some dealers will provide fabric protection, which is designed to protect your seats from stains.

“A lot of dealers will also eagerly pitch you fabric protection, which is basically a spray that they will put on — a spray that costs them almost nothing, but for which they might then charge you $100 or more,” Quincy says.

Why to skip it: “If you really need additional fabric protection, all you have to do is buy a bottle of Scotchgard,” says John Nielsen, national director of auto repair and buying at AAA.

3. Paint protection

This dealer option is often promoted by showroom salespeople as a product that offers new cars a year-round no-wax shine that provides a long-lasting barrier against the environment. Protective paint sealant can cost the new car buyer well over $200.

Why to skip it: Most automotive paints today are durable finishes that benefit much more from regular washing and waxing, says Nielsen.

4. VIN etching

VIN etching is a procedure that allows you to make an adhesive plastic stencil containing the vehicle identification number, or VIN, of your car. You then place that stencil on a window and apply a special acid solution that chemically burns, or etches, the number onto the glass.

VIN etching can be a deterrent to thieves because it makes it nearly impossible for them to profit from selling windows and windshields and also makes it more difficult to find a way to dispose of a car once it has been stolen.

In fact, it’s recommended by police and auto insurance agencies. Some insurers will even offer a discount to the comprehensive portion of your car insurance or waive your insurance deductibles if your car has the feature.

It’s a simple process, but VIN etching as a dealer option can cost the car buyer from $150 to $300. If you do it yourself, you can shave off over $100.

Why to skip it: If you’d like to do VIN etching, it’s cheaper to use a do-it-yourself kit, which runs from $20 to $40 online.

5. Extended warranties

As a dealer option, basic extended warranty policies for cars can start at $1,000 and easily climb to several thousand dollars for luxury and high-performance cars.

Extended warranties offer bumper-to-bumper protection, covering everything on your car except components commonly replaced in routine maintenance. Plan prices vary by mileage, the term of coverage and deductible level.

Why to skip it: New vehicles typically already come with manufacturer warranties. Even if you’re buying used, you don’t need to get the warranty on the day you buy the car — this means that you can shop around if you really want one. In any case, it’s often better to use the money you would spend on an extended warranty for the recommended maintenance that your car requires.

How to avoid dealer-added options

The right options on a vehicle can enhance your driving experience and even boost the car’s value when you’re ready to sell it or trade it in. But you don’t have to accept the dealer-installed options you don’t want.

If you find that a new vehicle has some dealer-added options, you can ask the dealer to remove them and adjust the sales price of the vehicle accordingly. In some cases, it may not be possible — for example, if rust-proofing or paint protection has already been applied, it may not be removable.

If the dealer can’t or won’t get rid of an option, you can try to negotiate the price of the vehicle like you normally would. Again, there’s no guarantee that this will work, but even showing a little initiative in negotiation can change the course of the conversation.

For example, consider calling another dealer in the area to get an idea of what they might charge for certain options or even see how much it’d cost if you were to do it yourself. This can give you a good reference point in your negotiations.

If a dealer doesn’t budge much or is unwilling to negotiate entirely, you can choose to pay for the car as-is or walk away.

The bottom line

Dealer-installed options aren’t always worth it, so it’s important to check what you’re being charged for. While dealers aren’t always willing to remove options they’ve installed or even negotiate on the price, know that these options aren’t standard, and you don’t have to accept them.

As with every other aspect of the car-buying process, take your time to shop around and compare prices and options from multiple dealers in your area to make sure that you’re getting the best deal available.

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Written by
Ben Luthi
Contributing writer
Ben Luthi is a personal finance and travel writer who loves helping people learn how to live life more fully. His work has appeared in several publications, including U.S. News & World Report, USA Today, Yahoo! Finance and more.
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