Hammer Time: Bogus Fees

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang

I had to travel 1000 miles to buy my first car. At the time Toyota dealers in the Southeast didn’t have Camrys with optional ABS (1994). Why? Supposedly you didn’t need it. Unless you bought the top of the line model, which cost an extra $3000. Thanks to this pearl of wisdom from Toyota’s Southeast distributorship, I went to New Jersey where my brother and I bought respective Camrys. Should I have bothered? I’ll put it this way. Back in the Clinton era this regional cabal offered a really nice Scotchguard protection deal that had the word ‘Toyo’ in it along with windows etched with your VIN and about $7 worth of hocus pocus that no one really cared to have. The surcharge? $699. They all did it. After my third or fourth visit to the local new car rodeo, I said “screw ’em” and headed to [New] Jersey.

Fast forward 15 years and the bogus fee world of new car selling is alive and very well. For every lowball price advertised in the newspaper there are documentation fees ranging anywhere from $299 (for a few pieces of signed paper) to $799 (for a few signed pieces of paper) that drive the final cost to the stupid-sphere. One dealer in Daytona Beach advertised a 2009 Hyundai Accent for $6990. In the small print was ($3000 customer cash, $799 documentation fee) and a full paragraph of exemptions and supplementation. The final cost for a Hyundai Accent with no A/C? How does $11,400+ sound?

It always pays to know the real cost of whatever you buy. Title and tag costs are unfortunately an area where profits, smoke and mirrors are commonplace. The real costs for where I live? In my state of Georgia it is $18 to process a title, approximately $2 to provide a temporary tag and anywhere from $5 to $25 to get someone to physically go to the title office for you. That’s it. So far as I know no finance company has ever charged a dealership for the few pieces of paper needed to sign a finance agreement. The blank ones with pages worth of small print usually cost no more than $1.

My advice to anyone shopping for a car, new or used, is ask your DMV what the actual costs are for title processing, add maybe $30 for the temporary tag, and make sure your final out the door price is negotiated BEFORE you ever get to the dealership. If they won’t work with you or play the “let me ask the manager” game, go to the private owner or eBay. Life’s too short and wallets far too thin these days to contribute to a bogus cause.

Steven Lang
Steven Lang

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  • Bevo Bevo on Jun 27, 2009

    Too bad these poor dealers are getting squeezed out by GM and Chrysler. They are only trying to scratch out an honest buck.

  • FleetofWheel FleetofWheel on Jul 20, 2009

    I'm looking forward to the day when the state franchise laws are changed and cars can be sold directly from the mfg to the customer. This could be done over the internet and through big box retailers similar to Ikea or Costco. There would also still be some full service dealers that charged more for those that need the help, or want a concierge type service. Test drives could be charged by the hour. Servicing would be separate and available at any qualified car repair center just like now.

  • IBx1 Never got the appeal of these; it looks like there was a Soviet mandate to create a car with two doors and a roof that could be configured in different ways.
  • CAMeyer Considering how many voters will be voting for Trump because they remember that gas prices were low in 2020–never mind the pandemic—this seems like a wise move.
  • The Oracle Been out on the boat on Lake James (NC) and cooking up some hella good food here with friends at the lake place.
  • ToolGuy Also on to-do list: Read the latest Steve S. fiction work on TTAC (May 20 Junkyard Find)
  • 1995 SC I'm likely in the minority, but I really liked the last Eldorado best. That and the STS.