Navigating the car-buying process

Buying a new or used car is a major purchase, often costing tens of thousands of dollars. 

And navigating the sales process can be tricky and frustrating. 

New rules proposed by the Federal Trade Commission could be coming to help consumers, but until then, the experts at Consumer Reports have some tips on how to avoid some common car buying mistakes.

The FTC received more than 100,000 complaints in each of the past three years about shady dealership practices. 

Now the agency is trying to put into place some protections to keep the practices from affecting other consumers.

Some of the practices the FTC would ban? Not disclosing the full price of a car to any consumer who asks. 

Until protections are in place, try to get as much information as possible in writing from the dealer. 

Ask for an itemized, out-the-door price. 

That price should include add-ons that have already been installed on that car, especially if the dealer says it’s the last one in stock. 

Under those new rules you wouldn’t have to pay for those extras, but in the meantime, you’re going to want to negotiate to get them taken off.

And did you know that half a dealer’s profit —about $1,200 for new cars, and about a third of the profits, or $900, for used—comes from extra financing, leasing, and service fees? 

At the end of the whole process, check the paperwork and check the math. If there is anything extra that you want to buy, negotiate the price on that.

Don’t fall for unnecessary extras, such as nitrogen-filled tires. Consumer Reports has seen charges as high as $495, even though one company says dealers should charge only $8 to $12 for a fill.

Consumer Reports recommends skipping nitrogen altogether, no matter the price. 

And how about when you arrive to pick up the car, only to be told there was a mistake" The car has just been sold to someone else, and the only one left is more expensive?

It’s the classic bait and switch. In some states it’s illegal, and it’s at the very least an unfair trade practice, so this is your sign that it is time to walk away.

Not surprisingly, automobile dealer associations aren’t too happy about the proposed rules, saying they’re complicated and could negatively affect their businesses. 

But if you feel you’ve been wronged by a dealership, Consumer Reports says to complain. 

Report it to the FTC, which already has the power to bring enforcement actions for deceptive practices, and share your experience.

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