What Are Dealer Options and Are They Worth It?

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A rude surprise sometimes awaits the new-car shopper who has settled on a vehicle configuration that meets their needs and budget: They show up at the dealer and find the sticker price has been increased significantly with dealer-installed options they never considered and may not want.

Related: Inventory Shortage Update: Should You Wait to Buy a Car?

The options on a new vehicle fall into two main categories:

  • Factory options are added by the automaker during assembly or sometimes when an imported vehicle lands in the U.S. (called port-installed options). These options are listed on the federally required Monroney window sticker, are covered by the factory warranty and are priced the same at any of the brand’s dealerships. Such factory options also can add to the resale value of the vehicle.
  • Dealer-installed options are added by the dealer before the vehicle is offered for sale. They might include equipment, such as an alarm system or a spoiler. Often, they are services such as rustproofing or paint or upholstery treatment. They are not covered by the manufacturer warranty, and pricing is set by the individual dealer. They typically are listed on a supplemental dealer sticker on the window and are added to the automaker’s suggested retail price for the vehicle, sometimes increasing it by hundreds.

Note that we’re talking here about options added to the vehicle by the dealer and not selected by the buyer. Many vehicles today offer lengthy lists of automaker-made or automaker-approved accessories that a buyer might decide to add at the dealer. But the difference is that the buyer has made the choice and is paying for options they ordered.

Are Dealer-Installed Options Worth It?

Maybe — but often not. If you really want additional window tinting, you might decide to go ahead and pay just for the convenience of having it already done; only you can decide. But the primary reason dealers add these unordered options to cars on their lots is to boost their profit on the sale.

The options typically are heavily marked up — sometimes 100% or more — and are often more expensive than you would pay elsewhere for the same item or service. If there’s any question later about the quality or durability of the option, that will be between you and the dealer.

Can You Get Out of Paying for Dealer Options?

Here it gets trickier. In the case of something like wheel locks, you might be able to get the option removed; not so, however, with something like paint protectant that has already been applied. That leaves you trying to negotiate away the price of anything you don’t want. Expect the dealer to resist and you’ll have to decide what, if anything, you’re willing to pay. In many cases, even if you paid 50%, the dealer would still be making money on it.

But you shouldn’t let haggling over these add-ons distract you from your primary goal, which is to negotiate your best out-the-door price for the vehicle. And your starting point for that is the automaker’s sticker price, not the price on the dealer sticker that includes things you never wanted.

The bottom line is that you need to be prepared to walk away if the dealer insists on padding the vehicle price with extras and won’t offer you a vehicle without them. Other dealers might pitch add-ons such as paint protection along with extended warranties and other insurance products as you are closing the sale, but that’s after you’ve already agreed on the vehicle price. You can then accept or reject the extras and pricing offered.

Some Dealer-Installed Options to Avoid

Some dealer-installed options can add value even if you want to debate the pricing; others seem to have little justification for average buyers or can be obtained at a better price elsewhere. Here are a some of the latter:

Rustproofing

Modern vehicles have sophisticated metal technology and corrosion coatings that make aftermarket rust treatments mostly unnecessary.

Fabric or Leather Protection

Do-it-yourself treatments or cheaper solutions are often available. In any case, such treatments won’t protect upholstery from a lack of regular cleaning and care.

Paint Protection

Regular washing and a good wax will do the job in most situations.

VIN Etching

Etching window glass with the vehicle identification number can be a good anti-theft measure, but there are DIY kits available for less than $50.

Nitrogen Tire Inflation

If you’re planning track days, the incremental pressure and temperature advantages of nitrogen might be worth it, though a tire shop will usually do it for cheaper. For daily driving, air will be just fine.

One More “Option” to Beware

It’s a sign of these times of inventory shortages that some dealer supplemental stickers now include something called a “market adjustment” or “additional dealer markup.” You’re getting nothing extra on the car for that. It’s the extra profit the dealer is asking you to pay — over and above the full manufacturer’s sticker price — for the simple privilege of buying that vehicle. Going elsewhere or just waiting for the market to ease are your only options for now.

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