Tips On Buying A Car From A Dealership

Tips On Buying A Car From A Dealership

Written by Bryan Daly
Fact-checked by Caitlin Wood
Last Updated August 11, 2021

Buying a car can be complicated and disappointing, especially from a dealership. When there’s tons of auto terminology to learn and remember, it’s easy for a sketchy salesperson to dupe you into financing a vehicle that’s not worth the money. 

Whether it’s high rates, dealer add-ons, or long loan terms, dealerships take advantage of Canadians in many ways.

Read this so you won’t get caught off guard next time you’re in the market for a new car

Tip 1: Watch Out For Dealers Who Ask Your Monthly Budget

Newer vehicles are expensive, which is why some dealerships offer loans so customers can finance cars over time Unfortunately, this is one way dealerships will try to take advantage of you. Here’s what can happen:

  • Dealers will often go over your budget by asking how much you’re willing to spend each month instead of how much you’re willing to spend on the car. This can be dangerous as, these dealers can make expensive cars “affordable” with monthly budgets by offering longer terms.
  • They offer a loan with smaller and supposedly more affordable payments. Soon after, you’re locked into a longer-term than you were expecting. 
  • To make you feel better, you’re given a lower interest rate to compensate for the lengthy-term. Longer terms lead to more interest and fees overall. 
  • Suddenly, you’re paying more for the car than its market value and you’re “upside-down” on your loan (with negative equity). 

Tip 2: Lookout For Longer vs. Shorter Loan Terms

Longer loan terms result in lower rates but more interest. Here’s an example of how dealerships manipulate the length of your term and the cost of your financing plan:

Term Length36 Months84 Months
Loan Amount$25,000$25,000
Interest Rate7%5%
Monthly Payment$743.06$353.35
Total Interest$1,750$4,653.48
Total Paid$26,750$29,653.48

While your payments would be smaller, a longer-term can mean you’ll pay hundreds, even thousands more for a car than you would with a shorter-term and higher rate.

The 20/4/10 Rule

If you’re not sure whether you can afford your car loan, use the “20/4/10 rule”. According to experts, the best way to avoid paying more than your car’s value is to make a 20% down payment, choose a term of 4 years or less and don’t spend more than 10% of your income on related expenses. 

Tip 3: Watch Out For Dealership Add-Ons

Another way dealerships screw you is by adding services to the car’s final cost, such as:

  • VIN & Window Etching
  • Wheel Protection
  • Paint & Fabric Protection
  • Credit & Gap Insurance
  • Upgrades
  • Extended Warranties

These services are optional, but many dealers will try to convince you that these are necessary add ons to protect your car. However, the reality is most aren’t even necessary. For instance, paint protector is a chemical that is applied to your car as a layer of protection from dirt, debris, bird dropping, UV rays and other things that can cause superficial damage. Typically, these superficial damages aren’t a concern for most consumers and are not worth the added cost.

Learn how to save money on your car insurance.

Tip 4: Lookout For Pressure Tactics

Ever heard the expression, “the deal is only good for today”? You might have because it’s a common way for dealerships to get your attention. Here’s how to avoid such traps:

  • Don’t be afraid to say no 
  • Take time to think about it
  • Check other dealerships
  • Speak with a financial expert
  • Test drive the car & get it inspected by your mechanic 

You’re not obligated to buy a car until you’ve signed a contract. There are plenty of affordable vehicles out there, so do your research before agreeing to anything.

Tip 5: Do Your Research

Going to a dealership without doing your due diligence makes you an easy target for manipulation. Not to mention, it’s difficult to navigate your way around a deal when you don’t know what’s fair. Before you buy a dealership car, be sure to:

  • Research multiple vehicles/sellers
  • Check the average transaction price
  • Consider the accessories you need
  • Understand your car budget & compare it to your household budget

Tip 6: Hidden Fees & Interest Markups   

Some dealerships charge for processing paperwork, others tack on a “green tire levy” for having to recycle tires. These fees can be unreasonably high (around $400 – $1,200) and many provinces are now banning them following customer complaints.

Additionally, dealerships aren’t required to inform you about the cheapest loans that you’re actually eligible for. Legally, they can even increase your interest rate, making their loans pricier than any bank or credit union’s, which is why you should always get a second quote from your financial institution before negotiating with a dealer

Don’t Get Ripped Off On Your Next Car Deal

While buying a vehicle is almost always a hassle, there are ways to get it done without being ripped off. All you have to do is research different vehicles and sellers in your area, manage your budget properly and watch out for the dealership tricks above.


Rating of 4/5 based on 5 votes.

Bryan is a graduate of Dawson College and Concordia University. He has been writing for Loans Canada for five years, covering all things related to personal finance, and aims to pursue the craft of professional writing for many years to come. In his spare time, he maintains a passion for editing, writing screenplays, staying fit, and traveling the world in search of the coolest sights our planet has to offer. Bryan uses the BMO Cash Back Mastercard to earn cash back on everything from boring bill payments to exciting excursions. He is also a strong saver, holding both a TFSA and an RRSP account in order to prepare for his future while taking full advantage of tax benefits.

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