I’ll admit, it’s been a while since I’ve shopped for a new vehicle—since May 2007, to be exact. But that doesn't mean I don't still remember just how fresh and intoxicatingly fabulous new car smell is or how exciting it is to drive a newly purchased vehicle off the lot for the first time. It also doesn’t mean that I’ve forgotten all the pain of the negotiation phase. Most of those hours were spent talking prices…specifically, fees.

Fees, fees, fees. There are just so many of them. There are fees you expect and fees you don't expect, and fees you understand and fees you don't understand. Plus, by the time the discussion turns to fees, you’ve probably already been at the dealership for several hours (or days) talking colors, add-ons, delivery dates, interest rates, and other mind-scramblingly confusing topics. Dealers are counting on this confusion to help them slip in some extra fees here and there while you’re distracted. It happens in dealerships all across the nation every day. But hopefully this research will help you make sure it never happens to YOU!

Tips to help you save on vehicle-purchasing fees

When it comes to new vehicle fees, you can reasonably expect to pay add-on fees for taxes, title fees and registration fees. But cagey dealerships sometimes like to use these expected fees to camouflage other totally unreasonable fees you shouldn't have to pay. Look for these fees on your total invoice and don't be afraid to contest them!

  • Vehicle-preparation fees: This fee relates to preparing your car for its new owner—you. Basically, this means the dealer will wash the car, remove protective films from components and sensitive areas (like the bumpers), top off the fluids and maybe even put a little flower or new owner "care package" on the seat for you. You can do all this yourself in five minutes—and who needs a "care package" that costs an extra $100?
  • Additional/extended warranty fees: Whether this is for an extended warranty for the vehicle itself or a warranty for one or more components, be sure you’ve agreed to these charges and understand what you’re getting before you sign on the dotted line.
  • Documentation fees: The dealer has to complete some rather, “involved” paperwork to complete the transfer of the title and the sale of the car. But while they’d very much like to transfer the cost of their time and filing fees over to you, the unsuspecting customer, this is absolutely a negotiating point! Make them tell you exactly what each fee is for, and let them know you’ll only pay legitimate costs like the transfer of title. Inform them that you’ll only pay as much as their true out-of-pocket cost was for those fees.
  • Vehicle-advertising, storage and transportation fees: Every dealership incurs a variety of fees for every vehicle that’s brought in or transferred. In addition, each day a vehicle sits on the lot costs the dealer money. But it was the dealer's choice to buy and store that vehicle, not yours. You shouldn't pay for the time your vehicle was stored up until the point you decided to buy it, or for the cost of moving it closer to you, or for the cost of advertising that it’s for sale, or for any other cost that was incurred prior to the moment you pointed and said, "I want that one."
  •  Paint, finish, fabric, etc.-protection fees: Just when you thought you’d heard it all, here come the "protection" fees. These are the extra fees you can (if you really, really want to) pay to protect the fabric, paint, finish, etc. on your car. Experts advise against paying these fees because the products the dealership will use are no better than what you can buy—as needed—to care for your car. They are also much pricier.
  • Administrative fees: This catch-all category is a great place where dealers can hide all the fees they don't know what to do with. So scrutinize it carefully! Here, experts advise that you ask to see the documentation (paperwork) on each fee, and to make sure the paperwork VIN number for each fee matches the VIN number of the vehicle you’re purchasing. When in doubt, ask for a second opinion—don’t hesitate to ask that the dealership manager or owner be invited to the discussion if you’re in doubt.