8 Hidden Fees When Buying a Used Car

Ready to start shopping for a used car? It's important to learn about some of the hidden fees when buying a used car before you finalize your deal.

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A car is likely one of the most expensive purchases you'll ever make, even if it's used. While you may look at the sticker price and think you have a good idea of what your car may cost to start, that's rarely the final price.

As you start shopping, it's critical to know a few common hidden fees when buying a used car. Some fees are non-negotiable—but sometimes you might encounter additional dealer fees that aren't required by law, which you can ask the dealer to remove. It's important to keep your eye out for these fees because they can impact the total cost of your vehicle, not to mention your budget.

Before exploring your options, make sure you're aware of these common hidden fees.

Dealer Fees

Documentation fee

Also known as a "doc fee," this is a charge the dealer adds to cover their expenses for getting a license and registration, or gathering the necessary paperwork. These fees can run anywhere from $50 to $600, with some states having a cap on how much a dealer can charge a buyer. Depending on where you live and the dealer, a documentation fee may be negotiable, so it can't hurt to ask.

Reconditioning fee

Reconditioning is one of the most common hidden fees when buying a used car. When a dealer buys a used car, they inspect and run diagnostics on it to discover any maintenance issues. Then, once the vehicle is given the all-clear, they'll clean it to get it ready for the showroom. Some dealers may try to pass this cost on to you as a fee. It's something you can negotiate.

Advertising fee

Advertising is another fee a dealer may pass down to you. These are fees associated with marketing the car through ads, website photos, and videos. Many experts contend that advertising a car is simply a cost of doing business for a dealer, so it's a fee that shouldn't be passed down to the consumer. This is another fee you can try to negotiate.

Taxes and Insurance

Sales tax

While many hidden car fees are negotiable and can be removed entirely, sales tax is a fee you'll need to pay (unless you live in a state without sales tax). Keep in mind, though, sales tax often isn't listed on the sticker price, so it may come as a surprise to you when you get the final numbers. Most car buyers can expect to pay between 2% and 8%. Look up your state tax rate and run the numbers so you can add it to your budget.

Extended warranty

If you're buying a used car that's no longer under the original manufacturer's warranty, the dealership may try to sell you an extended warranty. However, extended warranties don't cover normal wear and tear on a car—so it's something you'll want to consider based on the vehicle, how you plan to drive it, and your budget. If you choose to go that route, carefully read what the warranty does cover, and what it doesn't.

GAP insurance

Guaranteed Asset Protection, or GAP insurance is a type of supplemental car insurance that helps cover the difference between the financed amount and the car's value if it was stolen or totaled. If you're underwater on your loan at the time of such an event, you may have to pay the difference. Some dealers may offer you GAP insurance as part of the buying process. If GAP insurance is something you want, check with your car insurance provider or shop around to see the prices and compare.

Other Car Costs

Car upgrades

As you're shopping around and comparing prices on the vehicle you want, you may see fees such as window tinting and fabric protection added to the price. Review these optional upgrades to see if you're interested, and if so, compare the price with other local vendors. For example, you may find it's more expensive for the dealer to add window tints to your car.

Car maintenance

While it's not a hidden fee at the time of purchase, there's one more thing you should think about when shopping for a used car: research how much maintenance fees and repairs typically cost and how often they're needed. Some cars have higher reliability scores compared to others, and a lot of maintenance fees could add up over time. Ask your dealer about the typical service costs for the car you want so you can have a good idea when reviewing your expected expenses.

Checking the Fine Print

When you buy any car, whether new, used, or certified pre-owned, it's essential to carefully review the paperwork before you complete the deal. You always want to make sure the numbers you've run and been told by the dealer match what's in the official documentation. If they don't, ask for clarification before proceeding further.

Knowing about the potential hidden fees when buying a used car before you finalize your purchase may end up saving you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars over the long run.

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Liz Froment
I love learning about money — deals, financing, and what to avoid. All that came in handy after my own extensive car search, where I put everything I learned about the financial side of things to use. That's where I can help you too. I want to give you tools to help you find the best vehicle that will fit your practical and financial needs.