I take it back … Car dealers aren’t totally worthless

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young-woman-in-a-car-showroom

“I refuse to go to a car dealership for any reason. I don’t shop for cars there and I don’t get maintenance or repairs done there. They have a reputation for charging much more than smaller auto shops.”

Or at least that’s what I thought last June when I wrote a Bargaineering post called Skip the pricey car dealership … I fixed a keyless remote myself and so can you.

I’ve changed my tune since then.

It started when I had to take my Honda to the dealership for an airbag recall.

While the car was there, they fixed the stuck sliding panel in my car’s front-seat storage compartment.

I’d tried everything to fix it myself, from coat hangers to screwdrivers to DIY videos.

The dealership fixed it at no charge.

Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised.

I wasn’t even paying them for other work.

Maybe they wanted to do something nice since it was an inconvenience to bring my car in for the recall service. Maybe they hoped to earn my future business.

Next, my husband’s car got totaled in an accident.

We planned to replace it with an older, used model from a private seller or CarMax, which is how we’ve always bought our cars, but we came across an inventory problem.

In our target price range of $10,000 to $12,000, we found nothing but older, high-mileage vehicles. We didn’t want to spend that kind of money for something that was more likely to have expensive maintenance problems.

We noticed that some of the best deals we found online were at car dealers. So, against our normal instincts, we decided to check out some of those deals.

The first dealership we tried lived up to the stereotypical car dealership reputation with false advertising and the “hard sell” salesman. Feeling that we’d had the old “bait and switch” played on us, we quickly left.

Then we tried another dealership that a friend recommended and that also had good deals listed online. This time, the experience was completely different.

Not once did the salesman try to upsell us into a newer year or fancier model than those we expressed interest in. Within two hours, we had scoured the lot, test driven four vehicles and picked out one to buy.

It was pricier than what we’d planned to spend, but increasing our budget by a few thousand dollars was going to get us a nearly new car — a better value in the long run.

It had fewer than 10,000 miles and an excellent warranty. And with some negotiation, we got the price down to below the car’s Kelly Blue Book value.

To sweeten the deal further, the dealership was offering 0% financing to customers with excellent credit — even on used vehicles.

That’s highly unusual, but according to our salesman, the dealership’s main concern was its sales volume. I’d already shopped around online and hadn’t found a deal lower than Pentagon Federal’s 3% financing for a used car.

Since we could borrow money without paying interest, it actually made more sense to take out a loan and leave our car fund in the bank. It will be there if we need it later, when interest rates will likely be higher and auto loans will be less attractive.

Two months later, we had another occasion to consider giving a dealership our business when I walked out to my car one Saturday morning to find a window was missing.

There was no broken glass on the ground, so I quickly understood that my car hadn’t been broken into. I knew from previous experience that the automatic window regulator had probably failed.

Sure enough, the glass had slipped into the door, and pressing the automatic window button resulted in nothing more than a frustrating grinding noise.

A car with no window is a car that anyone can get into. I couldn’t risk having my car stolen or vandalized. I wanted that window fixed ASAP.

We looked online and found a video on how to replace the regulator. It looked doable, but challenging.

We were concerned about the possibility of dropping the window glass and breaking it, or making some other mistake that could make the problem more expensive to fix.

Also, we needed a new regulator in order to fix the window.

We could order a regulator for about $50 with Prime shipping from Amazon, but that meant leaving the car exposed until Monday.

Given our recent positive experiences, we decided to call the nearest dealership and see how that option would work for us.

As it turned out, they had the part on hand and could fix the window in a few hours for $350.

To avoid potentially compounding our losses and eliminate the stress of trying to do the job ourselves, the price was worth it.

These three experiences haven’t suddenly made me believe that choosing the car dealership is always the best option, because it isn’t.

For example, the quote I got for four new tires at the dealer was twice what I ended up paying at Firestone.

Also, a dealership can charge as much as $120 an hour for labor, whereas you can usually get a much better rate from an independent mechanic.

It’s also worth noting that if we didn’t have excellent credit, financing the car at the dealership wouldn’t have been nearly as good of a deal.

However, I’ve learned that car dealerships can sometimes save you time and money, and they’re worth considering for any car purchase or repair.

Some dealerships live up to the shady stereotypes, and even the good ones have some bad deals, but that can be true of private sellers and independent mechanics as well.

Ultimately, you should explore all your options. Don’t be like I used to be and simply assume that the dealership is a rip-off.


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