Car Buying

Buying a Car: What Dealer Add-Ons Should You Avoid?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro July 2014

If you buy your next car from a dealership, you'll probably meet with the dealer's finance and insurance (F&I) manager. F&I managers are an important part of buying a car because they can help get you financing. But that's not the manager's only job. The F&I manager will also try to sell you various dealer options or accessories, many of which we don't recommend choosing. We've listed some dealer add-ons you should especially avoid so that you don't waste your money.

VIN Etching

Many dealers will tell you that VIN etching is a theft-prevention tool. The way it works, they say, is that the dealer will etch your car's VIN into a corner of the vehicle's windows. Thieves will stay away from your car because it can be readily identified as stolen by law enforcement.

This claim isn't necessarily untrue. VIN etching can be a theft-prevention measure, and some insurance companies even give discounts to drivers who have it. The problem here is cost: Most dealers charge you $300 or more for the feature while do-it-yourself kits are often $50 or less. As a result, we strongly suggest that you skip buying the feature from the dealer. If the car you want already has VIN-etched windows, insist that you won't pay their retail cost for it.

Rust-Proofing

You won't find many dealers still offering rust-proofing, which is a common add-on that doesn't have any real value, but some dealers do make it an option. We strongly suggest that you decline.

The main reason is that rust-proofing is now included on all new cars, and dealerships won't be able to add better rust protection than what automakers have already put on each vehicle in their own factories. As a result, we suggest you decline this one. If it's already included, insist that you won't pay for it.

Fabric Protection

Another option that we strongly suggest you avoid is fabric protection. This isn't a warranty against future spills or even a promise to clean or repair any damage you do to the interior. Instead, fabric protection -- or fabric guard as it's sometimes called -- is simply a material that the dealer will spray on your car's interior to protect the fabric. We think that this is almost never a good idea because the spray won't last long enough to prevent damage. Instead, save your money for a good cleaning product in case you spill anything.

Extended Warranty

In nearly all cases, we advise against extended warranties. This is primarily because most modern cars offer exceptional reliability, so a warranty will rarely be worth the extra money that you pay for it. Of course, this isn't always true, but it's often the case.

If you're interested in a new car, we especially advise against an extended warranty. After all, there's no telling how long you'll keep the car. We don't think it's a good idea to pay for a longer warranty up front when you have several years of manufacturer warranty left to use. Additionally, you'll usually be offered a warranty when your manufacturer plan runs out. If you feel that the car might have problems down the line, you can buy it then.

One major exception to our stance on warranties is for drivers buying notoriously unreliable used cars or vehicles from luxury brands where labor can be expensive. In that case, a warranty may be a good idea. We suggest you check the fine print to make sure that you're getting a comprehensive plan.

Our Advice: Be Alert

There are several items an F&I manager may try to sell you that have some real value. For example, a tire warranty may be a good idea if you drive in an area with rough roads, a stolen-vehicle tracking system could be a smart buy if your city has a car-theft problem, and options or accessories such as aftermarket wheels may appeal to your tastes. In general, though, we suggest that you avoid the items listed above when buying a car, no matter how much the dealership insists that you consider them.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Buying a Car: What Dealer Add-Ons Should You Avoid? - Autotrader