When diving into the world of car purchases, it’s crucial to distinguish between legitimate fees and those that warrant negotiation or outright rejection. Recognizing the fees that rightfully fall on the buyer ensures a smoother transaction. 

Legitimate Additional Fees: What You Should Pay

Here are three fees that typically align with your responsibility:


State and local taxes are inevitable when purchasing a car, encompassing sales tax, vehicle license tax, and personal property tax. These rates vary across states, with Oklahoma holding the highest sales tax at 11.5%, while Montana, Delaware, Oregon, and New Hampshire boast a tax-free status.

Title and Registration:

The cost varies significantly by state; in California, registration involves a $62 fee plus a variable “transportation improvement fee” (TIF) ranging from $25 to $175. The title fee is generally lower, hovering around $15 in California.

Destination Charge (new cars only):

A legitimate fee associated with buying a new car, the destination charge is part of the invoice price paid by the dealership to the manufacturer. Ensuring this charge aligns with what’s itemized on the window sticker is crucial.

Doc Fee:

Although controversial, the documentation fee is a legitimate charge for the dealer’s paperwork completion on your new car. While it may vary, it shouldn’t exceed $85 in California, and some negotiation on this fee might be possible.

Identifying Dubious Dealership Fees: What to Avoid

While legitimate fees contribute to the cost of car ownership, certain fees emerge as questionable practices that buyers should be cautious about. Here’s a breakdown of dealership fees that you should not pay:


Dealerships may attempt to sell the concept of “pure” nitrogen for your tires, claiming enhanced longevity. However, since regular air already comprises 78% nitrogen, any benefits are marginal at best. Rejecting this upsell ensures you’re not paying for negligible advantages.

Additional Destination Fee:

A second destination fee beyond the original one built into the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) is a cash grab. Buyers have the right to request its removal, especially when it’s not itemized on the original window sticker.

Existing Upgrades:

Paying for upgrades already present in the chosen car, such as tinted windows, is unjust. This fee is akin to charging for parts and labor on modifications that the dealership did not undertake. Buyers should object to paying for features the dealership did not add.

Fabric Protection:

While fabric protection may sound beneficial, especially for new cars, it’s often unnecessary. New cars usually come with fabric protection applied, making the additional layer an unjustifiable expense for most buyers.

Reconditioning / Dealer Preparation:

Charging buyers for routine cleaning and getting a car “sale-ready” is unfair. Maintaining showroom appeal is a standard dealership practice, and passing this cost to the buyer is unreasonable.

Car History Reports:

Car history reports from services like CarFax or AutoCheck are essential when buying used cars. However, reputable dealerships typically provide these reports as part of their sales pitch. Charging buyers for reports the dealership already obtained is unjustified.

Extended Warranty:

While extended warranties have merit for used cars, they are generally unnecessary for new cars. Buyers should carefully evaluate the need for an extended warranty and avoid unnecessary expenses, especially for new vehicles.


Charging buyers an additional fee to cover advertising costs is an unreasonable surcharge. Savvy buyers should resist accepting any advertising or marketing charge, which may be slipped into the paperwork hoping the buyer won’t notice.

Cash Up-Charge:

A fee applied to buyers paying in cash is an attempt to recoup potential profits lost from financing. Savvy buyers should object to this surcharge, as paying in cash should not warrant additional fees.

Conclusion: Vigilance in the Car Buying Process

Thoroughly scrutinizing the paperwork and understanding each fee’s legitimacy is paramount in the car buying process. While some fees are justifiable, others warrant negotiation or outright rejection. Savvy buyers armed with knowledge can navigate the complex landscape of additional fees, ensuring a fair and transparent transaction.

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