Be aware that some fees are regulated by state and local agencies, and you will have no choice except to pay. The most common fees you may be asked to pay usually fall into one of three categories – sales tax, registration fees, and documentation fee. These are usually non-negotiable.
Sales tax is required on every vehicle purchase and is non-negotiable. The dealer does not set the amount of tax – that is state regulated and must be paid. Make sure to ask whether the sales tax will be included in the amount you finance or if you will be required to pay it when you register your new car. If you can afford it, it is better to pay cash for your sales tax as it will reduce the amount you have to finance and save you interest.
Vehicle Registration Fees
Often, a dealership will register your vehicle for you to save you a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Again, this is a state regulated fee, and the dealer has no control over the amount. This fee covers the registration and title fees for your new car. It will vary, depending on the car you choose – the more expensive your car is, the higher the fees will be.
Documentation fees are supposedly meant to cover the cost of the office personnel needed to do the paperwork after you purchase a new car. When examined, this fee looks more like additional profit to the dealer as the dealer is paying an hourly employee to handle several transactions per hour. These fees vary from dealer to dealer. Some states put a limit on how much they can be. Most documentation fees are between $50 - $500. South Carolina does not have a limit on this fee, and documentation fees average around $350 here. Always ask about this fee before you sign any papers as many dealers will not mention the amount until you have signed a contract. You can try to negotiate this fee with the dealer, but expect a fair amount of push back.
Most dealers also charge a small fee based on environmental laws in their area. They will also charge regional advertising fees. All dealers are required to join in regional advertising for dealers in their area. Manufacturers insist on this to help pay for expensive ads that run nationally but point you to your local dealer. Make sure the dealer is not charging for their own advertising. If you aren’t sure, call another dealer in your area and ask them about their regional advertising fees and compare the two amounts.
The reality is every new car purchase will be saddled with fees. You may not be able to negotiate lower fees for certain things, but it never hurts to ask. A dealer may want to move merchandise and be willing to reduce some fees.