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Get the Out-the-Door Price When Buying a Car

You are negotiating on a car at the dealership when the salesperson finally gives you the good price you've wanted. Sensing that you're very close to making a decision to buy, the salesperson might smile and say the magic words: "So, do we have a deal?"

Wait. Don't shake hands just yet. Instead, say your own magic words: "Your price sounds good, but first I need to know the out-the-door cost."

The "out-the-door price" is a car business term for the total price of a vehicle with all of the necessary fees factored in. It allows you to see all aspects of the car deal in one place and gives you a complete picture of what you're paying. It will also help you identify any hidden fees or extras in the contract. As a buyer, it's better to learn about such fees at this point, before the deal is final, than when you are in the finance and insurance office about to sign the contract.

Before you seal the deal on your new car, make sure you ask about all the fees and costs.

Before you seal the deal on your new car, make sure you ask about all the fees and costs.

What's in the Out-the-Door Figure?

At some dealerships, the out-the-door costs are abbreviated as "TTL fees" or tax, title and license. This means that, in addition to the price of the car, you typically have to pay the following costs:

  • State and local sales tax
  • Department of Motor Vehicles title and registration fees
  • A documentation fee
  • Interest charges on a car loan

The documentation fee is set by law in some states, and in others, it's not. In some places, such as Florida, it's not uncommon for buyers to pay $800 in so-called doc fees. In such a scenario, the dealership could quote an attractive price for the car, knowing it would make a profit once it applied the $800 doc fee. The article called "What New Car Fees Should You Pay?" shows what you can expect to spend in doc fees depending on your state.

In most cases, when you ask for the out-the-door cost, the salesperson knows exactly what you mean. A good salesperson immediately replies with something to the effect of "besides the cost of the car, you will pay sales tax, Department of Motor Vehicles fees and a doc fee, which is ..." and then you'll learn the fee. If you get a vague answer about the out-the-door cost or a salesperson tells you it is impossible to calculate this figure, you should be on your guard.

See Edmunds pricing data

Has Your Car's Value Changed?

Used car values are constantly changing. Edmunds lets you track your vehicle's value over time so you can decide when to sell or trade in.

Price history graph example

Out-the-Door vs. Monthly Payments

So how does this approach work when your focus is on your monthly payments? Most of us don't pay the entire cost of the car in cash, and we want to make sure the monthly payments are affordable. And a car salesperson is likely to open price negotiations by asking: "What do you want your monthly payment to be?" It's easy to fall into that monthly-payment thinking.

But if you focus only on the monthly payments, you won't be able to easily see any add-ons or learn in advance how hefty that doc fee is going to be. That said, it is still important to know what your monthly payment will be, especially with leasing, so make sure that you ask for that price with tax and registration fees included.

You can avoid monthly-payment myopia by securing preapproved car financing. Then you can proceed as a cash buyer, carrying a check from your lender into the dealership with you. Preapproval also lets you gauge whether the dealer's financing is a better deal for you.

Negotiating on the price of the car is a simpler way to go. It's also easier to ask the question that will reveal what you're actually going to pay for the car: the out-the-door cost.

Next Steps

Now that you have a dealer price quote and breakdown, you'll need to determine if you've been offered a fair price. Use Edmunds Price Checker to input your specific details. Plus, get a rating on your deal to see how it compares to what others are paying in your area. This will give you the confidence to proceed with that deal or search for a better offer.