Understanding the true cost of a car can be challenging, but the key lies in knowing the out-the-door price, which includes all additional fees and charges. To ensure you have a clear understanding of the total cost, familiarize yourself with the concept of the out-the-door price, and use our free calculator to estimate the final amount.
The out-the-door price is more than just the sticker price—it includes the vehicle’s selling price, taxes, title, registration, doc fees, and any dealer add-ons or accessories. By focusing on this comprehensive price, you can avoid unexpected charges and negotiate better deals with dealerships.
CarEdge is here to help you navigate the car buying process with ease. Check out our free out-the-door price calculator to estimate the true cost of your next vehicle purchase and ensure you’re getting the best deal possible.
Read on to learn more about what all is factored into the OTD price.
The components of an out-the-door price
Imagine you were buying your groceries and when you went to checkout the cashier told you that the strawberries were $4, but that the container they came in was an additional $1, and there was a “grocer fee” for stocking the strawberries of an additional $.25. Your $4 strawberries just became $5.25 strawberries.
If that was reality, you’d probably be pretty frustrated with the grocery store. “Why didn’t they just advertise the price as $5.25, instead of $4.”
Welcome to the world of buying a car! Dealerships for decades have advertised prices for cars that simply aren’t true. The total cost to purchase a vehicle is its out-the-door price, and the components that make up an OTD price are as follows.
The selling price of a vehicle is the first piece to our “out-the-door” puzzle. The selling price is the amount both parties (customer and salesperson) have agreed to in order to make a transaction happen.
For example, if you see an SUV online listed for $39,900, and you contact the dealer and negotiate the price to $37,750, that would be your agreed to selling price.
This is not the total out-the-door price.
In most states (with the exception of Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon) your purchase will be subject to sales tax. Sales tax is calculated on the zipcode level, because in many locales there are state sales taxes and then also county sales tax. There are also some regions that charge an additional vehicle tax (Arizona, for example).
Every dealership has software that allows them to calculate what the total tax amount will be on your purchase. Ask the dealer for this amount, as it is the second component of our out-the-door price. Even if you are buying a car out of state, you can still have the dealer run your taxes for your home state, most have the software to do that.
If you’re purchasing a car in the United States, and you want to own it legally, you need it to be titled in your name. Each state charges a fee when you request a title. Although it is usually nominal (in most states just a few dollars), it is another charge you need to be aware of to calculate your total out-the-door price.
Keep in mind that our free Out-the-Door Price Estimator will tell you what your state’s title fee is. I recommend referencing that when you review what the dealership shares with you.
Another fee from your state government is the registration fee, which is a charge to register your vehicle in your name. Registration fees vary greatly from state to state, with some states charging a flat fee, and others basing their charge on the weight, age, or even horsepower that your vehicle produces.
The registration fee typically includes license plates (sometimes referred to as “tags”). There should not be a separate “tag” fee in most states.
A dealer fee that is never disclosed until you ask for the out-the-door price is the documentation fee. This fee is a pure profit center for dealers, but one you’ll be hard pressed to get them to remove.
Doc fees are not mandatory, but all dealers charge them. In many states they are capped. In California, the doc fee is capped at $80, but in Florida, doc fees can be over $1,000. Each dealer sets their own doc fee amount, and it is a major contributor to your total OTD price.
Frustratingly, many dealers add accessories to their inventory and then try and sell those to their customers. If you’ve ever had a dealer tell you “we tinted the windows, so that’ll be $995,” you’ve experienced this.
These may not be included in the price you initially negotiated, but they absolutely will be in the out-the-door price.
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How to use the out-the-door price
Now that you know what makes up the OTD price, it’s important to understand how to effectively use it.
When you negotiate the price on any car deal it is important to ask the dealer for the OTD price. Many dealers will list their lowest price so that they show up on the first page of websites like CarGurus and Autotrader, but then they’ll surprise you with massive doc fees and other accessories.
A dealership that shows up as a “bad deal” on CarGurus might actually have the better OTD price, and for that reason it’s always of the utmost importance that you focus your negotiating efforts on the out-the-door number and nothing else, since the internet price is really BS.
I wish I was kidding, but this is the sad reality of the industry, the price simply isn’t the price.