Consumer Reports: How to navigate through sticker shock at the car dealership

ByJustin Mendoza KGO logo
Wednesday, September 26, 2018
This is an undated image of a Lexus.
This is an undated image of a Lexus.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Enter a car dealership with a price in mind, and chances are the cost of the car you thought you could afford is probably a lot more. Consumer Reports calls it trim level sticker shock - and gives you some advice.

Meet Kevin Doyle, Executive Editor of Consumer Reports. He needed a new car. "I wanted leather seats for ease of cleaning, advanced safety features, a good sound system, and all-wheel drive," he said.

He wasn't sure where to start looking. But like we said - he works at Consumer Reports, so he did not have to go far to find a car expert. "I told him that depending on the features he wants, he should expect to pay more than the base price for his car," said Jon Linkov, Consumer Reports Auto Expert.

Features - included in trim levels - make up different versions of the same model car. Over the past 15 years, trim levels have doubled on some models. And that means more money out of your pocket.

Take the Ford F-150: Base price about 28-thousand dollars. At the highest trim level, Kevin was looking at over 61-thousand dollars. Or the Subaru Forester for about 23-thousand. Depending on the trim level - he could pay between 26 - and 36 - thousand dollars.

To confuse matters, Kevin could only get specific features on certain trim levels. That's because with so many features available, manufacturers have to narrow down the choices. "I was going to have to buy something I didn't want, to get something that I did," said Doyle.

Like fog lights or bigger wheels.

"I told Kevin that he should first focus on the must-have safety features, even if he had to pay extra-rather than trim levels," said Linkov.

So, that's what he did. But he didn't want navigation. Could he pay less?

"That wasn't an option," said Doyle.

In the end, Kevin decided on a used car. But instead of a used Subaru Forester, he went with a BMW for only 4 thousand dollars more, giving him all the features he wanted.

"I love my new car!" said Doyle.

Consumer Reports also says don't be afraid to negotiate. And recommends looking on the road tests section of Consumer Reports car ratings online. That will tell you the key features at each trim level and the best one to choose.

Take a look at all of 7 On Your Side's stories with Consumer Reports here.

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