How to Find Local Car Dealerships and What to Do on Your First Visit

When buying a car – new or used – be sure to avoid striking any deals on your first visit to a dealership. The first visit is all about testing the waters, not spending money. The most important rule when making any big purchase is to research every aspect of it. Doing so would spare you the dreaded buyer’s remorse and get you the right car. You can find the key car buying steps here.

Before visiting a dealership, you need to know which one you should visit. In fact, it is best to visit several of them. This means that you should already have a list of cars you would like to buy and an estimated budget. If you already have a list, here is what you should do.

Step #1: Find the Closest Dealerships

Since you probably have a specific vehicle type and budget in mind, it is likely that the cars on your short list are not from the same brand since manufacturers do not want their vehicles to compete in the same segment. So, if your list has five vehicles from different brands, then you will probably have to visit five different dealerships.

To find the closest dealership with your chosen model and trim level, simply configure the vehicle with our free dealer cost report and you will be able to see the dealer’s contact information in a special PDF file, which you can access by clicking the “Download” button:

Once you open the file, you will find the information you seek in the following box:

Alternatively, you can specify before accessing the report that you wish the dealer to contact you. Doing so will spare you the trouble of calling them yourself.Once you confirm that the dealership has the car you want, pay them a visit. When you visit, be sure to tell the salesperson that you are not planning to buy anything right away.

NOTE: Be sure to call the dealer first to make sure the trim you want is in stock. If not, try a different dealer. Many manufacturer sites offer dealer locator tools, which can help you find them quickly. You can also use our comprehensive dealer directory by clicking on “Deals” at the bottom of the homepage.

Step #2: Test-Drive the Cars

The biggest reason to visit a dealership before buying a car is to test-drive it first. We provide a detailed explanation on how to test-drive a car in this article. Make sure that the vehicle you are testing is the one you actually want, with the correct trim level and other features in place. When test-driving a vehicle, your priorities should include:

  • Cabin comfort and passenger capacity
  • Cargo space
  • Features, particularly the infotainment system
  • Drivability, including handling, acceleration and brakes

Do not be shy to take your time when evaluating the vehicle. After all, it is your investment that is at stake here. Keep in mind that the actual test drive will probably go along a predetermined route, but you can ask for a different one, as long as it is within reason.

Do this for every vehicle on your list.

Step #3: Obtain Quotes

Once you are done testing each vehicle, ask the dealer for a quote. In some cases, you may need to have a vague idea of the kind of payment method you would use. There are three: cash, finance and lease. Finance is the most popular method, because it is essentially a loan. However, it is possible to purchase a vehicle with cash if you obtain a loan from a financial institution. If you have no idea what any of this means, check out this article.

The amount on the quote may differ from what you would find in our free dealer cost report because a dealer may throw in extra fees or discounts of their own. These fees or discounts would be unique to the dealership, which is why our report cannot display them.

If you do find extra charges that are not in our report, then you should ask the dealer about them, because they are probably optional. Here are the non-negotiable items that will definitely appear on your quote:

  • MSRP
  • Incentive, discount or rebate (these will depend on your payment method, brand, model and time of year)
  • Freight and PDI (listed separately or together)
  • Air tax
  • Tire tax
  • Regulatory charge (called OMVIC in Ontario or AMVIC in Alberta)

Additional charges may include the following:

  • Admin fee (mandatory for luxury vehicles only)
  • Extended warranty
  • Block heater installation (mandatory in cold provinces and territories only)
  • Rust protection
  • Nitrogen-filled tires (mandatory for sport vehicles only)
  • VIN etching

If none of the above fees are desirable, then ask the dealer to take them off (unless they are mandatory in your specific case). You can learn more about extra fees and discounts right here.

Keep in mind that it is possible to obtain price quotes online through dealer websites, but they do not always reflect what the dealer will present to you in person.

What to Do Next

Once you have tested all the vehicles and obtained the quotes, go home and choose your vehicle. After that, return to the corresponding dealership and negotiate the final price.