Costco Auto Program Review
Costco might be known for their cheap hot dogs and gigantic packs of toilet paper, but did you know you can also use this retailer to buy a car? Since 1989, Costco’s Auto Program has helped millions of drivers find new and certified pre-owned vehicles at exclusive, members-only prices. While you won’t get a complete pass on stress, Costco’s car-buying program could be a good option if you don’t like to haggle car prices.
Take a look at our Costco Auto Program review to decide if it’s right for you.
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What is the Costco Auto Program?
When you buy a car through the Costco Auto Program, you’re not actually buying a car directly from Costco.
Instead, the Costco Auto Program links you with a partner dealership that provides discounts and incentives available only to Costco members. That means you’re limited to buying from one of the 3,000 dealerships across the U.S. and Puerto Rico that participate in the Costco Auto Program.
New and certified pre-owned vehicles are available through the Costco Auto Program, and a participating dealership will also facilitate your trade-in. You can also use the service to lease a car or buy an RV.
The Costco Auto Program could help you save some money, but you might have a more pleasant dealership experience as well. Only dealerships with high customer service scores are allowed to participate in the program. As a safety net, those who are dissatisfied with their dealer can turn to Costco’s Member Advocacy group for help.
How to buy a car through the Costco Auto Program
If you want to buy a car through the Costco Auto Program, you can’t just walk into any dealership and tell them you’re a Costco member. Here are the steps you have to take to get your members-only deal:
Pick out your car
First, visit the Costco Auto Program website, enter your ZIP code and select “New” or “Pre-Owned” to begin your search. Then, you’ll be prompted to filter your results by model, year, make and trim level. You’ll also have the opportunity to research and compare vehicles.
Note that the process for pre-owned vehicles varies slightly, but the idea is the same. Rather than selecting the exact vehicle you’re looking for, you’ll search inventories at participating dealerships near you.
After selecting your desired vehicle, you’ll provide your name, contact information and Costco membership number.
Make an appointment with a participating dealer
Once you’ve chosen the vehicle you want to buy, you’ll see a list of approved dealerships that have your car in stock. Select a dealer from this list and contact them to set up an appointment.
Visit the dealer and review your price
When you get to the dealership, you’ll be paired with one of Costco’s Authorized Dealer Contacts (or a dealer specifically trained and authorized to work with Costco members). They’ll have your Costco Member-Only Price Sheet, detailing the prearranged price available through the Costco Auto Program.
You’re not obligated to purchase the car after seeing Costco’s prearranged price, but the only way to see the deal you’re eligible for is by taking these steps first.
Pros and cons of the Costco Auto Program
The Costco Auto Program could help you find your dream car at a great price, but it might not be worth it for everyone (especially if you aren’t already a Costco member). Review the benefits and drawbacks to decide if it’s a good fit for your car-buying needs.
Streamlined car buying experience
Helpful online tools
Enhanced customer service
Discounts on car maintenance and parts
Must be a Costco member
No upfront pricing
Not all dealers participate
Not available for all makes, models and trims
May still end up haggling
Costco Auto Program pros
Streamlined car buying experience: The dealer should have your Costco Member-Only Price Sheet waiting for you when you arrive at the showroom. Since the price is prearranged by Costco, you’ll likely be in and out more quickly than if you had to do a lot of negotiating.
Helpful online tools: You can compare features and specifications for up to three vehicles at a time on Costco’s Auto Program website. You can also read car reviews and use the Costco car finance calculator to get an idea of your monthly payments.
Enhanced customer service: Costco Authorized Dealer Contacts are specially trained to uphold Costco customer service standards, and Costco ensures their customer service is up to par through periodic secret shoppers.
Exclusive deals: While Costco doesn’t disclose the average amount members save by using the program, it does advertise limited-time specials and manufacturer incentives for certain makes and models.
Discounts on car maintenance and parts: You can do more than just buy a car with the Costco Auto Program. Members can also save up to 15% on car parts, service and accessories at participating service centers.
Costco Auto Programs cons
Must be a Costco member: Before you can use the Costco Auto Program, you must be a Costco member. Gold Star membership costs $60 a year, and Executive membership will set you back $120 annually.
No upfront pricing: You won’t know the final purchase price of the vehicle until you get to the dealer. Although you aren’t obligated to buy the car after receiving the price, you may need to schedule visits to multiple dealerships if you’re considering multiple makes.
Not all dealers participate: Costco has a stringent vetting process when selecting dealers for their Auto Program. Not all dealerships make the cut.
What’s more, only dealers who’ve been certified as an Authorized Dealer Contact are able to do business on behalf of Costco. That means that while the dealership you’re at may participate in the program, you’ll need to wait for their Authorized Dealer Contact to be available to assist you.
Not available for all makes, models and trims: You can find deals on a wide range of cars through the Costco Auto Program, but you won’t find every make, model and trim level on their list. It all depends on whether the partner dealerships in your area have what you want in stock (or whether they can order it for you from the factory).
May still end up haggling: Many car buyers turn to the Costco Auto Program to avoid haggling, but you may end up haggling anyway. Although your vehicle will have a predetermined price as set by Costco, the dealer can still tack on extras like an extended warranty or appearance packages. It may take some back-and-forth to get unwanted add-ons removed from your final bill.
Alternatives to the Costco Auto Program
Buying a new or used car is a significant investment, so you’ll want to shop in the way that you’re most comfortable with and that can land you the best deal. If you aren’t sure that the Costco Auto Program is for you, here are some alternatives:
Negotiate on your own
Some people love to haggle, while others avoid it at all costs. If you’re up for it, you might end up saving the same amount of money or more by negotiating your car price on your own. Handling the process yourself means you can also go to the dealership of your choice.
Finding your own deal can take some time since you’ll need to contact several dealers to narrow down the one with the lowest price, not to mention the time spent negotiating with the dealer.
Use a car broker
A car broker is a professional car buyer that works for you, not the dealer. Brokers can help you find the best deals and will negotiate on your behalf. However, brokers charge a fee for their services, so price this option out before deciding if it’s worth it to you.
Use a competitor
The Costco Auto Program isn’t the only car-buying service out there. TrueCar is a popular choice and it’s free for everyone. Using the TrueCar platform, you can compare dealership pricing and even buy select cars online.
AAA ’s Auto Buying Program works similarly to Costco’s program. You’ll be paired with a participating dealer that offers exclusive deals for AAA members, but AAA goes a step further by also offering its own auto loans and car insurance.
Navy Federal Credit Union has partnered with TrueCar to offer its own car-buying service. Like AAA and Costco, it’s only available to members. Still, with it you can find members-only pricing and incentives through partner dealerships and apply for a Navy Federal auto loan, too.