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Costco Auto Program Review
The Costco Auto Program offers a hassle-free price experience and discounts through its certified dealers. 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.
- How the Costco Auto Program works
- Pros and cons of the Costco Auto Program
- Alternatives to the Costco Auto Program
- The bottom line on the Costco Auto Program
How the Costco Auto Program works
Costco members looking to buy a car or recreational vehicle can visit the Costco Auto Program website or call a member advocate. The program keeps track of limited-time manufacturer rebates and offers in one place. Here are the steps to use the Costco program:
- Figure out what car you’d like. If you don’t already know, you can use Costco’s website to compare various models.
- Locate a dealer. Find a Costco-certified dealer in your area with the type of car you’d like. You could provide your contact information to one or more dealers who may call you to set up test-drive appointments.
- Complete the paperwork. The dealer presents the Costco pricing on the car you select. If you agree, you then follow through on the appropriate paperwork.
What are the requirements of the Costco Auto Program? The only requirement is that you be a Costco member. It is $60 a year for a Gold Star or Business Membership and $120 for the Executive Membership.
How does Costco choose dealers? The dealerships must have high customer satisfaction scores and a good reputation on social media to be considered. They must also pass mystery-shopper tests and have at least one salesperson be certified by Costco to stay in the program.
Is there a conflict of interest? No. Dealerships pay Costco a monthly fee so they can be Costco-certified dealers and receive customer referrals. Costco doesn’t get paid depending on whether you buy.
Pros and cons of the Costco Auto Program
Every program has highlights and lowlights. Here are the pros and cons of Costco’s program, which was established in 1989.
- Good research platform. Costco allows you to compare up to three models side by side from different automakers. You can compare pricing, engines and entertainment, among other things.
- Established price discount. If you’re a Costco member, you get the price discount without having to do anything special (though, we’ll discuss this further in the cons).
- Applies to many types of cars. The Costco car-buying program typically works with all types of car manufacturers, including new and certified pre-owned cars. You could also find a used vehicle, but Costco prearranged pricing will not be available.
- Applies to leasing and financing. Whether you want to buy a car with cash, finance a car or lease one, the Costco discount still applies to the price.
- Costco member advocate. If you’re unsatisfied with any part of the process, you could call Costco member advocates seven days a week at 800-755-2519. Member advocates are available from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Pacific time Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pacific time Saturday and Sunday.
- 15% discount. At participating service centers in the Costco Auto Program — not including Costco Tire Centers — Costco members can get a 15% discount on parts, servicing and accessories. However, this doesn’t include oil changes, air bags or state-required inspection services.
- Lack of transparency. You don’t know what the discount will be until you go to the dealer. It’s been reported that the average price discount is at least $1,000, but that’s just the average; the discount amount can potentially vary widely.
- Exact vehicle not guaranteed. The exact vehicle you want when you search the Costco site isn’t guaranteed to be in stock when you get to the dealer.
- Haggling still required. Dealerships will still try to get more money from you — for example, a dealer might try to make up for losing money on the discount by selling you add-on products, such as an extended warranty. This could potentially raise your APR if you finance through the dealer, or lead to you being offered less for your trade-in.
- Limited dealerships. Costco works with more than 3,000 dealerships, which isn’t a whole lot considering that’s spread across the U.S. and Puerto Rico. If you want a specific car brand that Costco doesn’t partner with in your area, you may have to drive a ways or settle for a different automaker.
- Limited salespeople. Costco only requires one person per dealership to be Costco certified, so if that one person has a full appointment book, you may be waiting a while.
Alternatives to the Costco Auto Program
If you decide you don’t want to use the program, or if you try it and it doesn’t work for you, here are some alternatives that could help you in your car-buying quest.
Do it yourself
Industry guides. You shouldn’t pay more for a car than its value. You can find its value the same way dealers and lenders do — through the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) guide and Kelley Blue Book. Both offer free online guides of car values, so you can show the salesperson the NADA or KBB value and tell them you’re not paying more.
Plus, you can use the same guide to know how much money you should get for your trade-in, if you have one.
Shop for your own loan. One way dealers make money is by getting business referral bonuses from lenders and raising your APR. To know what APR you deserve, get a preapproved auto loan from a lender you trust. You could check in with your credit union, bank or an online lender. You could also fill out an online form at LendingTree and get up to five potential auto loan offers from lenders.
Hire a professional
Car brokers. These are professional negotiators who will find the car you want and haggle the price for the car and any add-ons you want. They do charge a fee, which can be a few hundred dollars, but it’ll depend on the broker.
Use a competitor
- TrueCar. Free for anyone, TrueCar has a network of certified dealers. No membership is required, and you see guaranteed prices upfront. You can also see what others have paid for the same or similar cars in your area.
- AAA Auto Buying Program. For its members, AAA locates a car you want at one of its certified dealers with a guaranteed price (below MSRP for new cars and below KBB value for used cars). That way, you would know before you go to the dealer.
- Navy Federal Credit Union Auto Buying Program. Navy Federal Credit Union offers its members low, established pricing from its nationwide network of certified dealers.
The bottom line on the Costco Auto Program
Costco’s program could offer convenience, less stress and more confidence for car buyers. Yet, it’s not a cure-all. Namely, it doesn’t provide upfront pricing, and there are multiple things you may still have to haggle about with the dealer.
It might be best for people who are not confident in negotiating and are already Costco members. And if the experience doesn’t turn out to be great, know that you can walk away and report the dealer to Costco with no skin off your nose.