Diamond Certified Companies are Rated Highest in Quality and Helpful Expertise.

  • Why this rating is the most accurate.
  • Our editors gather deep company info.
  • Performance is Guaranteed.

Diamond certified companies are top rated and guaranteed

Why Trust Diamond Certified Auto Dealer Companies Rated Highest in Quality?

Photo: Toyota Marin (2013)

SAN RAFAEL – You are the customer. If your goal is to choose a Auto Dealer company that will deliver high customer satisfaction and quality, you’ll feel confident in choosing a Diamond Certified Auto Dealer. Each has been rated Highest in Quality in the most accurate ratings process anywhere. And you’re always backed by the Diamond Certified Performance Guarantee. Here’s why the Diamond Certified ratings and certification process will help you find a top-rated screen printer and embroidering company and is unparalleled in its accuracy, rigor and usefulness:

1) Accuracy: All research is performed by live telephone interviews that verify only real customers are surveyed, so you’ll never be fooled by fake reviews.

2) Statistical Reliability: A large random sample of past customers is surveyed on an ongoing basis so the research results you see truly reflect a Diamond Certified company’s top-rated status.

3) Full Disclosure: By clicking the name of a company above you’ll see the exact rating results in charts and read verbatim survey responses as well as researched articles on each qualified company.

4) Guaranteed: Your purchase is backed up with mediation and the Diamond Certified Performance Guarantee, so you can choose with confidence.

Click on the name of a Diamond Certified company above to read ratings results, researched articles and verbatim customer survey responses to help you make an informed decision.

More than 200,000 customers of local companies have been interviewed in live telephone calls, and only companies that score Highest in Quality in customer satisfaction–a 90+ on a 100 scale–as well as pass all of the credential-based ratings earn Diamond Certified. By requiring such a high score to qualify, the Diamond Certified program eliminates mediocre and poorly performing companies. Read detailed information about the ratings and certification process.

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Jason Clark is assistant service manager at Toyota Marin, a Diamond Certified company. He can be reached at (888) 544-3118 or by email.

Jason Clark

diamond certified contributor profile and expert article

Jason Clark: Center Stage

By James Florence, Diamond Certified Resource Reporter

SAN RAFAEL – Prior to beginning his career in the automotive industry, Jason Clark spent much of his time working backstage for numerous theatrical productions. In either of these settings, however, his natural aptitude would eventually bring him from behind the scenes to the front of the stage. “In high school I was very involved in theater,” he relates. “While I mainly worked with lighting and other technical aspects offstage, I did a bit of acting as well and was part of an improvisational troupe, which was a lot of fun.” Following high school, Jason considered pursuing his passion for the dramatic arts at a collegiate level, but after getting a job at Sears Automotive, he made the decision to remain in the work world. To his surprise, he found his theatrical experience and talents could be applied in his newfound environment. “As time went on, my outgoing personality and people skills became apparent, and I was promoted from the back end to the front of the house as a service advisor.”

Today, as assistant service manager at Toyota Marin, Jason’s theatrical prowess continues to benefit him in his professional life. “Speaking to people is an art,” he explains. “Thanks to my prior experience with theater and improvisation, I’m comfortable approaching people without any fear of what to say or how to say it—it’s just second nature at this point.”

Jason was born in Oakland and grew up in Pinole, where he continues to live today with his wife, Maria, and their children, Sophia (7) and Annabelle (3). As a father of two, Jason says the bulk of his time outside of work revolves around family. “At this point in my life, it’s all about kids.” Though he says it’s been a while since he’s participated in favorite pastimes like snowboarding and dirt biking, he does make it a point to take regular outdoor excursions. “My wife and I are avid nature lovers,” he affirms. “We just got back from Yosemite a couple weeks ago, and before that we did some camping and hiking in the Monterey area.”

In regard to his life and career, Jason says it’s important to never judge a book by its cover. “You shouldn’t make assumptions about people you don’t know, because it can really limit your interactions. Whenever I’m helping a customer, I give them the benefit of the doubt in terms of their level of automotive expertise. If I find they need to be educated, I’m happy to fill that role.”

When asked the first thing he’d do if he could retire tomorrow, Jason says he’d spend some time abroad. “My wife is from Slovakia, so I’d probably take her to visit her family and see some more of Europe.”

Ask Me Anything!

Q: What’s your favorite local brewery?
A: Lagunitas in Petaluma.

Q: What’s your favorite sports team?
A: The San Francisco 49ers.

Q: What’s your favorite theatrical production?
A: Les Miserables. I’ve seen it too many times to count, including productions on Broadway and in San Francisco.

Q: If someone was making a movie about your life, what actor would you choose to play yourself?
A: Seth Rogan.

Q: What’s your favorite snack?
A: Cashews.

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How to Maintain Vehicle Fluids


SAN RAFAEL — Vehicles require several fluids to maintain ongoing functionality of their engines and related components. While these fluids should be inspected and replenished (as well as occasionally flushed) during routine service visits, it’s also a good idea for drivers… Read more

Expert Video Tip

Video: Car Maintenance

Complete Video Transcription:

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INDUSTRY INFORMATION - Marin County – Auto Dealer
  • Toyota

  • Infiniti

  • Nissan

The following agencies and associations have more information on purchasing a new vehicle.

National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) (http://www.nada.org/)
National Independent Automobile Dealers Association (NAIDA) (www.niada.com/)
American International Automobile Dealers Association (AIADA) (http://www.aiada.org/)
California New Car Dealers Association (CNCDA) (www.cncda.org/)

Know What You Want
Detail What You Want in A New Car, SUV, Truck or Van

Many consumers skip this important step. However, you are more likely to find success when buying a new car if you go into the process knowing what you want.

It takes only a few minutes to outline your needs and expectations, and it can help guide and ease your entire car shopping experience.

Sit down with a pen and paper and make a list of what you want in a new vehicle. Think about cars and trucks you’ve owned in the past and those you’ve seen on the road. List things you like and want, and write down amenities or factors you don’t care about or want to avoid.

The prompts below will help you think clearly and comprehensively about what you want in a new vehicle:

  1. Do I want a Diamond Certified new car dealership that is rated best in quality and backed by the Diamond Certified Performance Guarantee?
  2. Do I want to work with a new auto sales service in Marin County that has a good reputation in the community and with past customers?
  3. What kind of vehicle and I looking for?
  4. Is there a particular make and model I am interested in? Or do I just have a general idea of the type of new vehicle I want to buy (new car, new truck, SUV, van, etc.)?
  5. What are the details of the vehicle I want to buy? (These may include color, amenities, leather seats, heated seats, backup camera, security system, safety features, etc.)
  6. What is my budget for a new car?
  7. Will I need financing? If so, what are the terms that I need to find (APR, percentage down, etc.)?

When you are done with your list, use it when interviewing new car centers over the phone or in person. It will help you stay on the right track, and it can ensure you get the amenities you want and avoid paying for items you don’t need.

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What To Ask In Person
Personally Visit Some Local Marin County Auto Showrooms

Now that you’ve talked with some new car salespeople over the phone, go back over the notes you took and winnow down your list to include only those that can best meet your needs. These are the vehicle sales centers you’ll be visiting in person.

If the list is too long, think about which new car sales representatives were most helpful and which new car centers gave you the best impression. Remove from your list any dealerships that didn’t exceed your expectations.

Buying a new car is a major purchase, so you’ll only want to spend time talking with the best of the best car dealerships in San Rafael, Novato, Mill Valley, San Anselmo, Larkspur, Corte Madera, Tiburon, Sausalito, Fairfax, Ross and Belvedere or your area.

Then, visit each one in person to see the vehicles they have to offer and discuss prices and options. You won’t want to buy the first car you like, however, so make good use of this research time.

Use the questions below to help guide your in-person interviews, and add your own questions that pertain to your specific needs and wants. Write down your answers so you can review them later when making your final decision.

  1. Walk me through the average car sales process. What is my role? What is yours?
  2. Do you have the make and models that I am most interested in purchasing?
  3. What new vehicle warranties and additional warranties do you offer?
  4. Along with the purchase price, title, tax and any financing charges, what other charges will I be expected to pay (i.e. destination charge, documentation fees, registration fees, advertising fees, state sales tax, etc.)? Will you disclose these fees and taxes to me before I sign the agreement?
  5. Do you have a return policy or a lemon policy? What are the details of these return policies?
  6. How do I arrange to test drive some new cars?
  7. Will you give me a list of your 10 most recent customers that I can call as references?
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  • What To Ask References
    Learn About Local Auto Sales Centers in Marin County from Their Past Customers

    It’s best to choose a Diamond Certified auto sales company because all certified companies have passed an in-depth ratings process that most other companies can’t pass. If you want quality from a new car dealer in Marin County, you will have confidence when choosing a Diamond Certified company.

    Diamond Certified reports are available online for all certified auto dealers. And you’ll never be fooled by fake reviews. That’s because all research is performed in live telephone interviews of actual auto dealership customers in Novato, Mill Valley, San Rafael, San Anselmo, Larkspur and Corte Madera and beyond.

    If you can’t find a Diamond Certified new car dealership within reach, you’ll have to do some research on your own. If you do, it’s wise to call some references provided by the car sales staff.

    References provided to you by local auto sales centers are not equal in value to the large random sample of customers surveyed during the Diamond Certified ratings process. Instead,car sales showrooms in Marin County usually hand out few references that they know are satisfied, instead of a sample of their entire customer base.

    If you do call references on your own, specifically ask for a list of the vehicle sales center’s 10 most recent customers. This will help avoid them giving you the names of only customers they know were satisfied.

    The following questions will be useful when interviewing references. Feel free to add some of your own to personalize the interviews and make them more helpful to you.

    1. Who was your salesperson and would you recommend working with them?
    2. What did you like best about this Marin County new car dealership?
    3. Did you leave with the car you wanted, the financing you needed and with a good feeling about the purchase?
    4. Did the dealership staff treat you well and explain the process to your satisfaction?
    5. Did you find the prices reasonable at this Marin County auto dealer?
    6. Were there any unexpected fees, charges or finance costs that were not disclosed to you up front?
    7. Would you choose this dealership again if you were buying another new vehicle?
    8. Would you recommend this new car dealership to friends and family?
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  • Review Your Options
    Which Marin County Auto Dealership is Best for Your New Car Purchase?

    The Diamond Certified symbol has been awarded to companies that scored Highest in Quality in an accurate ratings process.

    Before choosing the best auto sales center in Marin County for you, review your notes and take consider the following questions:

    1. Can one of the new auto dealerships in Marin County that you interviewed meet your needs in terms of make and model, vehicle amenities, cost, financing and customer service?
    2. Have the staff at the local car dealerships you visited given you clear, honest information and treated you fairly?
    3. Do the new car sales centers have positive customer rankings and have they provided you with contact information for recent customers that you have checked yourself?
    4. Does one new car center in Marin County stand out above the rest?
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  • How To Work With
    Once You've Found a Good Automobile Dealership

    Now that you’ve interviewed some of your top choices for new car sales, narrow down your choices to the Marin County auto dealership that can offer the new car or new truck you want at a fair price.

    The auto showroom you choose should also give you the customer service you need, the auto financing help you want and be able to meet your other needs in terms of buying your new vehicle.

    Now you can start the final process of buying your new truck or car. You’ll want to start by test driving several makes and models to find the one that best fits you. Then, you’ll need to consider the warranty coverage, additional service contracts and sales contract.

    Make Smarter Decisions By Taking Smarter Test Drives
    Test driving vehicles is the best way to compare them against each other and ensure the new car, truck, van or SUV you end up buying is the best fit for you.

    There are a few things you should do before you visit the dealership.

    1. Write down and bring along all of your needs and wants. This will help ensure you don’t forget to look for a certain feature you don’t want to live without in your new vehicle.
    2. Think about the route you’d like to take on your test drive. Most dealerships have a set test drive route they suggest. However, you’ll want to get a full representation of the car’s abilities, including different surfaces, roads and speeds. Map out a loop that takes about 30 minutes, and drive it in your current vehicle if possible so that you are familiar with it and can compare the new car to your own vehicle.
    3. Call the dealerships before you visit and confirm with them that they have the vehicles in stock that you want to drive. Make sure the vehicles they have on-site are equipped with the amenities you want, not the fully-loaded versions that cost more. Also confirm that you can take the cars for a test drive that day. If possible, schedule the test drive appointments, allowing 90 minutes for each vehicle.
    4. When you go for your test drive, take along the following items:
    5. Your driver’s license and proof of auto insurance.
    6. A notebook in which to record notes about each car.
    7. Your list of wants, requirements and likes and dislikes about your current car.
    8. Your list of questions to ask dealerships in person (see the section “What to Ask In Person” for more information and sample questions).
    9. Your spec sheet of the exact vehicle you are interested in buying (including all features and options).

    You may also want to bring along a CD or MP3 player to test out the audio system, a car seat (if you use one) to see how well it fits in the cars you’re test driving, and a friend who can take notes or talk with the salesperson so that you can focus on driving and testing out the vehicle.

    Remember, you are legally required to give your consent before the car dealerships check your credit history. Verify that the new car showroom you’re working with will not check your credit or personal information until you are ready for them to do so.

    Should You Invest in an Extended Warranty?
    A service contract or extended warranty is additional warranty coverage you can purchase from local auto showrooms to cover or offset repairs or problems with your new car.

    Service contracts may or may not provide coverage that differs from your vehicle’s manufacturer warranty, so you’ll want to carefully compare the benefits and decide if the extra expense is worth it.

    Pay special attention to the following:

    1. Does the proposed service contract differ from the manufacturer’s warranty? How?
    2. What repairs does the service contract cover?
    3. Does the service contract also cover the cost of routine maintenance? For how long/until what mileage?
    4. What are your obligations under the service contract? (These may include having to pay for parts or labor, a requirement to have all repairs done at the dealership from which you purchased the vehicle, or a renewal fee.)
    5. When does the service contract expire? (This may be a specific date or a mileage count. Make sure you know this important detail, down to the minute or exact mile the contract becomes void.)
    6. Can you cancel the contract? If so, are you entitled to a refund or prorated refund?
    7. Can you extend the service contract? At what cost and when is the deadline for renewal?
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  • Be a Good Customer
    Reap the Benefits of Being a Good Auto Dealership Client

    New car dealerships in Marin County, including those in Ross, Belvedere, Corte Madera, Tiburon, Sausalito and Fairfax appreciate customers who are clear about their needs and make an effort to be easy to work with. Your good customer behavior sets the tone from your end and creates an environment conducive to a good relationship. Things may very well go smoother and any problems that occur may be more easily resolved.

    Here are a few simple steps you can take to be a good customer when working with a Marin County auto dealership.

    1. Most problems with local auto sales centers occur because of a breakdown in communication. By being clear about your expectations and their requirements from the start, you can avoid most conflicts.
    2. Be upfront with your car salesman or saleswoman. Let them know what you want in a new car, the long-term outcome you’re expecting and specific ways they can satisfy your expectations during the car buying process.
    3. Be prompt when returning phone calls, signing paperwork and completing required documents for your new car sale. This will help the transaction go more smoothly and will save time for both you and the car dealership.
    4. Be sure the Marin County auto dealership you’re working with has contact information where they can reach you at all times while your car sale is pending. They may need to reach you about financing, paperwork or other items.
    5. Pay for your new vehicle promptly and keep all deadlines to keep the car sale on schedule.
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Check The Work
Do a Final Check Before Leaving the New Car Lot

Do a final walk-through with your sales representative before you finalize the transaction and drive off of the lot.
It can be hard or impossible to rectify any disagreements or misunderstandings once you’ve signed the paperwork, finalized the loan or handed over your down payment, and new cars lose value immediately once removed from the premises, so you’ll want to ensure everything is as promised to protect yourself and your investment.
See the following tips:

  1. Review the sales contract and look over your new car or truck. Ask your salesperson to go over each item with you and show you those you cannot see for yourself. Confirm each item line by line. Does your vehicle have the leather seats you requested? Do you have A/C, heated seats, a back-up camera, or any other amenities you’ve paid for? Is the engine the correct horsepower? Does the odometer reading match up with what is on your proof of sale documentation? Ask for clarification if you notice any discrepancies, and do not sign a contract for a car that is anything less than exactly what you want.
  2. Review your warranty and ensure you understand all terms and exclusions. (The next section, “Written Warranties” will outline exactly what new truck or new car warranties should include.)
  3. Go over any special package perks (examples of such items include new tires for the life of the vehicle, free oil changes or routine maintenance for the first 50,000 miles, etc.) and confirm your role and requirements to receive these benefits.
  4. Use a calculator to double-check all of the numbers on the sales agreement. Ensure that your contract shows the purchase price and that it’s the number you’ve agreed upon, and look to see that all down payments, trade-ins, rebates or special financing has been subtracted from the purchase price. Review the interest rate number (if you’re financing through the dealership).
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Written Warranties
Review Your Written Warranty Coverage

All new vehicles sold by reputable Marin County auto dealerships come with some kind of manufacturer warranty coverage, and nearly all new car dealerships offer the option to purchase additional warranty coverage (sometimes called extended warranties or a service contract).

Regardless of the warranty specifics, you should get all details in writing before you leave the new car dealership.

Make sure you completely understand all terms and limitations, and be very clear on what actions may void the warranty (for example, some warranties are void if you have your vehicle serviced anywhere except for the dealership where you purchased your new vehicle).

For your protection, your written warranty should include the following:

  1. The license number of the auto sales center.
  2. A detailed list of what is covered by your new car warranty.
  3. Instructions for what to do if you need to make a claim against the warranty, including all steps you are required to take.
  4. Information about the new car dealership’s responsibility in honoring warranty claims, including whether they will provide repairs, replacement or money back if your vehicle or components fail.
  5. The time period or mileage your vehicle’s warranty coverage lasts and if coverage is prorated or expires at a certain time, date or mile.
  6. All exclusions and additional terms must be in writing.
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Top 10 Requests
Top Auto Sales Requests at Marin County New Car Showrooms

Most good vehicle showrooms in Marin County, including those in San Rafael, San Anselmo, Novato, Mill Valley and Larkspur, Fairfax, Tiburon, San Rafael, San Anselmo, Novato, Mill Valley and Larkspur offer a variety of new cars and car purchasing services to meet their customers’ needs. Some are more common than others, though. The most popular are listed below.

New Car Sales in Marin County
New car sales in Marin County take place in auto malls, new car showrooms and auto dealerships. Some local car sales centers sell vehicles by only one make (such as Chevrolet, Nissan, Ford or BMW), while others sell vehicles made by one manufacturer or related companies (such as Honda and Acura, or Porsche and Jaguar).

Auto Trade-Ins / Trade-in a Vehicle
Trading in your used vehicle can often help you pay for your new car, truck, SUV or van. Most auto showrooms in Marin County welcome auto trade-ins. Keep in mind that you will usually make more from your used vehicle if you sell it yourself. However, many customers prefer to make less on their trade-in at the car sales lot because they feel they benefit by not having to do the work involved in private-party auto sales.

Buy Here Pay Here Auto Dealerships
These car showrooms are able to make loans directly to customers rather than financing the auto loan through a third-party lender. Be sure to carefully vet these centers, however, because some have a reputation for cheating customers with high interest rates and shady lending practices.

Service Contracts
Service contracts are additional warranties you can buy to cover auto part replacement and some auto repairs. Read over the proposed contract carefully, as the coverage may duplicate what you receive in the manufacturer’s warranty, and are therefore not worth the extra cost.

Auto Financing Services
Auto financing is often secured through a car financing lender. This is most commonly arranged with auto financing companies through the new car showroom at the time of the new car sale, but is also available from local banks, credit unions and national banks.

Car Lease / Leasing a New Car
Unlike a new car sale, car leases are long-term rental arrangements that give the customer the use of a new car for a term (usually three to five years) with monthly rental payments, at which time they can return the vehicle for a new lease.

New Car Showrooms In Marin County
New car showrooms in Marin County are indoor or outdoor car lots that sell new vehicles. They offer new vehicle sales, auto leases, auto trade-ins, test drives, auto financing and even auto repairs by manufacturer-trained technicians. Most new car showrooms are found in larger cities such as San Rafael, Novato, Mill Valley, San Anselmo, Larkspur, Corte Madera, Tiburon, Sausalito, Fairfax, Ross and Belvedere, but some may also be found in smaller cities such as Stinson Beach, Strawberry Point, Kent Woodlands, Inverness, Greenbrae and Sleepy Hollow.

Warranty Claims
Marin County auto centers, especially those that include a car repair facility, often process warranty claims for problems with new vehicles. They can usually file warranty claims with the manufacturer and take care of any needed repairs.

Custom Car Building Services
You can design custom vehicles online using the tools on manufacturer websites. This allows the customer to choose color, horsepower, interior material, trim colors, options such as sound systems and temperature control. You can order your custom car to be delivered as specified to your local auto showroom in Marin County, whether it’s in Fairfax, Tiburon, San Rafael, San Anselmo, Novato, Mill Valley and Larkspur or elsewhere. Some auto sales centers also allow you to come into the auto sales office to choose your new car amenities and options.

Popular Auto Brands Sold in Marin County and the Bay Area
The following vehicle brands are just some of those sold at new car centers in Marin County, including the larger cities of Ross, Belvedere, Corte Madera, Tiburon, Sausalito and Fairfax.

  • Honda
  • Volvo
  • Acura
  • Ford
  • Infiniti
  • Chevrolet (Chevy)
  • Dodge
  • Subaru
  • Volkswagen (VW)
  • Chrysler
  • General Motors (GM)
  • Land Rover
  • SMART car
  • Nissan
  • Toyota
  • Audi
  • Jeep
  • Mazda
  • Lexus
  • BMW
  • Mercedes-Benz
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Glossary Of Terms
Glossary of Terms Used at New Car Showrooms

The following terms and definitions are those commonly used by local car dealerships and new car showrooms. It’s important to understand the terms used by car sales centers so that you can be clear about the services you’re receiving and the details of your new car purchase.

Annual Percentage Rate (APR)
The APR is the interest rate charged on auto loans. Auto financing lenders stay in business by charging interest, or a percentage of the total amount borrowed. You will save money on your new car purchase by choosing an affordable loan that has a low APR. The higher the APR and the longer the life of the loan, the more you will pay in interest on the loan.

Also known as: APR, finance rate

balloon loans
Auto loans that cover only part of the cost of a vehicle during the term of the loan and require a large final sum at the end of the loan term (the balloon payment) are known as balloon loans. Some short-term balloon loans may have lower interest rates than long-term loans, so they can be attractive to short-term borrowers who can cover the larger sum at the end of the loan term.

Also known as: balloon payment

dealer incentives
Auto manufacturers often provide dealer incentives, or special offers that are passed on to the customer to help move more vehicles when inventories are high or in a slow market for auto sales. You can save money by looking for dealer incentives on the makes and models you’re interested in.

dealer invoice
The dealer invoice cost is what the manufacturer charges the dealerships for the vehicles they sell. Auto dealerships have to mark up their cars above dealer invoice so that they can make enough money to stay in business.

dealer prep fees
Some dealers charge dealer prep fees, or charges accrued to cover the cost of readying a new car or truck for sale. These fees are often negotiable depending on the auto dealership.

destination charge
Moving a new vehicle from the factory to the dealership always accrues fees. These are not negotiable. However, some dealerships charge a destination fee for bringing a vehicle to their lot from another auto showroom. You should not be asked to pay this fee unless you’ve requested the car and have agreed to paying for transport.

Also known as: auto transportation fee, car moving fee

documentation fee
Most auto dealerships charge small documentation fees to cover the cost of the paperwork involved in buying a new car or truck. These fees rarely exceed $100, so carefully review all additional charges when buying a new vehicle and ask about ones that appear extraneous.

down payment
A down payment, or money paid up front, will lower the amount a customer needs to pay for a new car. This can reduce the amount financed and can lower monthly payments and interest over the life of the loan. Keep in mind that down payments may be lost if your car is stolen or totaled while the loan is still unpaid. Cash paid up-front by a borrower to reduce the amount financed in a lease or loan.

early termination fees
Paying off a loan ahead of schedule may result in early termination fees or penalties. Verify that your loan doesn’t include early termination fees, or, if it does, be aware that paying off the loan ahead of the scheduled end date may cost you as much as continuing to pay the loan on time.

Also known as: early termination penalties, loan termination penalties, loan prepayment penalties, loan termination fee

extended warranty
Extended warranties and service contracts are separate warranty plans you can purchase to cover services and repairs. However, many do not cover services beyond your factory warranty. If you are considering extended warranty coverage or a service contract in addition to your manufacturer warranty, check to be sure the benefits are worth the extra cost.

Also known as: service contract

financing costs
Financing costs include all the costs accrued for loans and auto financing.

Also known as: cost of funds, cost of financing, cost of auto financing

An auto lease is a long-term vehicle rental. The auto dealership still owns the car and the lessee (person leasing the vehicle) pays a monthly fee to drive the vehicle. After the lease term ends, the lessee can decide to return the car to the dealership or purchase it (depending on the contract signed at the start of the lease). Leasing may be a smart option for some consumers and may cost you more than an outright purchase depending on what kind of a car buyer you are.

loan default
When a customer fails to make their auto payments on schedule or doesn’t live up to their agreement on the finance contract, they are said to be in default. This can have financial ramifications including higher loan payments, penalties, reduced credit scores and even forfeiting the loan or having the vehicle repossessed.

Also known as: defaulting on a loan, payment default, defaulting on a payment, missing an auto loan payment

Monroney Sticker
The Moroney Sticker is the price tag window sticker that is required by law to be placed on all vehicles. This includes the base price, standard features, optional auto features and other information. The invoice price does not have to be listed on the Monroney Sticker.

Also known as: dealership asking price, sticker price, auto sticker price

MSRP (Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price)
The MSRP is the price the auto manufacturer recommends charging for a specific vehicle. This includes the base price and options found on a specific make and model.

Also known as: Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price

pre-computed interest
Auto loans are considered to have pre-computed interest when the total interest amount is calculated in advance and portioned out equally into each monthly loan payment. The customer is entitled to receive back any interest remainder if they pay off an auto loan before the proposed loan end date.

Consumers can prequalify for loans by having auto lenders confirm they are eligible to receive a loan before actually applying for the loan. These prequalification statements may state how much money the lender is willing to offer. Pre-qualified customers often have more flexibility in making deals for auto loans and auto sales because they are guaranteed to be able to secure a loan for a new car or truck.

Also known as: loan prequalification, prequalify for an auto loan

The amount borrowed for an auto loan is considered the principal amount. Principal plus interest is the total amount of the loan.

Also known as: loan principal, principal amount owed

Rebates are a popular way to reward new car buyers. Rebates are often a partial refund on a new car that is offered by the manufacturer or auto dealership. Rebates are usually refunded by mail or taken off of the closing cost of the new vehicle sale, depending on what the customer prefers.

The length of an auto loan is known as a term.

Also known as: auto loan term, term of auto loan, new car loan term

trade-in value
Used vehicles often have some trade-in value at local car dealerships. This is the price a dealer will pay to purchase your old car if you buy a new one. Trade-in value on current vehicles is a popular way new car buyers help pay for their new vehicles. Dealerships usually pay less for used vehicles than customers could make by selling the car in a private sale. However, some customers appreciate the convenience of not having to sell their old vehicles to a third party.

up-front costs
When buying a new car or truck, you should be informed of the up-front costs, or the total cost you must pay when you sign the contract. Upfront costs generally include the down payment for a new vehicle plus any fees associated with the new car purchase.

upside down
Customers who owe more on their vehicle loan than their car is worth are said to be upside down on their loans. This is common because most vehicles lose a lot of value in their first months and years. This can cost you money if you sell or trade in your vehicle while your loan is up-side down, or if your vehicle is totaled in an accident. That’s because you will only get back what your car was worth, not what you owe on the loan. Prevent upside down loans by purchasing vehicles you can afford and by financing car loans over a short period of time rather than taking out lengthy loans.

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Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions for New Car Showrooms and Auto Dealerships

Q: Why choose a Diamond Certified New Car Dealer?
A: Diamond Certified helps you choose a new car dealer with confidence by offering a list of top-rated local companies who have passed the country’s most in-depth rating process. Only new auto showrooms rated Highest in Quality earn the prestigious Diamond Certified award. Most companies can’t pass the ratings. American Ratings Corporation also monitors every Diamond Certified company with ongoing research and ratings. And your purchase is backed by the Diamond Certified Performance Guarantee. So you’ll feel confident choosing a Diamond Certified new vehicle dealer.

Q: What is a service contract and should I pay for one?
A: A service contract is an additional warranty you can purchase to cover or help offset the cost of future car repairs or problems. Service contracts may or may not provide additional coverage to your vehicle’s manufacturer warranty, so carefully compare the benefits and decide if the extra expense is worth it. See the first section, How to Choose, for detailed information about purchasing a service contract and questions to ask about the additional coverage.

Q: Is it smarter to buy a new car or lease a vehicle?
A: If you drive few miles, insist on driving a new car, and/or only want to drive a vehicle with a factory warranty, you may be an ideal candidate for vehicle leasing. On the other hand, if you drive more than 15,000 miles a year, keep your cars for more than five years or want custom vehicle modifications, you may be happiest with a vehicle you own. Leasing often costs less monthly than buying a vehicle, but you do not have any investment in the car. At the end of the lease term, you turn in the vehicle and have nothing to show for it. Carefully consider your needs before making this decision.

Q: What is the difference between domestic and foreign vehicle makes?
A: There used to be big differences between domestic and foreign cars. However, foreign brands (Toyota, Honda, Nissan) are now being manufactured in the US and cars once considered US brands (such as Ford, Chevrolet, Chrysler and GM) are commonly built or assembled in countries outside the US (usually in Mexico). Some brands that were once considered foreign brands (Volvo, Mazda, Jaguar, Aston Martin and Land Rover) are now owned by American companies. To add to the complication, auto parts are manufactured all over the world. Your best bet is to simply look for the make and model that best fits your lifestyle and needs. If buying a domestic vehicle or a make and model that supports US workers, research what percentage of vehicles are manufactured and assembled in the US, and choose the one that best fits your standards.

Q: Can I talk down the price of a new vehicle at auto dealerships, or will I always have to pay the MSRP?
A: Dealerships sell cars at prices dictated by supply and demand. That means that they charge less for vehicles of which they have a surplus and they charge more for cars that are in demand but harder to come by. To make this fact benefit you, pay attention to the inventory at the dealership. You will probably be able to negotiate a better price on vehicles of which they have several similar makes and models. You will probably end up paying the MSRP or more if you insist on a vehicle that is hard to find and in demand. If you want a popular car, you may benefit by waiting a few months for the demand to drop.

Q: Can I get a discount by paying cash for my new car?
A: Depending on the dealership, you can actualy end up paying more for a car you buy with cash than one you finance through the dealership. That’s because dealerships can make money through financing, so they may be willing to cut you a deal for financed vehicles and they may be less willing to negotiate if they know you are paying upfront for your new car. If you plan to buy a new car with cash, negotiate a purchase price before you tell the dealership you plan to pay cash. Offer them a no-hassle sale with an immediate or same-day pickup if they accept a cash offer. Or put together some free price quotes from dealerships in your city for the exact make, model and options you want and choose the best offer to buy the vehicle with no hassles.

Q: Can I return a vehicle after I’ve purchased it?
A: There is no cooling off period in California for new cars. That means that once you’ve bought the vehicle, it is yours. Some dealerships will still allow you to return the vehicle a short time after you’ve bought it (just a few days) and if there are very few miles on it. However, that is at the discretion of your auto dealership. You should expressly ask that a return clause (often called a contract cancellation option) be written into your sales contract if you want the option of returning a new vehicle. Be aware though, that returns on new vehicles are rarely allowed, so don’t be surprised if the auto dealership won’t allow returns or contract cancellation options. Lemon laws are on the books that protect you from having purchased a vehicle that fails. However, those laws vary and are only applicable if the vehicle meets very specific standards.

Q: What is a Lemon Law?
A: The so-called Lemon Law is actually the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act. It is a law that helps protect consumers who have purchased vehicles that do not perform as promised. Under this law, consumers who lease or buy new vehicles that fail and that are considered not repairable by an authorized dealer after a “reasonable number” of attempts at the repairs. Under this Lemon Law, the manufacturer is required to replace the vehicle or refund the purchase price, whichever the buyer chooses. If you feel that you have purchased a lemon or defective vehicle, contact a lawyer to advise you of your specific rights regarding your individual case. You can also contact the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Arbitration Certification Program at (800) 952-5210 or at www.dca.ca.gov/acp/.

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