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Dirty Tricks, Or, Questions You Wouldn't Think To Ask When Shopping For A New Car

Hello, everyone. I am a long time reader of these forums, first time poster. Unfortunately, I am (maybe) shopping for a new car, although I may still have a shot at repairing my old one. Anyway, I was thinking about what I consider to be dirty tricks built into cars these days. For example, there is a thread active now where someone discovered their BMW doesn’t have an oil dipstick. I agree with the poster who said this would be a deal-breaker, although I could imagine if I were shopping for a new car, it might not occur to me to even ask if the car has an oil dipstick, I’d probably assume that was a given.

What got me to thinking about this was an article I read where somebody discovered his brand new car didn’t have a spare tire, just a can of fix-a-flat and a $10 air compressor. The guy stated it never occurred to him to ask if the car had a spare tire, he just assumed that new cars come with spare tires.

I have learned a lot from reading these forums. For example, I learned about Ford Rangers where you have to remove the front bumper to change a headlight, Dodge Neons where you have to remove the front tire to access the battery, and another car I forget the name of where the battery was tucked under the back seat. All of these are what I consider dirty tricks, engineering simple things to be so difficult that you will probably return to the dealer for something you should have been able to do yourself in 10 minutes.

Test driving a new car can be seductive, because, well, because its a new car. Its easy to be distracted by the shiny paint, the new car smell, and all the bells, whistles, and gizmos. One doesn’t think about the day to day issues like checking the oil, changing a headlight or a battery, etc

So what say you? What are some more issues / questions like this which need to be answered before signing on the bottom line at the dealership?

P.S. I am a privacy rights advocate, I am also thinking in terms of the car tracking your movements for data mining and / or marketing purposes. Obviously, if you have built-in GPS; OnStar, that kind of thing, the mfr is tracking your every move. Perhaps I should start a separate thread for the specific car I am considering (Honda Fit). I think its going to be fun and informative to read what folks here come up with. This is a very knowledgeable and diverse group of talent that posts here.

To tell you the truth we are looking at new cars now, and yes I hate the lack of dipsticks, but I rarely check my oil anyway, do like to see the trans fluid color every now and then, but at 162k checked my oil maybe 3 times, trans fluid maybe 2, and I would guess I am above the norm. So I am coming up on 5k since last oil change, checked the oil because a road trip, oil life monitor just came on, change oil soon, still full, and not too dirty. Sure I flushed trans fluid, and do regular oil changes, hate the lack of ability to easily check, but it would not have made a real difference in the overall life of my particular vehicle.

And yes the Malibu had a place for a spare but the fix a flat goop and a compresser where the spare should be, a $600 option for a real spare! Now we maintain our tires as well as a normal person, last flat was 23 years ago, does my spare have any pressure? no idea.
I am not saying I like these changes, but there is an oil level monitor,and we are thrown into the world of trusting electronics,like I was saying to wifey, after a test drive that the car shuts off when you are at a stop, she says the gas pedal seems a little sluggish, I had to tell her it is drive by wire, they can make the gas pedal feel any way you like, but then I have to say the turn signal noise over the radio gets on my nerves, it is so stupid sounding, kind of like why does a digital camera imitate a real camera sound when taking a picture!

Dragged into a whole new world kicking and screaming but it makes no difference so far.

As you have mentioned, model specific forums are very helpful. I like to DIY most of my maintenance items, so when I am interested in a car, I will look in the forums and see what is involved. Can you check the ATF level, can you drain it and so on. The forums would also have a TSB section and when you see a six page thread on a particular issue, you can expect to have that problem on your car too.

But I still overlook some stuff. I had bought a Ford Focus and then realized the jacking points are very poorly positioned and also to just do a simple engine oil change, you had to remove a big piece of plastic shield from that was under the engine bay. None of these were a deal breaker, but I wasn’t very proud of these misses either.

There are always trade offs. You just can’t have everything. My Pontiac doesn’t have a trans dipstick and you get used to it. Really not that big a deal if you take it in for fluid changes every 30K anyway. I guess you just need to make a list of items to ask about. For me its fold down rear seats for cargo. I also don’t like the way the Honda/Acuras program their information systems or Navigation systems. I much prefer GM which is more intuitive and makes sense. Can’t have everything though.

Things like the spare tire and a dipstick to check the oil don’t always come up when you are shopping for a new car, I’ll admit to having to dig out the brochure after putting a deposit on my new Forester to find out if it had a spare or just the foam to get you to the tire shop. When I took delivery the salesman made sure to point out everything on the car including where to find the spare tire and how things are laid out under the hood. Some questions just don’t come to you until after the fact.

I understand the OP’s concerns, but–unfortunately–the people of whom he would ask the questions at the dealership–namely the sales people–are not good sources of information about the cars that they sell. In fact, I have found that–more often than not–car sales people are sources of an incredible amount of MISinformation.

Yes, replacing headlight bulbs on many modern cars involves the removal of a fender liner, or perhaps even the bumper, but a car salesperson is EXTREMELY unlikely to know this information. And, even in the unlikely event he/she did know it, he/she would likely lie or conceal that information rather than lose a sale.

As to things like dipsticks and spare tires…whatever happened to a consumer’s eyes?
Before I decide to buy a certain model, you can be sure that I have lifted the hood in order to view the placement of everything there, that I have examined the trunk and determined the placement of the spare tire, jack, and tools, and have essentially poked into every nook & cranny of the car that can be viewed without putting it on a lift. So, while I empathize with someone who finds out after purchase that–for instance–his/her car has no spare tire, I have to wonder exactly what this person did to examine that vehicle prior to purchase. Did they merely decide that they like the color of the car?

Before I buy a car, I do my due diligence in this manner:

Look at reliability data.
Conduct research via the internet and with sales brochures in order to find out about equipment, features, and options.
Take an extended test drive–or perhaps even two extended test drives–in order to determine the comfort level of the seats, as well as the handling, acceleration, and braking capabilities of the vehicle.
Open the hood, and the trunk lid, and the glove compartment, and every storage compartment in order to see what lies within.
Look at the Maintenance Schedule, in order to not get any expensive surprises after purchase.

Is it possible that I would still wind up with a vehicle that lacks something I wanted?
Sure, it is possible, but I think that it is a whole heap less likely than if I just looked at a car in a showroom and decided that I liked the color.

“Car sales people are sources of an incredible amount of MISinformation.”

I totally agree. That statement also applies to most sales people. Some are very knowledgeable but the vast majority are not.

+1 for VDCdriver


The only real way you can protect yourself against undesirable eccentricities in your new car is to use a source like Consumer Reports to select one with a lower likelihood of needing work, and check the routine maintenance item (like dipsticks) accessibility yourself at the dealer’s.

One other recent trend I personally dislike is the tendency to design in systems that will do everything but bake bread, and to integrate them all into a few overly complex controls. I do not want to have to search through some sequential multilevel menus just to change my radio station, just so the radio can pick up every type of signal on the planet.

Agreed. Salespeople are most often a waste of time. If you do your own maintenance you need to pop the hood and trunk and look around. I was even picky down to wanting a canister type oil filter rather than an element type. Personal preference there as Ive had bad experiences with the element type. (Long story short the plastic cover developed a hairline crack and leaked and was 80 bucks to replace…for plastic… Toyota).

Cars seem to be designed for less and less DIY maintenance. They cover the engines and fluid reservoirs in plastic sheets, no spare is common now, battery in back is becoming more common. Anything they can do make you need the dealer to perform maintenance seems to be the trend. I will say, for the large majority of people who dont like to pop their hood - period - the reliability has been maximized and maintenance minimized for todays cars. Its good for them. Not for those of us who need to tinker and DIY for peace of mind.

Salesmen are ignorant, for sure. OP needs to make a list of their ‘must haves’ and confirm themself that the car has them. I don’t call theses ‘dirty tricks’, things just change.

“One other recent trend I personally dislike is the tendency to design in systems that will do everything but bake bread, and to integrate them all into a few overly complex controls. I do not want to have to search through some sequential multilevel menus just to change my radio station, just so the radio can pick up every type of signal on the planet.”

Amen and Amen!!!

In fact, it seems that the biggest complaints regarding Fords, Lincolns, and Cadillacs are the result of the do-all MyFord & MyLincoln touch screen systems and–whatever GM calls the touch-screen system on Cadillacs.

According to Consumer Reports, the only manufacturer that seems to get it right is–believe it or not–Chrysler. Who would’a thunk?

Bing hit it on the head. Make a checklist and use it. Write down everything that is important to you. Do preliminary research such as reading Consumer Reports (at your local library if you don’t subscribe) and going to the online websites of the manufacturers and places like

Make sure the list is the things that are important to you, not to others who are advising you. For example, there are a lot of comments about the dipstick. I’d guess that shown two pictures, a majority of drivers out there could only identify the picture of the dipstick 50% of the time. Since they will never check the dipstick, a warning light or oil level gauge would be a better option for them.

The fact it that during the buying process, you will not remember everything that you want to check, so a check list is the way to go.

Ask mechanics.
If they’ll let you in the dealer shop, ask them . If not , ask you usual indy tech .
Which vehicles to THEY prefer for themselves because they’re NOT in the shop and when they are they don’t break the bank.

For example ;
Too many people don’t know , and never knew it would be an issue, that they have an interferance engine type that would require a timing belt replacement at a proactive mileage or risk major engine damage.
Consequently, they go too long without a car rerpair savings and are rudely surprised at the cost.
Having some of these systems is not so bad when you know their perameters like maintainence schedules and costs ahead of time ( which is what you are trying to do now )

+1 to @ken green. Ignore the salesman, ask to talk to a service tech (best) or the service writer (ok) to ask your service questions.

You list a bunch of things you call “dirty tricks” but they are all done for a reason and they don’t bother some people. You need to determine what bothers you and avoid them.

As for privacy; all new cars have “black boxes” to record data shortly before a crash and have for some time. The data can be recovered by the police and used to prosecute you. Many cars have GPS and on-board cell phone systems (On-Star) that can be used to track you. They are also used to collect data to help design the next new car model, identify warranty issues and download new software while your car is stationary. It is getting pretty hard to avoid Big Brother these days.

Just because your paranoia is cured doesn’t mean they still aren’t out to get you…

When it comes time to talk to a sales person, like everyone else implies, do your own research and NEVER ask the salesperson a question you don’t already know the answer to. The only negotiation should be around the price. It’s up to you to inspect it and research in the same way you would a house…they are nearly as expensive.

Got a smartphone? You’re already being tracked. if you have an android.

The vast majority of new cars also come with black boxes that datalog everything you do. If you get in a wreck, or your car gets impounded for whatever reason, law enforcement can pull that data and find out how you’ve been driving.

Additionally, law enforcement is increasingly getting license plate scanners that record every license plate of every vehicle that is anywhere near any cop car. They’re building a giant database of where everyone who drives has been, when, for how long, etc.

In short, it’s becoming next to impossible to stop people, especially the government, from tracking your location. Onstar and similar systems are the least of your concerns - after all, Onstar has no particular reason to care where you drive your car unless you get in a wreck or your car gets stolen and Onstar needs to track it. The same can’t be said for federal authorities, who have decided that they care where everyone is and what they’re doing and saying every moment of the day.

If you want to change your new Fit’s sparkplugs…oops…they’re under the upper intake manifold. Luckily, they’re suppose to last 100k. I’ll probably trade my Insight in for a Fit in 5-6 years though.