Out-the-Door Price: The Number You Should Really Be Negotiating

June 17, 2020
Written by: Ray Shefska
Categories: Car Buying

Click here to calculate your out-the-door price with our free calculator!

What I’m about to say may sound foolish, but it’s true. When it comes to buying a car, knowing how much you are going to spend is more difficult than it might seem. Getting access to the out-the-door price (an industry term for the total cost to purchase a vehicle), is absolutely necessary, but many car shoppers don’t know to ask for it.

Unlike buying a pair of tennis shoes or groceries (where the price you see is the price you pay), car dealers and local governments add in many additional fees to the purchase of a car, drastically increasing the total “out-the-door” price.

For many car buyers, the assumption is that the price on the window sticker is the price you’re going to pay. And, if I hadn’t spent 43 years selling cars, I would think the same thing too. Unfortunately however that couldn’t be further from the truth.

When it comes to buying a car you need to be familiar with the concept of the out-the-door (or sometimes also referred to as the “on-the-road”) price. This is the price that includes the selling price of a vehicle, taxes, title, registration, doc fees, and any additional dealer add-ons or accessories.

We’ve taken the time to build a simple and free calculator that will estimate the out-the-door (OTD) price for you. All you need to do is enter in a selling price and your state. We’ll then tell you what the estimated out-the-door price is, and what percentage more that is compared to the original selling price. As you’ll see, it’s usually quite a bit, and in some cases it’s as much as an additional 10% on top of the selling price of a vehicle.

The components of an out-the-door price

Imagine you were buying your groceries and when you went to checkout the cashier told you that the strawberries were $4, but that the container they came in was an additional $1, and there was a “grocer fee” for stocking the strawberries of an additional $.25. Your $4 strawberries just became $5.25 strawberries.

If that was reality, you’d probably be pretty frustrated with the grocery store. “Why didn’t they just advertise the price as $5.25, instead of $4.”

Welcome to the world of buying a car! Dealerships for decades have advertised prices for cars that simply aren’t true. The total cost to purchase a vehicle is its out-the-door price, and the components that make up an OTD price are as follows.

Selling price

The selling price of a vehicle is the first piece to our “out-the-door” puzzle. The selling price is the amount both parties (customer and salesperson) have agreed to in order to make a transaction happen.

For example, if you see an SUV online listed for $39,900, and you contact the dealer and negotiate the price to $37,750, that would be your agreed to selling price.

This is not the total out-the-door price.


In most states (with the exception of Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon) your purchase will be subject to sales tax. Sales tax is calculated on the zipcode level, because in many locales there are state sales taxes and then also county sales tax. There are also some regions that charge an additional vehicle tax (Arizona, for example).

Every dealership has software that allows them to calculate what the total tax amount will be on your purchase. Ask the dealer for this amount, as it is the second component of our out-the-door price. Even if you are buying a car out of state, you can still have the dealer run your taxes for your home state, most have the software to do that.


If you’re purchasing a car in the United States, and you want to own it legally, you need it to be titled in your name. Each state charges a fee when you request a title. Although it is usually nominal (in most states just a few dollars), it is another charge you need to be aware of to calculate your total out-the-door price.

Keep in mind that our free Out-the-Door Price Estimator will tell you what your state’s title fee is. I recommend referencing that when you review what the dealership shares with you.


Another fee from your state government is the registration fee, which is a charge to register your vehicle in your name. Registration fees vary greatly from state to state, with some states charging a flat fee, and others basing their charge on the weight, age, or even horsepower that your vehicle produces.

The registration fee typically includes license plates (sometimes referred to as “tags”). There should not be a separate “tag” fee in most states.

Doc fee

A dealer fee that is never disclosed until you ask for the out-the-door price is the documentation fee. This fee is a pure profit center for dealers, but one you’ll be hard pressed to get them to remove.

Doc fees are not mandatory, but all dealers charge them. In many states they are capped (for example in California the doc fee is capped at $80, while in other states like Florida, doc fees can be well over $1,000. Each dealer sets their own doc fee amount, and it is a major contributor to your total OTD price.


Frustratingly, many dealers add accessories to their inventory and then try and sell those to their customers. For example, if you’ve ever had a dealer tell you “We installed LoJack on this vehicle, and that will be an additional $695,” or “We tinted the windows, so that’ll be $995,” you’ve experienced a dealer trying to upsell you additional accessories.

These may not be included in the price you initially negotiated, but they absolutely will be in the out-the-door price.

How to use the out-the-door price

Now that you know what makes up the OTD price, it’s important to understand how to effectively use it.

When you negotiate the price on any car deal it is important to ask the dealer for the OTD price. Many dealers will list their lowest price so that they show up on the first page of websites like CarGurus and Autotrader, but then they’ll surprise you with massive doc fees and other accessories.

A dealership that shows up as a “bad deal” on CarGurus might actually have the better OTD price, and for that reason it’s always of the utmost importance that you focus your negotiating efforts on the out-the-door number and nothing else, since the internet price is really BS.

I wish I was kidding, but this is the sad reality of the industry, the price simply isn’t the price.

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  1. Kerry Wilkins

    I understand the OTD price. MY issue is once you have that, then what is there to negioate other than the document fees? Can you then negioate the price?

    • Rich

      You negotiate the price of the car BEFORE you add the other items to get to the OTD. If you are buying a $40,000 SUV and the you get a discount of $3,000….you enter that price as the selling price.

      • rich

        Correction…You enter $37,000 as the selling price. ($40,000-$37,000)

  2. Craig Norris

    I am working a new car deal in SC. I have 5 proposals from different dealers (below). I share the proposals, which i have also received via formal proposal (not binding proposal though). How do I know when it is too good to be true? The 4th lowest proposal and I have had considerable more back and fourth and does not want to budge even though her car that I want is being delivered next week. Mentioning they would collect all hold-back and floor plan assistance did not phase her. the two lowest said their offers were good for any in-stock model on their lot.

    Current Offers on 2021 Honda CR-V hybrid Touring
    Car $33,964 $33,862.04 $34,685 $35,389 $35,500
    Registration $40
    IMF $500 $500 $500 $500 $500
    Title $15
    Doc Fees $399 $565.46 $437 $198 $499.50
    OTD Price $34,900 $35,000 $35,674 $36,169 $36,556
    New Tag: $55? New Tag Fee: $72.50? Tag Fee listed: $81.50? Title & Tag: $57?

    : IMF =$500; Title = $15; Registration for disabled veteran = $36-$37. So Tax, Title and Registration should be $552


    Craig Norris

  3. Barry Perlmutter

    I am interested in leasing either rav 4. Forester. Or cx mazda all base models as I am needing a low monthly fee. My question is those cars being so popular will that effect the dealer reducing the msrp???

  4. S'mores

    I would like to know if the processing fee is taxed. I used the OTD calculator for Maryland and the tax that was stated was different from what the dealership quoted me. The internet price was $27,480. The OTD calculator gave me $29,663.80. The dealership quoted me $30,009.74.

    Also, the doc fee for MD is now $499. The calculator has $300.

    • Zach Shefska

      S’mores, MD did recently update their doc fee maximum to $500. Re: taxes I’m sure the dealer is right, our tax tables are not “penny perfect” right now, although we are working on that for a future iteration.


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