December 1, 2013

News & Features

Dealers entice new-car buyers with creative perks

Special to NWautos

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Free cookies and travel mugs are among the perks at Michael's Toyota of Bellevue. (Allison Ellis / Special to NWautos)

In the not-so-distant past, you'd be lucky to get complimentary floor mats, a full tank of gas and a cup of coffee to go with your new-car purchase. Nowadays, you can drive off with not only the floor mats, but also other freebies such as roadside assistance, car washes, scheduled maintenance, made-to-order lattes and even a pair of skis.

Carter Subaru, with locations in Ballard and Shoreline, is offering that free pair of K2 skis (or a snowboard), as well as a pair of season passes to Stevens Pass, to buyers of new or certified pre-owned Subarus through February. Michael's Toyota of Bellevue offers a year of free maintenance, use of an iPad while your car is being serviced, car washes, cookies and a travel mug.

The bottom line
    Do perks always make financial sense? That depends, says certified financial planner Paul Ried of Paul R. Ried Financial Group in Belle-vue. "As in any purchase, it's important to look at overall cost of ownership and the investment that you're making versus the use that you get out of that purchase," he says. In other words, evaluate dealer perks with both eyes open. Make sure that the cost of the vehicle isn't overly inflated to cover these benefits and determine whether the perks are ones you'll actually use, he says, and then you can accurately quantify the value for you.

Doug's Hyundai in Lynnwood offers free loaner cars. Walker's Renton Mazda and Eastside Subaru in Kirkland both offer a free first oil change. Customers of Nissan of the Eastside in Bellevue can get a free car wash anytime.

University Audi in Seattle is the place to go for that double-tall latte. Fiat of Seattle at Southcenter will even store your car while you're on vacation and take you to and from the airport.

Everybody benefits

What's the point of all these perks? Customer loyalty, for one. "We see it as a retention program," says Clint Middleton, vehicle operations manager for Toyota's Northwest region. Benefits and add-ons encourage customers to use dealer services, keep their cars well maintained and visit often.

The other motivator is that car buyers have come to expect a higher level of service — newer facilities, luxurious waiting rooms and use of Wi-Fi. It used to be that only the luxury brands offered perks and posh lounges; now almost everyone is doing it.

It does come at a price. "It's been a huge investment for us," says Middleton, citing major remodels of Toyota dealerships all over the Northwest.

The Fiat and Acura of Seattle at Southcenter dealerships have two full-time employees devoted to providing free car washes. It's worth it, says Cline Davis, general manager of both dealerships, which occupy the same location.

"We're a destination store; [we're] not on auto row," he says. So VIP services — including free car washes, oil changes, tire rotations and airport shuttle service — are a way to stand out.

The fine print
What's the catch? Most of these goodies are available only to buyers of new or certified pre-owned vehicles. An authorized dealer must perform all the free service work, and some restrictions and limitations do apply.

If you're already a loyal customer used to getting your car serviced at the dealer, these add-ons can really pay off. Seattle resident Aimee Kawabe, who is on her third BMW since 2003, says that through BMW's Ultimate Service program — which includes maintenance costs for four years or 50,000 miles — her maintenance costs have been essentially nil.

"They do deliver top service," she says about the BMW of Bellevue dealership. And when the benefits get close to their expiration date? Well, then, it's time for her to buy a new car.

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