We compared buying a car through Costco to buying a car on your own at a dealership — here’s how they stack up (COST)


  • The Costco Auto Program allows Costco members to buy discounted cars through participating dealerships.
  • The program makes a lot of the hardest parts of buying a car, like research and negotiation, easier.
  • It also limits the customer’s choices in some areas.

Shopping for a car can be an overwhelming process.

If, say, you know you’re looking for an SUV, you have to determine the brand, model, and model year you’d like, as well as the dealership you want to use, whether you’d like to buy new or used, and whether you want to buy or lease. Where do you start your research? Which sources can you trust? What’s a reasonable price for a given model?

The Costco Auto Program attempts to eliminate some of that uncertainty. Costco members can use the program’s website to research and compare vehicles, calculate monthly payments, and get a discount at participating dealerships. While the size of the discount varies based on the vehicle’s class, brand, and model, a Costco Auto Program spokesperson told Business Insider that the average discount is over $1,000 off a vehicle’s average transaction price.

And since the program uses the same customers as Costco’s retail operation, it has plenty of reasons to vet dealers and salespeople so their customers don’t end up feeling like they were tricked — and putting the blame on Costco. 

“We’re not just providing leads to dealers. We’re creating a referral,” Costco Auto Program senior executive Rick Borg told Business Insider.

Here’s how using the Costco Auto Program is different than the average car shopping process:

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1. You have to be a Costco member

This may sound obvious, but while non-members can use some of the Auto Program’s research tools, you need to be a Costco member to be eligible for the discounted price.

2. Multiple strands of research are condensed into one place

One of the most difficult parts of car shopping is figuring out where to start and end your research, especially if you don’t read car news and reviews for fun.

The Costco Auto Program brings reviews, safety ratings, a financial calculator, and vehicle comparison tool under one roof. While it never hurts to compare research from multiple sources, the Costco Auto Program’s website gives customers a good place to start.


3. Your choice of dealerships and salespeople is limited

According to Borg, Costco works with one dealership per brand in a defined geographic area around a given Costco warehouse. And at each participating dealership, only a handful of salespeople are authorized to work with customers shopping through the Auto Program. 

Borg said Costco picks dealerships based on their prices, customer satisfaction index (CSI) scores, and reputations on social media. And authorized salespeople are also evaluated based on their CSI scores and must work at their dealership for at least six months before being eligible for the program. 

But the limited number of dealerships and salespeople makes things a little more difficult for customers who don’t end up satisfied with the first dealership Costco recommends to them. While Borg said Costco can point customers to other participating dealerships if they don’t like the first one they’re sent to, they may not be geographically convenient.

See the rest of the story at Business Insider