In the Driver's Seat: Understanding How Car Dealerships Earn from Financing

Car dealerships are more than just places where you can purchase a new or used car. They also play a crucial role in providing financing options for customers who may not have the cash upfront to make a full payment. This article will explore how car dealerships earn from financing and how these financial arrangements can affect the overall cost of buying a car.

Financing Options at Car Dealerships

When you visit a car dealership, you will typically be presented with various financing options. These options allow you to spread the cost of the vehicle over a certain period, usually through monthly payments. The dealership acts as a middleman, helping you secure the loan from a financial institution.

There are three main types of financing options available at car dealerships:

1. Manufacturer Financing 2. Bank Financing 3. In-House Financing

Manufacturer financing is often provided by the car manufacturer itself. These financing deals are often advertised with low-interest rates or zero percent financing for a certain period. While this may seem enticing, it’s important to read the fine print and understand the terms and conditions.

Bank financing involves obtaining a loan from a traditional financial institution, such as a bank or credit union. These loans are not directly provided by the car dealership but rather arranged through a partnership between the dealership and the bank. Interest rates and loan terms can vary based on your credit score and the type of vehicle you're purchasing.

In-house financing, also known as "buy here, pay here" financing, is offered by the dealership directly. This type of financing is typically designed for customers with poor credit or no credit history. The dealership assumes the role of the lender and may charge higher interest rates to mitigate the risk of lending to customers with a higher likelihood of defaulting on their loan.

The Role of Interest Rates in Car Financing

Interest rates play a significant role in car financing and can significantly impact the total cost of your vehicle. Dealerships often have the discretion to mark up the interest rates offered by banks or financial institutions. This markup, known as "dealer reserves" or "finance reserve," allows dealerships to earn additional profit on top of the financing arrangement.

For example, if a bank approves your auto loan at an interest rate of 4%, the dealership may markup the rate to 6% and keep the additional 2% as profit. This markup is often negotiated between the dealership and the bank, and the higher the markup, the more profit the dealership can make from the financing.

It's essential to shop around and compare interest rates before settling on a financing option. Obtaining pre-approved loans from other sources such as banks or credit unions can give you a better understanding of the interest rates available to you. This knowledge can help you negotiate a fair rate with the dealership or potentially secure financing elsewhere if the dealership's rates are too high.

Additional Profit Centers for Car Dealerships

While earning profit from interest rate markups is a significant source of income for car dealerships, it's not the only way they make money from financing. Here are a few other profit centers for dealerships:

1. Extended Warranties and Service Contracts: Car dealerships often offer extended warranties or service contracts that cover repairs and maintenance beyond the manufacturer's warranty period. These contracts can provide additional revenue streams for dealerships.

2. Add-Ons and Accessories: Dealerships may offer various add-ons and accessories for your vehicle, such as window tinting, premium sound systems, or upgraded rims. These add-ons come at an additional cost and contribute to the dealership's profits.

3. GAP Insurance: Guaranteed Asset Protection (GAP) insurance is a type of coverage that pays the difference between the amount owed on a car loan and the depreciated value of the vehicle in the event of a total loss. Car dealerships often offer GAP insurance, which provides another revenue stream.

4. Trade-In and Resale: When customers trade in their old vehicle at a dealership, the dealership has the opportunity to resell that vehicle at a profit. Dealerships can also make money by selling trade-ins at used car auctions or to other dealerships.

Transparency and Consumer Protection

While car dealerships have various profit centers in their financing departments, it's essential to note that not all practices are transparent or fair. Some dealerships engage in predatory lending practices, such as padding the purchase price or adding undisclosed fees to financing agreements.

To protect consumers, regulatory bodies such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in the United States and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in the United Kingdom have implemented rules and regulations governing the auto financing industry. These regulations aim to ensure transparency, fair treatment, and competitive pricing for consumers.

It's crucial for car buyers to educate themselves about the financing process, research lenders and rates, and understand their rights as consumers. Reading and understanding all documents before signing, asking questions, and seeking independent advice if needed are essential steps to protect yourself from potential pitfalls.


Car dealerships play a vital role in providing financing options for customers who wish to purchase a new or used vehicle. Financing options can include manufacturer financing, bank financing, or in-house financing. Interest rates and the dealership's ability to markup those rates can significantly impact the total cost of the vehicle.

In addition to interest rate markups, dealerships can earn profits from extended warranties, add-ons and accessories, GAP insurance, and trade-in and resale. However, it's important for car buyers to be cautious and aware of potentially unfair or deceptive practices.

By understanding the financing process, comparing rates from different lenders, and ensuring transparency and fair treatment, consumers can navigate the car-buying process with confidence and make informed decisions about their financing arrangements.


  • Q: Can I negotiate the interest rate offered by the dealership?

    A: Yes, you can negotiate the interest rate offered by the dealership. It's advisable to obtain pre-approved loans from other sources to have a benchmark for comparison and to negotiate a fair rate with the dealership.

  • Q: Are there any fees associated with car financing?

    A: Yes, there may be fees associated with car financing. These fees can include loan origination fees, administration fees, and documentation fees. It's important to review all documents carefully and ask for clarification on any fees before signing.

  • Q: Do car dealerships always offer the best financing deals?

    A: Not necessarily. While car dealerships can provide convenience and one-stop shopping, it's recommended to explore financing options from other sources, such as banks or credit unions, to ensure you're getting the best deal.

  • Q: Are all car dealerships regulated to protect consumers?

    A: Car dealerships are subject to regulations to protect consumers in many countries. However, the level of regulation may vary. It's important to familiarize yourself with the consumer protection regulations in your specific jurisdiction to understand your rights and ensure fair treatment.

19 October 2023
Written by John Roche