Where does the money really go? Questions raised over car dealer 'doc fee'

When you buy a car, you pay certain fees including taxes, title and registration. You also pay for something called a "document" or "doc" fee.

Unlike the other fees, the ABC15 Investigators found it's hard for some dealers to explain just where all of the money collected for doc fees really goes.

Caryn Francetic of Chandler paid the fee as part of her new car purchase. She said the amount was never explained.

Francetic was told to fork over $368. She said that it was the same amount of a car payment.

Dealership doc fees are supposed to pay for processing documents, but when we asked some local car salespeople undercover, that's not where they said the money goes.

One salesperson told our producer, "It's a way for people to kind of pay people to wash the cars."

Another told her, "It's what they call a docking fee." When our reporter asked if she meant a port, the salesperson said, "Yes, it actually is."

A former car sales manager told us he knows where the doc fee money goes.

"The doc fee is just pure profit for the owner. It goes right into his pocket," said Robert, who's worked in the Valley for years and didn't want to reveal his identity.

He told us the doc fee is usually non-negotiable.

When I asked how many buyers asked him to have the fee removed Robert told me, "probably 60% to 70% and the answer is always 'no, never.'"

We found 11 states have regulations or caps on doc fees.

Authorities in New York say their cap is $75. In California, it's $80.

In Arizona, there are guidelines, but no laws and no caps, and the fees are higher -- sometimes much higher.

In September 2012, we called every car dealer in the ABC15 viewing area and asked what they charge for doc fees.

That included 197 dealers,. The answers we got ranged from $99 to $499. The average doc fee we found was $386.46.

SEE COMPLETE LIST OF DEALERS AND DOC FEES

If a dealer sells 200 cars a month, that could add up to a million dollars for the year.

In our survey, Kempton Chevrolet and Buick in Safford had the lowest fee at just $99.

The highest fee quoted to us was $499 at five dealers.

Why are the fees so high? And where does the money really go? None of those dealers wanted to comment.

We also tried repeatedly to get answers from the Arizona Automobile Dealers Association . They did not return our calls or e-mails.

So, the ABC 15 Investigators went to their offices but were turned away. We received a letter from their attorney concerning our visit.

While dealers tell us the doc fee is not negotiable, you can still try to fight it when you buy a car.

We also heard that some dealers will take the amount of the doc fee off of your final price, but you have to ask.

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