Tight budget? Don't forgo protective products

Those looking to whittle down monthly car payments could see F&I products as burdens, especially when the weight of a service contract could tip a vehicle out of a customer's price range. But investing in those products could be the key to avoiding a truly unmanageable cost.

From a sideswipe in a parking lot to a lost key fob, unexpected automotive expenses come in many forms and could cost hundreds for even the most responsible car owners.

Forty percent of U.S. adults could not cover an unexpected $400 expense without selling something or borrowing money, according to the Federal Reserve's most recent survey of consumer financial health.

While financial flexibility for consumers has improved — according to the survey, in 2013, half of respondents said they were ill-prepared for an expense of this magnitude — many consumers can still be thrown by a one-time emergency expense.

Worsening market conditions and rising loan rates are tightening car buyers' budgets in lower credit tiers even further, said Jonathan Smoke, Cox Automotive's chief economist. In 2017, gas prices alone siphoned $500 more a year for the average American household.

Smoke told Automotive News that these market movements could price consumers not only out of the new-vehicle market but also out of certain vehicle protection products.

"A good portion of consumers that are more likely to be income- and credit-challenged are the ones that are having more of that payment problem," Smoke said.

If consumers are worried about mounting vehicle-related costs, skimping on F&I products offers an appealing immediate gratification. But budget-conscious customers need these products the most -- leaving a vehicle unprotected exposes them to even costlier service bills later.

Zeroing in on that need in the F&I office will likely lead to more product sales and happier customers down the line.

You can reach Jackie Charniga at jcharniga@crain.com -- Follow Jackie on Twitter: @jccharniga

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