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In the world of wholesale retailers, two names stand out: Costco and Sam’s Club. Fundamentally they offer the same services with the same membership-based business model, however, the differences lie in subtlety. Costco’s memberships cost more, but its products are cheaper, while Sam’s Club offers more name-brand products. 

Costco opens stores left and right, while Sam’s Club recently closed several. Most states offer both, but deciding which to shop at might depend on which one is available in a particular area. The differences continue into their auto programs as well, though some aren’t so subtle. Either way, buying a car has never been easier, and the retailers will never charge above MSRP.

What are the differences between Costco and Sam’s Club auto programs?

Costco gas station
Costco Gas Station | LOGAN CYRUS/AFP via Getty Images

Both Sam’s Club and Costco offer some of the same benefits, just in different ways. Sam’s Club offers its auto program through TrueCar, whereas Costco partners with specific dealerships. Both warehouses facilitate test drive scheduling, though Sam’s Club lets consumers see what others are paying for the same car. Sam’s Club offers a completely online buying process, while Costco prices are set in stone, so there’s no need to worry about haggling. 

Both clubs offer other member services like discounted tires. Sam’s Club also offers free flat tire repair, battery checking, and wiper blade fixing, though some Costco service centers offer these as well. Both clubs are neck and neck until the numbers for average savings emerge. 

How much do customers actually save through this process?

Outside of Sam's Club warehouse
Outside of Sam’s Club | Johnny Louis/Getty Images

Costco members save an average of $1,000 off the price of their vehicles, while Sam’s Club members saved an average of $3,463 from the MSRP in 2020. Sam’s Club members receive personalized offers from participating dealers. Something to remember about Sam’s Club is it doesn’t offer auto loans. Therefore, customers must arrange their own financing. 

Is it worth going through Sam’s Club over Costco?

Outside of a Costco warehouse
Outside of Costco Warehouse | Toby Scott/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Costco offers a wider variety of car choices, but Sam’s Club averages more savings. The main reason to go with either club is to bypass the haggling stage. Both clubs offer lower than MSRP prices and make the deal on the customer’s behalf. Once again, the decision boils down to which one is closer. 

Are there any downsides to either club?

Sam's club membership card
Sam’s Club Membership Card | Zhang Peng/LightRocket via Getty Images

Dealerships may be hesitant to sell a car through the program, as they might not get the usual markup on top of the car’s price. If time is a factor then going through these intermediaries has its advantages. It saves time on the search and bargaining stages of the buying process. Otherwise, there are more choices and fewer restrictions to a customer hunting down their own deal and haggling for themselves. 

Anyone can go onto TrueCar and see the deals for themselves, but Sam’s Club will get a lower price than MSRP that requires no effort on the customer’s part. There doesn’t appear to be any negative factors to using these services, no hidden tricks or catch-22s, so a member of either might as well take advantage of the service. Buying a membership just to get this service, however, might not be the best course of action. 


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