Monday, June 17, 2019

Why Even “Honest” Car Dealers Lie to You

If you owned a business that employed a lot of people, including family and friends, that all depended on their earnings from that business to support themselves and their families, how important would the SURVIVAL of that business be to you? Of course, you and your family also depend entirely on the earnings from that business to provide housing, food, medical care, and education for you and your family. Arguably the strongest instinct in all living creatures, including humans, is SURVIVAL. Would you break the law, act unethically, or deceive someone if it was necessary to provide food, shelter, or medical care for you and your loved ones?

All retail businesses must advertise their products to sell them. Arguably, the most important factor in the consumer’s decision to buy is the LOWEST PRICE. Granted, quality and reliability of the product are important too, but once a buyer has decided on the best product, she begins looking for the lowest price. Most car dealerships each sell one brand of cars and a few sell several. Once the consumer chooses the brand, they begin shopping for the lowest price. A Ford, Honda, Jeep, or Toyota at one dealership is the same as those at all other dealerships. Furthermore, the car dealers all pay the manufacturers the same price for their cars. Despite what car dealers may tell you, large volume dealers don’t pay less for their cars than small volume dealers.

Consumers learn the lowest prices from car dealers advertising…online-digital, TV, radio, newspapers, email and snail mail. This is where the problem arises. If you’re in the market to buy a New 2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4X4 with an MSRP of $53,940, you’re going to check prices at all the Jeep dealerships in your market first. Usually there are at least 3 dealers for each brand in a market, but when you add shopping online a buyer can shop prices at DOZENS of dealerships. You’ll buy your Jeep from the dealer that gives you the biggest discount from MSRP, the lowest price.

All car dealers, of course, know that you will visit the dealer with the lowest price, so they must be sure their advertised price will be either lowest or close to it. They can only ensure that you won’t find a lower price by pricing their Jeep lower than they can afford to sell it, often below their true cost. This is how HIDDEN FEES, aka DEALER FEES came to exist. These hidden charges aren’t fees at all…at least not legitimate government fees; Hidden dealer fees are PROFIT TO THE DEALER which are not revealed to you in the advertising or the prices quoted to you online, by phone, or in person. A car dealer with $1,000 in hidden fees (average in South Florida) can advertise a car for $1,000 lower than he can afford to sell it for and still make a profit after he adds his hidden fees.

HAVE YOU EVER BOUGHT A CAR FOR THE ACTUAL ADVERTISED PRICE? Most people will say “no” and those that say “yes” probably were tricked into believing the hidden fees that were added were legitimate government fees like sales tax and license plate. Dealers can “name” a hidden fee anything they like. They typically choose names that sound “official” like tag agency fee, electronic filing fee, doc fee, notary fee, doc stamps, administrative fee, dealer handling fee, and dealer prep fee. Often, buyers never see the fees because they aren’t added until you’ve signed the dealer “worksheet” which you thought was a purchase agreement. It’s not a legal document and this disclaimer is in the fine print. Dealer do this, so they don’t have to disclose all of their hidden fees. These are printed out on the real buyer’s order in the Finance Office, along with reams of other paper and fine print that nobody has the time to read.

Who’s to blame for this sad state of affairs? The answer is our legislators and regulators, both federal and state. The political contributions by auto manufacturers, car dealers, and their associations dwarf that of the gun manufactures and NRA and rival those of Big Insurance. If the auto manufacturers and dealers don’t want a politician elected, he just must find another line of work.

About the only thing you can do to get the best price on a car is to outsmart the car dealer, and I have tool that you can download that will help you. It was invented by Nancy Stewart, my wife and co-host of my consumer advocacy radio show, “Earl on Cars”. Download this form at www.OutTheDoorPriceAffidavit.com. It is a legal affidavit that you insist your car dealer sign before you sign to buy any new or used vehicle. The car dealer is swearing that the price he advertised or quoted is the true out-the-door price plus government fees only. If the car dealer won’t sign it, buy your car from the dealer that will.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Seniors… Think Twice Before Leasing

Leasing a new vehicle is very different from renting. When you sign a 36-month or 48-month lease, you obligate yourself for 36 or 48 monthly payments, even if you can no longer drive. You’re also responsible for maintaining insurance on the leased vehicle, even if it’s not being driven. You may become incapacitated or your driver’s license can be revoked. If you die, your estate is obligated for the remaining payments.

It’s possible to have your lease assigned to another person, but this must be approved by the leasing company. There are companies that, for a fee, specialize in finding people to assume lease payments, but these people must have the approval of the leasing company.

You may have noticed that most new car advertising is for leasing, not buying. This is becausecar dealers average a much higher profit from a leased car than a purchased car. Also, the car dealer has a much better chance of keeping you as a customer if you lease. You must return the car to the dealer at the end of the lease. The car dealer and leasing company (usually the manufacturer) have monthly contact with you, because your making lease payments. Leasing companies penalize you with a “lease disposition fee” if you opt not to buy or lease another car of that make.

For all the above reasons, the car dealers and manufacturers will encourage you to lease rather than buy. Be forewarned that unscrupulous salesmen will give you bad advice to persuade you to change your mind about buying and leasing instead. They earn much higher commissions on leases, and they’re more likely to lease or sell you another car. The expression used by car salesmen when they attempt to do this is called the “Lease Flip”. The sales manager will instruct his salesman who is having difficulty making a big profit on a car purchase to “Flip her to a lease”. The salesman will try to focus your attention on the lower monthly payment of a lease and not mention the fact that you are building no equity when you lease like you do when you purchase. He won’t mention the higher cost of insurance, excess mileage charge, lease inception fee, lease disposition fee, or the charge at the end of the lease for excessive wear and tear. Some sales people will imply, or say, that you can return a lease early without any penalty. Too often your trade-in is undervalued or not valued at all on the lease contract. Lease contracts are very complicated compared to purchase contracts. There’s lots of fine print and variables that affect the total cost. The main numbers you have be aware of are the lease factor (interest rate), residual value (estimated value at the end of the lease) and the capitalized cost. The capitalized cost should reflect the fair credit for your trade-in and should represent the discounted price if you were buying the car.

With all that said, a lease can be just as good a value as a purchase, but leases are far more complicated. This gives the car dealer, manufacturer, and car salesman more of an upper hand. There’s an old joke that goes like this…” If you sit down at a poker table, look at all the other players, and can’t figure out who the sucker is…it’s probably you. Always be extra careful when you’re playing somebody else’s game.

Saturday, June 01, 2019

$100,000 DEALER FEE CHALLENGE

Debate the Resolution to Make Dealer Fees Illegal


WHAT? DEBATE RESOLVING THAT DEALER FEES SHOULD BE MADE ILLEGAL
WHEN? ANY SATURDAY MORNING 8AM TO 10 AM
WHERE? TRUE OLDIES RADIO STATION, 8895 N MILITARY TRAIL, PBG, FL


The first car dealer to accept my challenge will debate me for about one hour on my regularly scheduled Saturday morning 8-10 AM radio show (WSVU, TrueOldies 95.9 FM & 106.9 FM; Stream www.EarlOnCars.com) The audience will judge the debate, hearing both sides of the dealer fee issue and vote for the winner. The loser pays the winner $100,000. If I win, I pledge to contribute the $100,000 to Big Dog Ranch Rescue (www.BDRR.org).

DEBATE RULES: 

1. Earl Stewart and the Car Dealer will jointly agree upon, and choose a neutral, unbiased moderator; if no agreement can be reached, a flip of the coin will allow the winner to pick the moderator.
2. The Car Dealer must be a legally appointed dealer, named in the franchise agreement between him or her and the manufacturer of the vehicles he or she sells. 

3. Earl Stewart will open the debate, explaining to the audience why the dealer fee should be made illegal. The length of time will be 5-10 minutes.

4. The car dealer challenging this proposition will take 5-10 minutes explaining why dealer fees should remain legal. 

5. Earl Stewart rebuts the car dealer challenger for 5-10 minutes.
6. The Car Dealer rebuts Earl Stewart for 5-10 minutes.
7. Earl Stewart has a second 5-10-minute rebuttal.

8. Car Dealer has a second 5-10-minute rebuttal. 

9. There can be no interruptions of either speaker.
10. The listening audience will cast their votes for the winner by texting their votes or posting their votes to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or Periscope. All votes must be accompanied by a name and phone number for verification. Any employee of a car dealership, car dealer association and family members of either are ineligible to vote. 

I invite all challengers to contact me directly on my cell phone, 561 358-1474 or email me at Earl@EarlOnCars.com. If I receive more than one challenge, the participating challenger will be “drawn from a hat”. The $100,000 prize will be deposited in the escrow account of an attorney mutually agreed upon by both parties at least one week before the debate. If they cannot agree on an attorney, he or she will be decided by the toss of a coin. 

For those unfamiliar with my position on dealer fees and/or unclear on exactly what the dealer fee is, I refer you to my numerous blogs and newspaper articles on this subject, http://oncars.blogspot.com/search?q=dealer+fee

Monday, May 20, 2019

Good People Make Good Car Dealerships

In my columns over the years I’ve always advocated carefully choosing the car dealership that you buy your vehicle from or allow to service it. I still believe this is important. In fact, I publish a list of dealers that I recommend you buy your car from and a list that I recommend you avoid,www.GoodDealerBadDealerList.com. We’ve all visited a restaurant or retail store and had a terrible experience with a waitress, sales person, or other employee and never returned. Yet, we’ll hear friends recommending the same store that we swore never to patronize. We condemned an entire company because of one person.

I also wrote a column a couple of years ago in which I suggested that you carefully choose the individual who advises you and sells you service on your car. These individuals are really commissioned sales people who sell you service just like car sales people sell you cars. Unfortunately, most dealerships call them something else like “assistant service manager” or service advisor. In my dealership we used to call them Assistant Service Managers because that’s the term that Toyota uses. We now call them “service advisors” because too many people thought they were dealing with the service manager. In all candor, I’d feel more comfortable naming them what they are, “service sales people” and I may make that change.
It occurred to me that the same recommendation applies to all companies, not just car dealerships and it applies to all departments in a company. Whichever car dealership you choose, take the time to pick and choose those individuals you deal with. Car dealerships, just like other organizations, are nothing more than the sum of their parts…their people. You should get to know the person who sells you service and, if you don’t like him, ask for another person to handle your service requirements. You should also meet and cultivate a manager in the service department.

The same holds for the sales department. When you buy a car, don’t settle for the first salesman who approaches you. For example, if you’re a woman you may feel more comfortable dealing with another woman. Or, if your first language is Spanish or Cajun, you may feel more comfortable with one who can converse with you in your native tongue. Don’t be shy about asking, and don’t feel bad about hurting the feelings of the first sales person. An automobile is the 2nd largest purchase most people make and it’s very important that you feel comfortable with the person selling it to you. Furthermore, if after dealing with your sales person for a while, you think you made a bad choice, ask to speak to the sales manager or general manager. Believe me, car buyers hold all the cards (until they get your money), and no sane sales manager is going to lose a sale because a prospective customer doesn’t like or trust the sales person she’s dealing with. He will handle your sale personally or choose another sales person you do feel good about.

Car dealerships have other departments including parts, finance and insurance, accounting, and some have body shops. My same recommendation applies to all departments. A word of caution, when you ask to speak to a manager, be sure you’re really are truly speaking to one. Car dealerships are notorious for calling rank and file employees managers to trick the customer.

My purpose in writing this column is in realization of the fact that there are no perfect companies, especially car dealerships and that includes mine. I employ about 160 individuals and I would be less than candid if I didn’t say I have a few rotten apples in my barrel. Unfortunately, I don’t know who they are and finding them is a continuous work in progress. The same thing applies to all companies including car dealerships. In my list of recommended dealers, there are some employees of those dealerships who would take advantage of you, but most would not. In those dealerships that I recommend you don’t buy your car from, there may be a few honest, courteous employees. Then there are all the dealerships that I don’t put in either category. Your odds of finding the right individual are much better if you patronize a good company or car dealership, but never let your guard down.

Just stay away from the ones that I recommend you don’t deal with. In every organization there’s a tipping point. A great company reaches a critical mass of good employees and as their reputation grows, more good employees from other companies seek to be employed there. Honest, hardworking, courteous people enjoy working in an environment where others are like them. The same holds true for evil dealerships and bad companies (those on my “don’t buy” list). A good person with a conscience has a very difficult time functioning in an environment where, from top management all the way down, the design is to trick and take advantage of customers. These few good people don’t last long in evil dealerships and flee to a place where they can treat their customers in a manner that lets them sleep at night.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Buying a Car When You Have a Credit Problem

There are fewer things more sensitive or embarrassing than having to share your personal credit problems with a stranger. Having credit problems can also put many buyers in a weakened and defensive position when buying a car. Many people with bad, or too little, credit feel like the car dealer is somehow “doing them a favor” by selling them a car and getting them financed. Make no mistake about it. A car dealer is probably making more money selling a person with bad credit a car than one with good credit. If you have a credit problem, go about buying a car with the same care and due diligence as if you had the very best credit. Shop and compare your financing, your interest rate, and your trade-in allowance. Get at least three quotes on each of these.

Lenders who specialize in lending to those with bad credit are known as “special finance” lenders. Many of these lenders charge the dealer a large upfront fee, as much as $2,500. Legally, the dealer is not supposed to add this fee to the price of the car you buy but, in the real world, the price of the car is usually higher as the result of this fee. In addition to an upfront fee, the interest rates are very high from special finance lenders. Because they anticipate a much higher amount of repossession losses, they must make more on each transaction. Don’t automatically accept a dealer’s opinion that you must finance through such a lender. There are many conventional banks these days that loan to people with bad credit. Their interest rates are lower, and they don’t charge large upfront fees.

There is much fraud in special finance lending. Credit applications are falsified to show more time on the job, higher incomes, etc. W-2 forms and check stubs are counterfeited. Buyer’s orders show accessories and equipment that do not really exist on the car. Hold checks, or promissory notes are misrepresented as cash down payment. Co-signers’ signatures are forged. Confederates pose as employers, answering false phone numbers to verify employment. These falsifications are performed by finance managers, salesmen, brokers for special finance lenders (who are paid on commission) and the customers themselves. If you sign a credit application, be sure that you know all the information on that application is accurate. Be sure that you understand and agree to all parts of the transaction including down payments, accessories on the car, etc. Never be a party to falsifying information to a lender to obtain a loan. This is a criminal offense.

Advertisements aimed at people with bad credit usually exaggerate with claims like, “We finance everyone”, “Wanted, good people with bad credit”, “No credit, no problem”, and, my favorite, “No credit application refused” (it doesn’t say your loan won’t be refused, just your application). My advice is to ignore these kinds of ads and these kinds of dealers. Their strategy is to take advantage of people with bad credit who they believe will buy any car, pay any amount of interest, and any profit to the dealers if the dealer can get them a loan.

It is common practice in Florida to encourage the car buyer to drive the car home immediately upon signing all of the papers. In some states like New York this is not permitted until all the car has been registered with the state in the new owner’s name. The reason for this immediate delivery (commonly referred to as the “spot delivery”) is to discourage and possibly even prevent the buyer from changing his mind. Taking possession of the car is a legal consideration making the purchase more binding. I recommend that you not rush the purchase or the delivery. For one thing you want to be sure that the car is exactly the way you want it…clean inside and out, all the accessories properly installed, no dings, dents or scratches, and that you have a complete understanding of how to operate all of the features of the vehicle.

I mention the risk of the “spot delivery” in this column on buying a car with bad credit because it can be especially harmful to someone whose credit is denied after the car has been delivered. You will most likely be required to sign a “Rescission Agreement” before you drive the car home. This is a legal document which requires you to return the car if your credit is denied. You will probably be told that your credit will be approved, but sometimes the dealer is wrong. The rescission agreement will have a charge for time and mileage that you have put on the car you are driving. Usually this is a very high charge from 25 cents per mile plus $50 per day and higher. It can take weeks for a special finance lender to rule on a credit application. If your credit is denied you could owe the dealer thousands of dollars which the down payment you made might not even cover.

As frightening as all the above may sound, the one single thing you can do to prevent bad things from happening when you purchase a car is to choose your car dealer very carefully. How long has he been in business? What is his track record with the Better Business Bureau, the County Office for Consumer Affairs, and the Florida Attorney General’s Office? Check his Google rating. Ask friends, neighbors, or relatives who have dealt with this car dealer what their experiences have been like. Choosing a good dealer with integrity will resolve 95% of all your concerns.

Monday, May 06, 2019

THE LOWEST PRICED CAR CAN END UP BEING THE MOST EXPENSIVE


Too often car buyers focus on buying the car that fulfills their preferences of styling, size, and accessories that they can buy for the lowest price. There are other important cost considerations you should look at before buying the cheapest alternative.

Resale value is the number one consideration that is most often overlooked by car buyers. All cars depreciate in value, but some hold their value a lot better than others. You might save a thousand dollars by choosing to buy one used or new car over another more expensive make and model. But if the make and model that cost $1,000 more, held its value by $2,000 more over the 3 years you owned the car before trading it back in, the “lowest priced car” was really $1,000 more expensive.

There are several ways you can check on how much cars will depreciate. A good one is to check the resale value of that same make of car that is 3 or 4 years old. You can also find this information on the Internet. Kelly Blue Book, for example is www.KBB.com, www.Edmunds.com, and www.ALG.com are good sources. If you are thinking about buying a new 2019 car of a particular model and make, find out what a 2016 model sells for today. Compare other makes and models.

Maintenance and repair cost are the second biggest factors in measuring the true cost of a car. When a car has a relatively higher depreciation, one of the biggest reasons is probably because it is more prone to break down. CheckConsumer Reports or Google the year make and model to find the projected repair histories of the cars you are comparing. Saving $1,000 on a make and model is not very significant when you are facing the cost of a blown transmission or engine. Does the manufacturer provide complimentary maintenance? This should be a factor to consider as well.

Big cash rebates and big discounts are not necessarily a good thing. First you must ask yourself, why is it necessary for this manufacturer to giving me such a big cash rebate (I have seen them advertised as high as $11,000) to sell his car? You will generally find that the manufacturers of higher quality, higher demand cars offer fewer rebates and discounts. These are also the manufacturers of cars that depreciate less and cost less in terms of repairs. Big rebates and discounts also negatively affect a cars resale value. It’s what you could call “vicious cycle”. A car is hard to sell because of its high repair costs and high depreciation so the manufacturer pays a big cash rebate to sell it. The rebate lowers the value of the used car of that make and model because the price of a used car directly tied to the cost of that same new car.

You will be surprised how much the color of the car you buy can affect the resale value. Think about it. The color was very important to you when you bought your last car. It is just as important to the person who will be buying the car you trade in. The most popular colors are white, silver, beige, and black. If you have a “thing” for green, blue, orange, or another unusual color, it can negatively affect the resale value of that car by over $2,000. I’m not suggesting that you always buy a white car, but if you like white, silver, beige, and black you are going to get more money for that trade-in than if you like blue and green. Bright colors can be good for certain models. Red is a popular convertible color for example.

Be sure to check your cost of insurance before you make a final decision. Cars with the most safety features, highly rated in collision and rollover tests, relatively low cost of repair especially for bumpers, and non high-performance cars have much lower insurance rates.

Cars are no different than any product that you buy when it comes to the principal of “the cheapest product is usually not the best value”. You buy a quality pair of shoes, paying more than you would for a cheap, poorly made pair because they will look good and wear many times longer. Shopping for the lowest price is a very good idea, but only after you have chosen a car that has low depreciation, operating costs, and cost of repair.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Car Salesmen Don’t Look or Talk Like Car Salesmen Anymore


 - by Earl Stewart 

Many of my readers know that I send mystery shoppers weekly to car dealerships around South Florida so that I can learn how they are selling, leasing and servicing cars. I do this for two reasons. The first is that this is a common practice for all businesses to learn how their competition operates and to have the competitive edge you really need to know how your competitors do business. The second reason is that I feature a mystery shopping report on my weekly radio show, Earl Stewart on Cars that airs between 9 and 10 every Saturday morning. I've done hundreds of these mystery shops and I've noticed an interesting trend over the years.

Back in the day, car salesmen looked and sounded like what many people consider the stereotype for a car salesman. You know what I mean, gold chains, diamond pinkie ring, sunglasses, loud shirt, and white shoes. As car buyers became more educated, sophisticated, and demanding, it didn't take car dealers long to realize that they had to dress their car salesmen in a nicer fashion, “lipstick on a pig”, But even though they looked nicer, they sounded and acted pretty much the same.

With the advent of the Internet, Google, today’s consumer has made a quantum leap in knowledge, education and sophistication. Today’s buyer of virtually everything is far more demanding and far less tolerant of deceptive advertising and sales tactics.

The most recent shift I've seen in car dealers’ efforts to make their salesmen seem less threatening is in who they hire and how they train their salesmen to behave. More and more car dealers are hiring younger sales people, and fewer older, experienced salesmen. These dealers want their sales people to treat their customers with courtesy and respect and gain their confidence. We've all heard the terms con man and con-artist. We also know the verb, “to con”. To con somebody means to steal from them as in Bernie Madoff. Did you know that “con” is short for confidence? A successful con man is good at gaining the confidence of his victim. The con man’s appearance and how he sounds play a critical role in this. I often hear people who were taken advantage of and stolen from say, “He looked and sounded like such a nice person”. Think about that for a minute. How successful could a crook be who looked and sounded like one?

The important thing to remember is that it’s usually not the car salesman who is responsible for the deception. Certainly, he cannot be held accountable for the deceptive and often illegal advertising. In fact, many car sales people hate the advertising that brings prospective customers into the car dealership by false and misleading promises. Especially in today’s economy, many people work in car dealerships because they can’t find a job anywhere else. Imagine how embarrassing it must be to a salesman, new to the car business, when he must try to explain away a bait and switch advertisement. How can you tell a prospective customer that the “sale car” on the showroom floor costs several thousands of dollars more than the one advertised on TV? In my mystery shops, it’s becoming more and more common for the salesman to “nicely” tell my shopper when she asks to see the advertised car that they can’t really buy the car for that price and to apologize for the deceptive ad! These sales people will say right up front that the ad is just to get you to come in so that they can try to sell you a car at higher price.

Also, the salesman is often an innocent victim when it comes to the deceptive sales practices. Many car dealers use attractive, friendly sounding sales people to lure the fly into the web. It’s been proven in studies that customers put more stock in the individual they deal with at a store than the store itself. If that salesman can capture your trust and especially if he can make you like him, the car dealership is 90% closer to closing the sale.

Today’s sales people are more “greeters” than sales people. Many car sales people today are not privy to the cost or even the selling price of the cars they “sell”. The true cost of the car is known only by the sales managers who are also known as closers and team leaders. These managers are also the only ones authorized to quote a price. They also appraise your trade-in. The interest rates you pay and the warranties, maintenance plans, GAP insurance, etc. that you buy are all handled by mangers.

The bottom line is that it’s not the rude, aggressive car salesman you need to be afraid of. There are very few of those around anymore. The car dealers have wised up and you will be dealing with young, attractive, non-threatening, and polite sales people today. In many cases, they know very little about the unfair and deceptive sales and advertising. What little they do know makes them feel bad, but they need the job and want to put food on the table for their family. As much as you like this salesman or saleswoman, don’t give him or her your trust when it comes getting a fair price, trade-in allowance, lease payment, or interest rate. That nice, smiling sales person is the dealer’s pawn and is “just following orders”. Verify all the numbers your new friend gives you by competitively shopping and comparing at least two other car dealers.