Monday, April 22, 2019

The Lemon Law: Your Nuclear Option

By Earl Stewart
Lemon laws are state laws which give rights to purchasers of new vehicles if they find that they have bought a car with a defect that cannot be fixed in a timely fashion by the dealer or the manufacturer. Every states lemon law is somewhat different, but they all have a lot in common and are aimed at the same result. Most car buyers have misconceptions of the lemon law. These are some the most common ones: The car owners think they are going against their car dealer when they are really going against their car’s manufacturer. If you prevail it costs the car dealer nothing. The manufacturer pays. The law applies only to cars purchased as new, not used. If you win a lemon law dispute, the manufacturer or dealer does not simply replace your car with a brand new on. The amount of credit you win toward a replacement vehicle is arrived at by deducting a charge for the usage of your lemon car based on time and mileage.

The complete lemon law process is a difficult and time-consuming task for all concerned… you, the car dealer, and the manufacturer. It’s difficult for you because the law requires specific and extensive documentation. You must have allowed your dealer to try to fix the problem at least three times and you must have detailed written documentation of this. You must be sure that your complaint is clearly spelled out by the dealer on your repair order and that his failure to fix it is also a matter of written record. After three times, you must notify the manufacturer by certified letter that you are invoking the lemon law. Now the manufacturer has one last chance to fix your car. At this time, the manufacturer may take your car to another dealer who he feels is more competent in repairing your car. If the fourth attempt to fix your car fails, your case is assigned to a board of arbitrators. Their ruling is final. This entire process usually takes a very long time. Several months is not uncommon. Meanwhile, you’re saddled with a car that has a problem nobody can fix.

When you formally invoke the lemon law with your certified letter, you sever all communications with the manufacturer other than formal, legal communications as dictated by the law. The manufacturer considers you a legal adversary and their attorneys consider anything they say to you as something that can be used against them in the arbitration. At this point they are legally barred from fixing your car or talking to you about fixing your car.

All the above is why I advise that you use the lemon law only as a last resort…the nuclear option. Put emotion aside and focus on what your purpose should be, which is to have a car that you can drive without the problem that has been driving your crazy since you bought it. Your priority should not be to punish the dealer because, as I already said, he suffers nothing from your winning a lemon law decision. You are punishing the manufacturer to some extent, but this is “business as usual” to all manufacturers who fight (and usually win) thousands of lemon laws annually. What I’m suggesting is that you might want to consider giving the dealer and manufacturer a little more time to fix your car after the first three attempts. If they look like they are sincere and trying hard, it could save you a lot of time driving your broken car (not to mention the mental anguish) compared to waiting months for the lemon law process to work itself out.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t tell the dealer and manufacturer that you will invoke the lemon law if you have no other choice. You should do that. You should let both the dealer and the manufacturer know in no uncertain terms that you have meticulous documentation of their failed efforts to fix your car, you have familiarized yourself completely with the specifics of your state’s lemon law, and you will not hesitate to invoke it if you are left no other choice. This will instill a sense of urgency to fix your car ASAP if it’s within their abilities. The reason is the dealer and the manufacturer want to keep you as a customer. In fact, the dealer may stretch to give you a better deal on a new car to replace yours than you would ever otherwise have gotten. He can’t do that once the lemon law has been invoked because he would be trading in a “lemon”. A “legal lemon” has the same stigma as a flood car or totaled car that has been rebuilt. The manufacturer not only wants to keep you as a customer but wants to avoid the cost of arbitration (the manufacturer is responsible for all the costs… the cost of disposing of a lemon, and the cost of the damage to their reputation by chalking up another lemon laws loss in the record books. For more information about the lemon law, Florida residents can call the lemon law hotline, 800 321-5366 or you can click this link: http://www.myfloridalegal.com/lemonlaw.

Monday, April 15, 2019

FLORIDA CAR BUYERS BEWARE

By Earl Stewart

This front-page headline appeared in last week in USA Today. I’ll summarize the story for you: Car dealers and their associations are lobbying legislation into state laws to preserve their legal right to sell you a used car with a dangerous recall, like a defective Takata airbag. The law they’re advocating “sounds” like a good law until you think about it. The law is to require car dealers to “disclose” to the buyer that the car they’re buying has a dangerous recall. The word “disclose” when applied to car dealers becomes an oxymoron. Car dealers bury their “disclosures” in ultra-fine print, flashed on the TV screen, webpage, or PC monitor in a fraction of the time you can read it…that is, if you could even see it. Car dealers believe that, but getting these laws passed, they’ll dissuade federal and

state government from doing what they should have done years ago…MAKE IT ILLEGAL TO SELL A VEHICLE WITH A DANGEROUS SAFETY RECALL. By the way, there’s still no law in Florida requiring car dealers to disclose dangerous recalls.

Can anyone explain to me why it’s legal to sell you a vehicle with a dangerous recall? In fact, it’s even legal to sell you a vehicle with a dangerous recall that CANNOT BE REPAIRED. Thousands of used vehicles are sold every day with defective Takata airbags that cannot be fixed because the parts to fix them are unavailable.

I’ll answer my own question of why this is legal. Auto manufacturers and car dealers are afraid of the huge economic impact upon them if such a law were passed. The Florida Auto Dealers Association, FADA (and all other state dealers’ associations) the National Auto Dealers Association NADA, and Big Auto (VW, Toyota, GM, Ford, Honda, etc), combined, have ENORMOUS POLITICAL CLOUT. The auto manufacturer-auto dealer syndicate makes the NRA look “politically weak by comparison”.

So, what are Florida used car buyers to do? Contact Governor Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, and your state senators and representatives. I tried for two years with Rick Scott and Pam Bondi to no avail. The more likely successful course of action is to check every used car you buy at www.SaferCar.gov, the website for the National Highway Traffic Safety Association. DO NOT BUY A USED CAR UNTIL YOU CHECK YOUR VIN AND VERIFIED IT HAS NO OUTSTANDING SAFETY RECALLS.

Monday, April 08, 2019

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Florida Attorney General’s Seniors vs Crime presents free program April 25 on How Not to Get Ripped Off when Buying, Leasing or Maintaining a Vehicle


Earl and Nancy Stewart to be Featured Speakers

Thanks to our new Florida Attorney General, Ashley Moody and her Seniors vs. Crime members, Tony Zappone, Sheila Butler and Frank Starnella for inviting Nancy Stewart and me to speak to the seniors of South Florida this April 25th.

Attorney General Ashley Moody has clearly prioritized doing more to protect Florida’s large and growing elderly population from fraud and abuse. She recently announced the formation of Florida’s Senior Protection Team that will work closely with Seniors vs. Crime and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The details of our public seminar on how to avoid being taken advantage of when buying, leasing, maintaining or repairing a vehicle are shown below. If you are a senior, or know seniors that can benefit from our seminar, please book this time and location in your calendar or ask them to: April 25, Thursday, 2 PM at 900 Brandywine Road is located just west of the I-95, Exit # 53, Palm Beach Lakes Blvd. interchange, located on the United Methodist Church campus. Google Maps link is https://goo.gl/maps/7qSXbXU4yV72.

PRESS RELEASE:
Seniors vs Crime, a special project of the Florida Attorney General’s Office, is presenting a free public seminar to educate senior citizens on how they can prevent being victimized when buying, leasing or maintaining their vehicle. The program will be on Thursday, April 25 at 2 p.m. at 900 Brandywine Road in West Palm Beach, at the Gathering Place on the United Methodist Church of the Palm Beaches Campus. Earl and Nancy Stewart will be the featured speakers. The first 500 attendees will receive a free copy of Earl Stewart’s book “Confessions of a Recovering Car Dealer.” He is the owner of Earl Stewart Toyota in North Palm Beach. Light refreshments will be served following the program.

Topics to be covered include how to avoid tricks and scams when buying or leasing a vehicle, how to determine if buying or leasing is the best option, what to look for in a qualified mechanic or body shop, what vehicle safety options are helpful for senior drivers, how to get the most money for a trade in, are extended warranties a smart buy, how to shop for the best financing, and more. Attendees can submit questions ahead of time to earl@EarlOnCars.com with Seniors vs Crime in the subject line or text questions to 772-497-6530.


Reserve a seat by calling 561-844-3461 
or by emailing sandrav@estoyota.com
Reservations are encouraged but not required. 


“We’re pleased to offer local seniors the opportunity to learn how to avoid being ripped off when buying or maintaining their vehicle,” said Tony Zappone, a member of the Palm Beach County Seniors vs Crime organization. “Crime prevention is our key mission, and to help seniors avoid these costly mistakes is important because investing in a vehicle and maintaining it are among the biggest expenses of our age group, and an area where many are most at risk.”

“Being a senior myself, and in the car business for more than 50 years, I have too often seen older people taken advantage of and it is very upsetting,” Earl Stewart said. “Cheating anyone is wrong, but taking advantage of someone on a fixed or limited income is especially bad. We are happy to be able to pull the veil back and reveal some of the ‘tricks of the trade’ to educate people so they can avoid becoming victims.” Nancy Stewart will address some of the issues that older women face when buying or maintaining their vehicles. “Knowledge is power and we want them to go into the process of buying or maintaining their vehicle with as much information as possible,” she said.
The program site at 900 Brandywine Road is located just west of the I-95 – Palm Beach Lakes Blvd. interchange. Google Maps link is https://goo.gl/maps/7qSXbXU4yV72. Plenty of free parking is available immediately adjacent to the meeting site and the building is fully accessible.

The Seniors Vs Crime Project is sponsored by the Attorney General to reinforce the message of crime prevention and to provide methods by which Florida’s senior population can be alerted to consumer fraud, con games, and other criminal acts. The purpose of the Seniors Vs Crime Project is twofold: to offer crime prevention seminars to Florida's elderly and to provide comprehensive training for law enforcement officers and other criminal justice practitioners in understanding how the aging population impacts upon the role of police and other criminal justice professionals.

The program has more than 2,000 volunteers staffing 44 local offices throughout Florida. For more information about Seniors vs Crime visit www.seniorsvscrime.com or call 1-800-203-3099.



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Monday, April 01, 2019

A “TOOL” FOR AN HONEST PRICE FROM A CAR DEALER, AT LAST!


The form above was created based on a discussion with Nancy Stewart, my co-host on our radio show, “Earl Stewart on Cars”, last Saturday.

The next time you purchase a vehicle, insist that the price quoted to you by the salesman be certified by the signature of a manager of the dealership; or, if you are responding to advertisement, be sure that the advertised price is so certified.

Most of the skullduggery by car dealers comes from two sources, hidden fees added after the price is advertised or quoted and dealer installed accessories that are pre-installed on the vehicles, but not included in the advertised or quoted prices.

You can even use this form when you shop by phone or online. Fax or scan and email the form to the car salesman and insist that he sign it and fax or email it back.

This form will be available for download at EarlOnCars.com or you can just click this link here: Download "Out-the-Door" Price Form

You may even be thinking, what if the car salesman refused to sign this document? My answer is simple…LEAVE!

Monday, March 25, 2019

Why a Car Dealer Won’t Give You His Lowest Out-the-Door Price... by Earl Stewart

- by Earl Stewart

I’m sure you noticed that the last time you went car shopping you were unable to get a firm price on the car, unless you were willing to sign on the dotted line and put down a deposit. It’s impossible to get a firm, honest price on a car over the telephone, and very difficult to get one via email. If, on the off chance, you’ve never bought a car, or haven’t bought one in a long time, try this. Call any car dealership and ask for a price on a specific year, make, and model. I can guarantee that you won’t be able to get a firm price.

Have you ever wondered why you can get a firm price on just about any other product except an automobile? You can call a jewelry store and get a price on a diamond ring that costs as much or more than a car. You can go on Amazon.com, get a firm price, and buy virtually anything. Walk in or call any department store and they give you a firm, out-the-door price.

Car dealers don’t want to give you a firm price because they want to deprive you of your rights in our American free-market economy. One of our most important American freedoms is to be able to shop and compare prices so that you can choose the lowest one. There are some countries where the prices are dictated by the government or giant cartels. We have anti-trust laws in America that prohibit price fixing, monopolies, or collusion between companies which keep prices artificially high.

In fact, there’s even a federal law that says auto manufacturers must put a sticker on all vehicles that discloses the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price, MSRP. This law was written by Senator Mike Monroney back in 1958. Senator Monroney felt there was a need for this law because, before then, car dealers could ask any price they wanted for car. They could put their own price sticker on their cars and mark their cost up any amount they chose. A car-buyer, pre-1958, had absolutely no basis for comparing prices between competing car dealers. The MSRP gave every car shopper a common basis for comparing discounts from MSRP. All dealers pay their manufacturers the same price for a car and all MSRP’s for a specific year-make-model have the same percentage markup. The Monroney label was a great idea and it worked well for a while, but it wasn’t too long before the car dealers figured out ways around this “handicap” to their profit margins.

The easiest way around an MSRP is simply to refuse to give the customer a firm discount unless they agree to buy the car, and therefore you can’t get a real price from a car dealer until then. Another way is to give you a firm discount but later add hidden charges like dealer fees, doc fees, electronic filing fees, or dealer installed accessories after you agree on the discount from MSRP. “Bait and switch” is a popular tactic which simply brings you in to buy a specific car only to find out that “It’s just been sold” …but here’s another one almost like it”. Another popular tactic is to advertise discounts from “list price”, “dealer list price”, or “sticker price”. Dealers even havecounterfeit Monroney labels printed that they display alongside of the real Monroney label. These counterfeit price stickers I’ve named “Phony Monroney’s”. I’ve seen advertisements from car dealers for “$10,500 Discounts on Every Vehicle in Stock”. The discounts aren’t from the MSRP but from “dealer list” which is clearly thousands of dollars above MSRP.

The best defense against all of this is to insist on an out-the-door price. Explain the following to the sales manager at the car dealership. “If you give me an honest out-the-door price, I will compare it with the two prices I already have from two other car dealerships. I will buy from the dealer with the lowest price. If you agree to give me your lowest out-the-door price, you have a 33% chance of selling me a car. If you refuse to give me a price right now, you have 0% chance of selling me a car, because I will walk out that front door and you will never see me or hear from me again.” You can accomplish the same thing over the telephone or via email.

I also recommend that you try www.TrueCar.com or www.CostcoAutoBuying.com, in addition to the tactic I just described. By way of full disclosure, I’m a TrueCar dealer, I own stock in TrueCar, and I was a member of the TrueCar national dealer council. If you give TrueCar a try, be sure to navigate to the page on their website that gives you the final price certificate. Do not rely on the estimated TrueCar prices on the previous page. To get the TrueCar certificate you must enter a name, email address, and phone number. If you would rather not be contacted by a car salesman, enter a different phone number and name. You can even get a different free email address from Yahoo, Microsoft, or Google. The TrueCar dealers are required to give you an out-the-door price on their price certificate (plus only government fees like license, sales tax, and registration). This means they should disclose all dealer fees and dealer-installed options. If they do not do this, you can call contact TrueCar and they will intervene on your behalf. Also, be sure to check the TrueCar or Costco out-the-door price with two other dealers. "Total Transparency Pledge: As a TrueCar Certified Dealer, this car dealer is committed to total price transparency. This means that this car dealer discloses its dealer fees and commonly installed dealer accessories in its pricing estimates. Call 1-888-TRUECAR if you have questions or concerns.”

Monday, March 18, 2019

A POORLY WRITTEN FLORIDA LAW INEFFECTIVELY “REGULATING” DEALER FEES - by Earl Stewart

by Earl Stewart

The Florida statute addressing the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act clearly states (and I quote), “The advertised price must include all fees or charges that the customer must pay, including freight or destination charge, dealer preparation charge, and charges for undercoating or rustproofing. State and local taxes, tags, registration fees, and title fees, unless otherwise required by local law or standard, need not be disclosed in the advertisement.” I’ll translate that confusing, redundant, lengthy, outdated, and inaccurate paragraph. All vehicles advertised for retail sale must include all charges to the customer except government fees for sales tax and license and registration.

Almost no car dealership in Florida complies with this law. Some ignore it entirely, some disclose in the fine print only one, not all, of their non-government fees. Some state that there are fees added to the advertised price but don’t state the amount, some state the amount of one of their hidden fees in the fine print, but don’t INCLUDE it in the price.

Florida law does not regulate the amount of the dealer fee, allowing dealers to charge different amounts ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

Florida law does not regulate the name of the dealer fee so that the buyer can readily identify it. Few car dealers call their hidden fees “dealer fees”; Dealer Fee has become a generic term for the imaginative names chosen by dealers such as tag agency fee, e-filing fee, electronic filing fee, documentary or doc fee, dealer prep fee, notary fee, dealer services fee, administrative fee, etc...

Florida law does not limit the number of dealer fees a dealer may charge. Rather than having one huge fee, most dealers today have several large fees by different names.

These hidden fees are often not revealed in the paperwork seen by the customer when the vehicle sale is consummated. Dealers often use documents labeled “worksheets” or “Internal documents” with fine print indicating that it is not a legal document of the sale. The official document, vehicle buyer’s order, is printed out in the Finance office along with “reems” of other documents like the installment sale or lease contract, odometer form, power of attorney, extended warranty, maintenance contract, GAP insurance, etc. No customer has the time or inclination to read all the fine print on all the documents. A high percentage of Florida car buyers are unaware they were charged these hidden fees.

This statute states, (and I quote) A dealer shall not “charge a customer for any predelivery service required by the manufacturer, distributor, or importer for which the dealer is reimbursed by the manufacturer, distributor, or importer.” Also, the Florida statute states (and I quote) “Must not charge a customer for any predelivery service without having printed on all documents that include a line item for predelivery service the following disclosure: This charge represents costs and profit to the dealer for items such as inspecting, cleaning, and adjusting vehicles, and preparing documents related to the sale.” The language of the Florida statute is confusing and contradictory. First it says dealers can’t charge for predelivery service if they’re reimbursed (plus paid a profit) by the manufacturer for this. Then, in the same paragraph, the statute requires that the dealer disclose their fee represents costs and profits for inspecting, cleaning and adjusting vehicles. All new car dealers are reimbursed for their costs and a dealer profit by their manufacturer for all predelivery service to the new car.

Finally, almost no car dealers disclose in an addendum alongside the federally mandated Monroney Label (MSRP) their additional fees. This law which became effective in 1958 was to give car buyers a consistent basis for comparison of prices for the same year-make-model-accessorized car between different car dealers. Before the Monroney Label, all car dealers would price their cars differently. The higher they priced their cars, the higher they could advertise their discounts or offer in trade-in allowance. With the Monroney label MSRP, car buyers were supposed to be able to fairly compare discounts and trade-in allowances. The hidden fees from several hundred to several thousand dollars make this impossible and violate the spirit and intent of the federal Monroney MSRP sticker.


501.976 Para. 16-18

Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act

(16) Advertise the price of a vehicle unless the vehicle is identified by year, make, model, and a commonly accepted trade, brand, or style name. The advertised price must include all fees or charges that the customer must pay, including freight or destination charge, dealer preparation charge, and charges for undercoating or rustproofing. State and local taxes, tags, registration fees, and title fees, unless otherwise required by local law or standard, need not be disclosed in the advertisement. When two or more dealers advertise jointly, with or without participation of the franchisor, the advertised price need not include fees and charges that are variable among the individual dealers cooperating in the advertisement, but the nature of all charges that are not included in the advertised price must be disclosed in the advertisement.

(17) Charge a customer for any predelivery service required by the manufacturer, distributor, or importer for which the dealer is reimbursed by the manufacturer, distributor, or importer.

(18) Charge a customer for any predelivery service without having printed on all documents that include a line item for predelivery service the following disclosure: “This charge represents costs and profit to the dealer for items such as inspecting, cleaning, and adjusting vehicles, and preparing documents related to the sale.”




Monday, March 11, 2019

DON’T FALL FOR CAR DEALERS’ NITROGEN-IN-TIRES CON GAME

I’ve been writing articles on why nitrogen in your tires is a waste of money for several years, but It has had very little effect on the number of car dealers that are selling it to their customers. Just last week, I received a text from a listener to my radio show disputing the fact that nitrogen is worthless for auto tires. The “Nitrogen Lobby” must be very powerful because we still have no federal or state legislation to curtail this. Selling nitrogen generation equipment and tanks of nitrogen to car dealers is very lucrative and, even more lucrative is the money car dealers make selling nitrogen to their customers. One large volume car dealer charges $899.99 for nitrogen in the tires of every vehicle he sells (August 2017). The cost of nitrogen is about “25 cents” per application. If you feel you absolutely must have nitrogen in your tires, Costco will give it to you for nothing which is exactly what nitrogen in your tires is worth. Costco reason for this is to encourage you to come back for more free nitrogen so that they can sell you a rotate, balance, and another set of tires.

I don’t recommend that you even accept free nitrogen for this reason. It’s widely accepted and recommended that you should have your tire pressure checked in your tires at least monthly. We do this free for our customers and automatically do it at every service visit. When you are sold or even given nitrogen, it comes with a sales pitch that nitrogen will remain in your tires for a much longer time than air which is not true. Click on this link to Consumer Reports article,www.NitrogenInTiresWastesYourMoney.com. If you believe the sales pitch, you’re less likely to check your tires inflation every 30 days. You may have a slow leak in one tire from a nail or screw, uneven wear from misalignment, or even a defective tire. Being “over confident” because you paid money for nitrogen may cause these problems to go undetected. Consumer Reports estimates that 1 lb. of nitrogen will escape from your tires every 3 months vs. 1 month for air. Remember that air is 78% nitrogen. I’ll bet the salesman that sells you nitrogen “forgot” to tell you that.

Be prepared for a great sales pitch on nitrogen. You’ll be told that NASCAR uses nitrogen in the tires of their race cars, NASA used nitrogen in the tires of their space shuttle, and that airlines uses nitrogen in airplane tires. All of this is true, but so what? A race car going 200 mph for hours and hours around an oval track subjects its tires to extremely high temperatures. 100% nitrogen gas does expand less under extreme heat condition than 78% nitrogen gas (air). The space shuttle tires go from zero atmospheric pressure in outer space to regular pressure at sea level. Airliners also have extreme pressure variations from 30,000 feet to the ground.

To be perfectly fair, I must say that some car dealers that are selling nitrogen have “drunk the Kool Ade” from the nitrogen generation equipment industry. Some car dealers believe that nitrogen is good for your tires. But those who do know must know how much they’re marking up that 25 cents worth of nitrogen they’re selling you! The argument for nitrogen can be persuasive. In fact, when the concept was first introduced, before the Consumer Reports study, I considered adding nitrogen to my customers’ tires. But, in an abundance of caution, I decided to test the claims about nitrogen myself. Over a six-month period I used pure nitrogen in 50% of my rental car fleet and regular air (78% nitrogen) in the other half. Guess what! There was no measurable difference between the pure nitrogen and air-filled tires in the fuel economy, tire wear, or inflation pressure after 6 months. We did check the tires every 30 days for slow leaks from road hazards, uneven wear from misalignment or other reasons, and we rotated and balanced the tires every 5,000 miles.

Finally, I’ll tell you why I was so careful to be sure there was no advantage to nitrogen. My dealership has a “free tire program”. Everybody who buys a Toyota from me, new or certified used, receives free tires (maximum of $700 per set) for as long as they own their car. The one requirement is that they bring their car back to me for the factory recommended service and we replace only tires from normal wear, not road hazards, underinflating or misalignment. I give away in excess of $100,000 worth of tires every month, well over a million dollars per year. BELIEVE ME, if I thought I could get longer wear from a tire for “25 cents” worth of nitrogen, I would! I look at the tires on my customers’ cars as “belonging to me” because I incur the cost of replacing them when they wear out.