Monday, August 20, 2018

Dealing with the Dealer Fee: Earl Stewart’s User’s Guide



Hopefully by now, all but my newest readers know about the infamous “Dealer Fee”. If you don’t know, it’s a hidden price increase on the car you purchase disguised to look like a federal, state, or local tax or fee. It’s 100% profit to the dealer. “Dealer Fee” is the generic name for this disguised profit, but it goes by many names such as doc fee, dealer prep fee, services fee, administrative fee, electronic filing fee, e-filing fee, tag agency fee, pre-delivery fee, etc. The names are only limited by car dealers’ imaginations. Almost all car dealers in Florida charge a Dealer Fee. The dealer fees range from around $600 to as high as $2,000+!



This is the Florida law that is supposed to regulate the Dealer Fee: “The advertised price must include all fees or charges that the customer must pay excluding state and local taxes.” The law also requires that the Dealer Fee must be disclosed to the buyer as follows: “This charge represents costs and profits to the dealer for items such as inspecting, cleaning, and adjusting vehicles and preparing documents related to the sale.”



This law is very weak and virtually never enforced. When enforced, it isn’t enforced by the letter of the law; it is done to “accommodate” the car dealers. The law is “weak” because it requires only that the dealer fee be included in the “advertised” price. The word “advertised” is narrowly interpreted to mean one specific car shown in an online, Facebook, TV, radio, or print ad. But what about getting a price on the phone, online, or from the salesman? You don’t find out about the Dealer Fee until you’re in the business office signing a bunch of papers. The dealers get around advertisements very easily by including a “number” in the fine print. This number is their stock number that designates one specific car. When you respond to the ad, this car is no longer available (sales people are usually not paid a commission for selling the “ad car). The advertisement might say “many more identical cars are available.” It’s true that identical cars are available for sale, but they are not available for sale at the sale price because they are not the advertised stock number car. If you buy one of those “exact same cars” you will pay from $700 to $2,000 more.



The reason I’m told that the law is rarely enforced is that the Florida Attorney General’s office is understaffed and too busy enforcing other Florida laws. I’m also told that Florida car buyers don’t file very many complaints against car dealers for violating the Dealer Fee law. I don’t believe that there can be too many other infractions of the law that take more money annually from consumers than dealer fees take from car buyers. Just one car dealer selling 1,000 cars a year and charging a $1,000 dealer fee is taking a $1 million annually from car buyers. Most car dealers in South Florida sell lot more than 1,000 cars annually and many charge more than $1,000 dealer fee. I believe that the reason more complaints aren’t filed on the dealer fee is because most car buyers don’t know that they are being duped. They either don’t notice the fee or assume it’s an official federal or state fee. Dealer often tell their customers that all dealers charge it and that it’s required by law.



The Attorney General also “accommodates” the dealers by not interpreting the law the way it was intended. For example, the law says that the dealer fee must be included in the advertised price. The Florida Senate has ruled that the law requires that the fee be “included” rather than “specifically delineated.” But the Attorney General allows car dealers to advertise car prices without including their dealer fee in the price if they mention their dealer fee in the fine print. They also allow car dealers to simply state in the fine print that they have a Dealer Fee but not even mention the amount. To me they are simply allowing the car dealers to break the law. The Florida Auto Dealers Association (FADA) is the powerful lobbying arm for Florida car dealers. It’s almost impossible for a Florida Attorney General to be elected without the support of car dealers and the FADA.



Lastly, the required disclosure of the Dealer Fee on the vehicle buyer’s order or invoice is confusing, misleading, and incorrect: “This charge represents costs and profits to the dealer for items such as inspecting, cleaning, and adjusting vehicles and preparing documents related to the sale.” It should not say “costs” because any cost that you pass along to the customer in the price of a product is pure profit. A dealer can pass along his utility bills, sales commissions and advertising if he wants to and call it a “dealer fee”. It should not say “inspecting, cleaning, and adjusting vehicles” because all car dealers are reimbursed by the manufacturer for “inspecting, cleaning, and adjusting vehicles”.



So, what should you do when you are confronted by a car dealer with the “Dealer Fee”? Besides “LEAVE”, here are some suggestions that may help you:



(1) Make it clear from the very beginning that all prices you discuss must be “out-the-door” prices. This way you don’t care if the dealer fee added up front because you will shop and compare their bottom line price with at least 3 competing car dealers. Ideally you should require that they include tax and tag in that price. If you don’t they might try to slip in something they call the “electronic filing fee” or “e filing fee” and trick you into believing it’s part of the license tag and registration.



(2) The dealer will often tell you that all car dealers charge Dealer Fees and that they are required by law to add the dealer fee on every car they sell. Simply tell them that you know this is not true and you can cite me and other car dealers like CarMax who do not charge a dealer fee. Print out a copy of this article, show it to them, and tell them that you know that there is no law that says he must charge you a dealer fee.



(3) As long as you and the dealer understand that the out-the-door price is the price you will shop and compare with his competition, you don’t need to be concerned whether there is a dealer fee showing on the vehicle buyer’s order. To be competitive, the dealer can simply reduce the price by the amount of his Dealer Fee and the bottom line is what you are comparing.



(4) Be aware that dealers usually do not pay their sales people a commission on the amount of their dealer fee. In fact, dealers often misinform their sales people just like they do their customers. The salesman who tells you that the all dealers charge Dealer Fees and that the law requires everyone pay a dealer fee may believe it. Sale people who understand that the Dealer Fee is simply profit to the dealer will be resentful of not being paid their 25% commission on it. A $1,000 dealer fee costs the salesman $250 in commission.



(5) When you respond to an advertisement at a specific price for a specific model car, object when the dealer adds the dealer fee. Unfortunately, the law allows him the loophole of claiming that the ad car is a different stock number, but you might be able to shame him into taking off the dealer fee. If you raise a “big enough stink”, the dealer would be smart to take off the dealer fee than claim that technicality, especially if you were to advise the local TV station or newspaper.

(6) www.TrueCar.com is the one third party buying source which requires its certified dealers to give you a final price excluding only GOVERNMENT fees only…sales tax and license plate/registration. This prohibits the dealer from adding dealer fees and dealer installed accessories. Consumer Reports, American Express, USAA, GEICO, and other blue-chip companies use TrueCar.

I hope that these suggestions help you and I hope that you will file a complaint with the Florida Attorney General, Pam Bondi. If enough consumers (who are also voters) let our elected officials know how they feel about the Dealer Fee, it will bring positive results. You can download a complaint form for the Florida Attorney General’s Office at www.FloridaCarDealerComplaints.com.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Hold the Owners or CEOs of Car Dealerships Accountable











Congress passed a law a few years ago that really “shook up” publicly owned companies. It’s called Sarbanes-Oxley, named after the Congressmen who sponsored the bill. Basically, this law says that the CEO and other high echelon management of a public owned company cannot get off the hook from wrong doings because he or she claims they didn't know what their employees were doing. I believe the same rules should apply to all businesses, even if their stock is not publicly held. The boss should always be held accountable for the actions of his employees and this should apply especially for car dealerships.




Most of the employees that customers meet in a car dealership are paid on commission. Those employees get a percentage of the profit that the company makes on the transaction. Car sales people, service sales people (also called service advisors or assistant service managers), parts sales people, and the mechanical technicians who work on your car are mostly all paid on commission. This method of pay tilts the relationship between the customer and employee in somewhat of an adversarial manner. The employee wants the profit to be as high as possible but the customer wants it to be low. In a car dealership that has talented, fully engaged, and ethical management, this potentially adversarial relationship is kept in a fair balance. Without the oversight of upper and middle management and careful hiring practices, some employees will exploit a customer to increase his commission.




What brought the subject of this column to mind was a call I received yesterday from a 78 year old widow from Ft. Pierce. She called to thank me for writing my column and to tell me that she wished she had read some of my columns before she bought her 2005 used Mazda. This was the first car she had bought on her own. Her husband had always taken on this responsibility. She paid the dealership a huge profit on her purchase. She was sold a maintenance package that she believed cost only $25 but it really was $2,500. She was rushed to sign the papers at night because the dealership was closing. In the morning, when she realized the mistake, she drove back to the dealership and asked to back out the sale but was told it was too late. She was told she had signed all the papers and that they had already sold her trade-in even though she had not given them the title. When she asked to speak to the General Manager, three different employees identified themselves as the General Manager. I get a lot of sad calls like this.




The owner of that dealership should know what’s going on. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt by saying that he doesn’t know because if he does know it’s even worse. The owner should look at the big picture and the long term view of his business. You can take advantage of customers and benefit in the short run, but you eventually “pay the piper” when your bad reputation spreads far enough. Most of the bad things I hear about car dealers from their customers are not illegal things. They are simply unethical and not the way one human being should treat another. Refusing to refund the money of an elderly, widow after she realized that she had been taken advantage of is not illegal, but it sure “stinks”. Jim Press is the top executive for Toyota over all of North America and he is also the only non-Japanese to occupy a place on Toyota’s board of directors. He was quoted in the book, The Toyota Way by Jeffrey Liker, as saying “It’s what you do for a customer when you don’t owe him anything that is the true measure of character. It’s like sticking up for somebody who can’t defend himself”. I really like this quote and I have it engraved on a plaque which I give out each month to the employee who wins the “Above and Beyond Award”. This award goes to our employee who does something for her customer above and beyond what the customer would have expected.



If you have a bad dealing with your car dealership, do your best to contact the owner. This is impossible with publicly held dealerships like AutoNation and United Auto Group, but you should be able to talk to their General Managers. If it’s privately owned dealership, don’t give up until you see the owner.

Monday, August 06, 2018

Follow-up Letter to Florida Law Enforcement



Dear Florida law enforcement officers,

After hearing feedback from the readers of this blog, newspaper columns, and my radio show, I’m amending my original letter to you (shown below).

I agree with my critics that tell me I should not make Florida motorists suffer because of the apathy and abdication of duty by Florida legislators. I asked you, our law enforcement officers that patrol Florida roads, in my original letter below, to ticket those driving cars with dangerous safety recalls. My reasoning behind this request was to get the attention of the legislators that have been ignoring this danger to Florida motorists. I reasoned that the outrage by motorists, most of whom also VOTE, would frighten our legislators into the action they should have taken two years ago…MAKE IT ILLEGAL TO SELL A VEHICLE WITH A DANGEROUS SAFETY RECALL.

However, I see no reason why every Florida motorist shouldn’t be advised by the Florida Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles (FLDHSMV) if their car has an unfixed dangerous safety recall. This can be done simply by computer. The FLDHSMV has the name, address and VIN number of every Florida driver. By running this information through the database of the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA), every Florida motorist driving a dangerous car can be notified by certified return receipt mail within a few days. All Florida drivers should then be required to show proof of that the safety recall has been fixed before the state will renew their license and registration.

Earl Stewart 


Since Modified as Shown Above ↑
Open Letter to all Florida Law Enforcement Officers Ticket all vehicles with open safety recalls:


Dear Florida law enforcement officer,

If you’re with the Florida Highway Patrol, County Sheriff’s Department, or local city police, you’re empowered by Florida law to issue citations and warnings to unsafe vehicles on Florida’s roads. You typically exercise this duty by citing drivers of vehicles with faulty tail, brake, and head lights, unsafe tires, or even a noncompliant license plate frame.

My suggestion to you is to prioritize citing drivers of vehicles with dangerous safety recalls, especially Takata airbags. There are more deaths and injuries from defective Takata airbags in Florida than all the other 49 states. This is because of Florida’s above average heat and humidity which causes the airbag inflator to EXLODE, sending shrapnel throughout the inside of the vehicle, killing and maiming passengers. Furthermore, SEVENTY-FIVE PERCENT of the cars on the roads with safety recalls have never been repaired. Most of these dangerous cars are older and are being driven by a 2nd, 3rd, 4th or later owners. The manufacturers of these cars are unable to contact most of these endangered drivers because of old, inaccurate addresses. There’s also the apathy of many drivers to take the time to bring their car in for repair. Lastly, thousands of vehicles on the road, especially those with defective Takata airbags, have NO FIX AVAILABLE. The huge Takata airbag recall demand has exceeded the manufacturers’ capacity to build the airbag inflators. Some vehicle owners are waiting over a year for a replacement airbag.

Your squad cars are equipped with sophisticated computers which can cross-reference the license plate number of any vehicle on the roads and display the VIN, vehicle identification number, aka serial number. You have direct access to the National Highway Traffic Association’s (NHTSA) database (www.SaferCar.gov) This source, with the VIN, tells you if the car you’re driving behind has an unfixed Takata air bag or any other dangerous safety recall. The NHTSA data base will also tell you IF there is a fix available for this recall.

I suggest that you first issue a warning to all drivers of vehicles with unfixed safety recalls, giving them 7 days to have the vehicle repaired; if they fail to comply, issue a suspension of their driver’s license. If the NHTSA database tells you that the safety recall has no fix available, you should require the driver to drive immediately to the nearest dealership of his vehicle’s make and rent a car or receive a free loaner.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I’m going directly to you, our Florida law enforcement officers, because our governor, legislators, and regulators have all let us down. Clearly, it should be illegal to sell a car with a dangerous safety recall, but our governor and lawmakers will not act. At the very least, it should be required that the buyer of a car with a dangerous safety recall be advised prior to sale, this has not been done either. Therefore, thousands of used cars with dangerous safety recalls are being sold to unsuspecting Floridians daily.

I believe you have the authority and the responsibility to take dangerous vehicles off the road and you can exercise this authority under our existing laws without waiting any longer for the politicians and regulators to act. Furthermore, I believe your action will put the pressure on the politicians, regulators, auto manufacturers and car dealers to do the right thing. The legislators and regulators have “sat on their hands” because of the huge lobbying efforts by auto manufacturers, car dealers, and their associations. Once the drivers of Florida, most of whom are also VOTERS, begin to be pulled over by law enforcement and warned or have their license suspended, you will see our politicians and regulators suddenly begin to do the right thing.

Thanks very much for considering my suggestion,



Earl Stewart

Monday, July 16, 2018

Abe Was Right! You Can Fool Some of the People All of the Time



Almost everyone has read Abraham Lincoln’s popular saying, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” I think Abe meant this to be a positive assertion that government may get away with deceiving us for a while, but in the long run, truth justice and the American way will prevail…and I think he was right.

However, it doesn’t work that way with unethical car dealers and car buyers. It always has been “caveat emptor”, or “buyer beware when it comes to buying or servicing a car. Unfortunately for a buyer to “beware” he must be “aware” …that is to say educated, mature, sophisticated and experienced. This excludes a very large segment of our population including the very young, the very old, the uneducated, those with low I.Q.’s and those not proficient in the English language. This is one reason why our regulators and elected politicians don’t seem to care or act with respect to the rampant unfair and deceptive sales practices of a large number of Florida car dealers? Most elected officials and regulators are lawyers and are highly educated and sophisticated. They don’t have a problem buying or servicing a car. In fact, the car dealer that tries to take advantage of a lawyer, regulator, or politician is asking for trouble.

I’ve been writing this column/blog and broadcasting my radio show, Earl Stewart on Cars, for about eleven years. I sometimes feel that I’m “preaching to the choir” when it comes to advising people how to avoid getting ripped off by a car dealer. You, my readers and listeners, largely fall into the category of the educated and sophisticated, “aware” buyer. Most of you aren’t taken advantage of when you buy or service your car because you won’t allow it.

Unfortunately, there are enough uneducated, naive, and otherwise vulnerable consumers to feed those unethical car dealers who prey on the defenseless among us. All you must do is read, listen to or watch some of the car ads. To the educated, sophisticated buyer, these ads are funny; that is until you remember that so many fall prey to them, and are taken advantage of by the car dealers.

For example, it’s hard for you or me to believe that anybody would respond to an advertisement without reading the fine print. Many dealers today are advertising prices that, when you read the fine print, are understated by many thousands of dollars. When you or I see a dealer stating that the car price is plus “freight”, we are educated enough to understand that the law requires that the freight cost be already included in the price. A shrewd buyer knows that “dealer list” is not the same thing as MSRP and that a large discount from “dealer list” means absolutely nothing. We know that the “lowest price guarantee’ is worthless if the dealer reserves the right to buy the car from the other dealer that offers a lower price.

There are those who argue that all buyers have the responsibility to guard against unethical sellers, to take care of themselves. In fact, that’s the literal translation of the Latin legal term “caveat emptor” …let the buyer beware. That’s sounds good, but what about the elderly widow whose husband recently died and who never had to make the decision on a major purchase in her entire life? What about the young person just out of school with no experience in the real world? How about the immigrant who struggles with English? Should we be concerned about our underprivileged classes who often drop out of school because they must go to work to support themselves or their family? You and I know lots of good people who, for one reason or another, simply can’t cope with a slick car or service salesman.

My bottom line is this; since we can’t rely on our regulators and politicians to protect those who “can be fooled all the time”, maybe we owe it to society to protect these folks. If you know someone who is thinking about buying a car or has a service problem with her car and you feel she may not have the ability to fend for herself with the car dealer, offer your support. If you’re one of the people who needs support, ask someone who can go “toe to toe” with a car dealer to come with you when you are car shopping. By the way, nobody, sophisticated or not, should car shop alone. Two heads are always better than one and it’s always a good idea to have a witness to what was said during a negotiation. And, of course, if you don’t have the time to help a person or you’re that person, you can always call me…I’m always here for you.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Open Letter to all Florida Law Enforcement Officers Ticket all vehicles with open safety recalls:


Dear Florida law enforcement officer,


If you’re with the Florida Highway Patrol, County Sheriff’s Department, or local city police, you’re empowered by Florida law to issue citations and warnings to unsafe vehicles on Florida’s roads. You typically exercise this duty by citing drivers of vehicles with faulty tail, brake, and head lights, unsafe tires, or even a noncompliant license plate frame.

My suggestion to you is to prioritize citing drivers of vehicles with dangerous safety recalls, especially Takata airbags. There are more deaths and injuries from defective Takata airbags in Florida than all the other 49 states. This is because of Florida’s above average heat and humidity which causes the airbag inflator to EXLODE, sending shrapnel throughout the inside of the vehicle, killing and maiming passengers. Furthermore, SEVENTY-FIVE PERCENT of the cars on the roads with safety recalls have never been repaired. Most of these dangerous cars are older and are being driven by a 2nd, 3rd, 4th or later owners. The manufacturers of these cars are unable to contact most of these endangered drivers because of old, inaccurate addresses. There’s also the apathy of many drivers to take the time to bring their car in for repair. Lastly, thousands of vehicles on the road, especially those with defective Takata airbags, have NO FIX AVAILABLE. The huge Takata airbag recall demand has exceeded the manufacturers’ capacity to build the airbag inflators. Some vehicle owners are waiting over a year for a replacement airbag.

Your squad cars are equipped with sophisticated computers which can cross-reference the license plate number of any vehicle on the roads and display the VIN, vehicle identification number, aka serial number. You have direct access to the National Highway Traffic Association’s (NHTSA) database (www.SaferCar.gov) This source, with the VIN, tells you if the car you’re driving behind has an unfixed Takata air bag or any other dangerous safety recall. The NHTSA data base will also tell you IF there is a fix available for this recall.

I suggest that you first issue a warning to all drivers of vehicles with unfixed safety recalls, giving them 7 days to have the vehicle repaired; if they fail to comply, issue a suspension of their driver’s license. If the NHTSA database tells you that the safety recall has no fix available, you should require the driver to drive immediately to the nearest dealership of his vehicle’s make and rent a car or receive a free loaner.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I’m going directly to you, our Florida law enforcement officers, because our governor, legislators, and regulators have all let us down. Clearly, it should be illegal to sell a car with a dangerous safety recall, but our governor and lawmakers will not act. At the very least, it should be required that the buyer of a car with a dangerous safety recall be advised prior to sale, this has not been done either. Therefore, thousands of used cars with dangerous safety recalls are being sold to unsuspecting Floridians daily.

I believe you have the authority and the responsibility to take dangerous vehicles off the road and you can exercise this authority under our existing laws without waiting any longer for the politicians and regulators to act. Furthermore, I believe your action will put the pressure on the politicians, regulators, auto manufacturers and car dealers to do the right thing. The legislators and regulators have “sat on their hands” because of the huge lobbying efforts by auto manufacturers, car dealers, and their associations.Once the drivers of Florida, most of whom are also VOTERS, begin to be pulled over by law enforcement and warned or have their license suspended, you will see our politicians and regulators suddenly begin to do the right thing.



Thanks very much for considering my suggestion,



Earl Stewart

Cell Phone 561 358-1474

Monday, July 02, 2018

Don't Get "Flipped" to a Lease!

One of the most popular weapons in car dealers’ arsenals is the infamous “lease flip”. This is car dealer jargon for switching a customer who originally intended to buy a car to leasing the car.

Of course, the motivation to do this is more profit for the dealer and a bigger commission to the salesman. That’s not to say that leasing a car is always costlier than buying one, but it can be if you’re not careful. And not being careful is exactly what happens when a purchase intender becomes a lessee.

Here’s how it happens. You come into the dealership to buy a car. You may have seen the dealer’s advertisement in the newspaper or TV for a model you love. More than likely, you’re prepared to make a down payment and/or trade in your old vehicle. You have a monthly payment in mind because almost everybody has a budget and we usually translate most purchases into if we can fit them into our monthly budgets. You negotiate the best price you can to buy the car, or maybe the sale price is good enough.

Now the salesman, or more often the F&I manager/business manager, tells you what your monthly payment will be. Let’s say that you have a trade-in worth $15,000 and aren’t going to put any cash down. The F&I [Finance and Insurance] aka business manager, tells you your monthly payment will be $427 per month. But that’s way more than you can afford and you tell him you can’t buy the car because you can’t afford that big a payment. He asks you how much you can afford and you tell him it must be under $350 per month. Now he has you set up perfectly for the “lease flip”.

“Mrs. Smith, I think I have just the right thing for you. What would you say if I told you that you can drive that new car home today for just $349 per month?” You say, with glee, “We have a deal!” Guess what? You’ve just been flipped. If you had bought the car at the advertised price or negotiated a very good price, the dealer probably would have made about $1,000 profit. and the salesman would have made about a $200 commission. Not that you’ve let yourself be flipped to lease, the dealer could be making $15,000 and the salesman could be making a $3,000 commission!

I’m not exaggerating. I get calls weekly from victims of lease flips. Many of the callers are elderly and many of them are widows who never bought a car before, but had relied on their husbands. There’s no law that limits the profit that a dealer can make when he sells or leases a car. $10,000, $15,000, and even $20,000 profits are made and usually on leases. The dealers can do this by using the trade-in as a capital cost reduction on the lease but allowing less for the trade than it is worth. In the example above, your trade-in may be worth $15,000 but you were allowed only $5,000 to reduce the capitalized costs of the lease. Also, the dealer could have raised the price of the car you negotiated or the sale price to MSRP or even 110% of MSRP which is allowable by the leasing companies.

By manipulating the number of months of the lease and the down payment [capitalized cost reduction], a dealer can give you as low a payment as you ask for and still make an exorbitant profit. Most buyers are so focused on monthly payments that they don’t carefully analyze what they are agreeing to and signing. The shorter the number of months of a lease, the greater impact the down payment has on the monthly payment. A $5,000 down payment reduces the monthly payment on a 36-month lease by $139 per month, $208 on a 24 month lease, and $417 on 12 month lease.

Incredibly many victims of the lease flip, never thought about the fact that after the 24, or 36, or 48-month term of the lease, they own nothing after the end of the lease. A car with a good resale value should be worth about half of what you paid for it. Many people who have never leased before think they can bring their lease car back early if they want. Leasing is not renting, and you can bring your car back early only if you make all of the remaining lease payments. If you had bought the car for $30,000 and financed it for 36 months, you would have about $15,000 in equity at the end of 36 months and no monthly payments. You were building equity with every monthly payment in the purchase but you were building zero equity with your 36 lease payments.

As I said before, don’t let this frighten you from ever leasing a car. Leasing can be a good choice and sometimes the best choice. You can find six blog articles I’ve written: “Lease a New Car before You Buy It”, “Car Leasing Booby Traps”, “Be Very Careful When Leasing a Car”, “The Lease Acquisition Fee…the Bank’s Gotcha”, “Buy or Lease Your Car at the Right Time of Year”, and “Should I Buy or Lease My Next Car?”

Monday, June 25, 2018

What to do if You’re Treated Badly by a Car Dealer

Hopefully the sales or service experience with your car dealer went well but, all too often, they don’t. 
(See https://news.gallup.com/poll/1654/honesty-ethics-professions.aspx) Now what? The advice I give you applies to all business transactions, not just car dealerships. 

Your first step should be to communicate your complaint ASAP to the General Manager or, preferably, the owner. Be sure that you are talking to the REAL owner or the general manger. A General Manager is over all employees in the entire company. A general “sales” manager is not a General Manager. If you can’t reach the owner (Many car dealerships are either publicly owned or owned by absentee owners), ask to see the General Manager. Often the owner or General Manager is not aware of everything that goes on with all of their customers and employees. They might have new employee that should not have been hired or received inadequate training. Or, they may simply have a “rotten apple” that should not be working there. The ease and speed with which you can meet and speak to a General Manager or an owner is a pretty good measure of the integrity of the company as whole. If the owner or General Manager cares enough about her customers to allow total access, it is probably a very good place to do business. In fact, it is a good idea to find this out before you do business.

If you cannot reach the owner or General Manager, contact the manufacturer who franchises the dealership. Car dealers have a contract with the manufacturer called a franchise agreement and this contractual agreement requires that they treat their customers with courtesy, efficiency and integrity. Most manufacturers have a customer hotline, 800 number, that allows you to call and register a complaint directly. The owner or General Manager of the dealership will be made aware of your complaint. As you might guess, the manufacturer has quite of bit of clout with their dealer. If a dealer does not live up to his side of the contract, his franchise could be canceled or not renewed.

The third step I recommend, if numbers one and two don’t work, is to contact a consumer agency like The Better Business Bureau or the County Office of Consumer Affairs. These agencies will send your complaint to the dealership and request a written reply. No car dealership or business wants an unanswered complaint in the file of a governmental or private consumer agency.

The 4th step is to call the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles, DMV, and/or the Florida Attorney General’s office. These are extreme steps to be used for serious, even illegal, activities. The DMV has the power to suspend or cancel a dealer’s motor vehicle retail license, putting him out of business. The Attorney General’s Office can file criminal charges and assess large fines, even jail terms. The DMV phone number is (850) 617-2000 and the Attorney General’s phone number is 866-966-7226. You can access complaint forms at this website, www.FloridaCarDealerComplaints.com.

Your last resort is to contact an attorney. I list this last because hiring an attorney just about eliminates the possibility that you can quickly, amicably and inexpensively resolve your differences with the car dealer. Be very careful which attorney you choose. Try to choose one that is primarily interested in helping you and not in generating large fees for himself. Under the Florida Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act, an attorney is entitled to his fees and costs from the defendant in a lawsuit if he wins. These fees can be much larger than the amount of your claim, motivating an unethical attorney to spend more time than is needed and dragging out a case to generate more fees than are necessary. This can be very dangerous for you because the car dealer’s attorney’s fees run roughly parallel to your lawyer’s and you can be held liable for those if you lose the case.

Hopefully you never have to resort to the final step of hiring a lawyer. In trying steps one, two, three and four try to present your complaint as concisely and politely as possible. You have every right to be angry when you are taken advantage of, but try to let your anger subside before you speak to or write to someone about your problem. We all react negatively to someone who is profane, raises his voice, or is sarcastic. Your goal of communicating and resolving your complaint is best reached by communicating clearly, politely and concisely.