Monday, October 22, 2018

ATTORNEY GENERAL PAM BONDI: PLEASE ENFORCE FLORIDA’S LAWS REGULATING ADVERTISED CAR PRICE


Attorney General Bondi, as the top-ranking law enforcement officer of Florida, I ask you to investigate a sampling of new vehicle advertisements by Florida car dealers. These are readily available to you in Tallahassee, online from your home or office PC.

If your investigator indicates an interest in buying one of these advertised cars from that car dealer, they will discover that they cannot buy it at the advertised price “including all fees or charges that the customer must pay” according to Florida statute 501.976*.

You probably know me. I’ve been a car dealer in Florida for 50 years. In recent years I’ve evolved into a consumer advocate helping car buyers from being taken advantage of by car dealers. I’ve been doing a weekly radio show on this subject for 14 years. Each week we mystery shop a South Florida car dealer. http://www.mysteryshoppingreports.com is the link to my archives of these reports. Our typical report involves responding to an online, TV, direct mail, or newspaper advertisement. We send a mystery shopper in who pretends to want to buy the advertised vehicle at the advertised price. In virtually all mystery shops (over 500), there are additional charges including “non-governmental” fees added to the advertised price.

The last time I raised this issue with your AG predecessor, General McCollum, I was told that the AG’s office didn’t have a significant number of complaints from Florida car buyers on this issue. I sincerely believe the reason for this is that Florida car dealer have been ignoring this law for so long, the law has never been enforced, and that car buyers have become “used to being deceived”. They either don’t know about the law or feel that filing a complaint is not worth the effort.

You’ve done a great job controlling “Pill Mills”, pharmaceutical companies, and other threats to Florida consumers. Floridians spend more money on automobiles than anything except housing, and they need your protection from being over charged millions of dollars annually by hidden charges violating Florida Statute 501.976.

*The 2018 Florida Statutes


TITLE XXXIII

REGULATION OF TRADE, COMMERCE, INVESTMENTS AND SOLICITATIONS

CHAPTER 501 CONSUMER PROTECTION

501.976 Actionable, unfair, or deceptive acts or practices. —It is an unfair or deceptive act or practice, actionable under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, for a dealer to: 

(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, October 15, 2018

How to Choose Your Car Dealer


If you’re lucky enough to have found a car dealership that treats you ethically, honestly and gives you fair prices on vehicles, maintenance, and repairs, congratulations. You’re in the minority. Buying, leasing, repairing, or maintaining a car is an unpleasant and stressful experience for most customers. For proof of this I cite the Gallup annual poll on Honest and Ethics in Professions, conducted every year since 1977. Car sales people rank at or near last for the previous 45 years. Check it outhttps://news.gallup.com/poll/1654/honesty-ethics-professions.aspx.

There’s a reason for car dealers lagging all other retailers in honesty, ethics, and transparency. Car dealers advertising and sales tactics are “frozen in time” from the last century. Other retailers have all had to evolve and improve to survive with the advent of the internet, Big Data, The Cloud, the knowledge explosion, Google, A.I., etc. All of this gave birth to the educated and demanding consumer of the 21st century. When the modern consumer is treated badly by a retailer, he chooses another retailer that will treat him nicely and fairly.

It doesn’t work that way with car dealers because most of them don’t treat their customers ethically and honestly. Why? Because they are a “protected species”. Every car dealer has a contract with manufacturer that allows him to sell and service cars just about any way he chooses. The only exceptions to this are that the car dealer mustn’t commit a felony and must meet his minimum quota of sales. Every car dealer also has a protected market area, protected by state law and by the manufacturer’s franchise agreement. All fifty states have laws on the books to protect the car dealers from competition and from the manufacturers. In Florida, a car dealers franchise agreement is “perpetual” …it never expires. Car dealers and their lobbying organizations rank right up there with the NRA, Big Insurance and Big Auto influencing our legislators and regulators. If you’re a politician, you better treat car dealers right or you won’t be elected.

Finding a car dealer that will deal honestly with you and give you a fair price is tedious and time consuming, but it’s worth the effort:

1. Check out their consumer ratings on Google, Yelp, Dealer Rater, and the BBB. Don’t just look for the highest ratings but read the individual reviews. A 3-star rating with a thoughtful comment is often more informative than a 5-star. Five stars are suspicious because “nobody’s perfect” and 1 star can be biased in the other direction. If there are very few reviews, don’t put much weight in the score. You should find a dealer with at least 100 reviews.

2. Check out the dealer’s Facebook page and read the posts. Ask your friends on Facebook what they think about various car dealers. The social media is a powerful too, but you must be careful. Use Instagram and Twitter also. 

3. All car dealers are rated by their manufacturers for customer satisfaction, both in sales and service. Some manufacturers rank their dealers by the loyalty of their customer that return for sales and service. This is absolutely the best way to measure customer satisfaction…do most of the dealer’s customers come back to buy another car and to have their car serviced. Ask the dealer to see these scores; if they won’t show them to you, choose a different dealer.

4. For South Florida Car buyers, I’ve compiled a list of recommended and NOT recommended car dealers. You can check this out atwww.GoodDealerBadDealerList.com. Please be warned that you still must exercise caution buying from a “Good Dealer”. I grade these dealers “on the curve”. A more accurate title for the list would be “Better Dealer Worse Dealer List”. 
 
5.
I’ve been mystery shopping car dealers weekly in South Florida for the last 11 years. This is where we get most of the input to score the dealers we have on this list. If you’re considering buying a car from a South Florida dealer, there’s a good chance that I’ve sent in a mystery shopper. You can read these shopping reports athttp://www.mysteryshoppingreports.com.

6. Use a dealer approved by www.TrueCar.com or www.CostoAuto.com. These are the two best third-party car buying services. The dealers using True Car and Costco are certified and supposed to provide you with an honest, transparent price. Unfortunately, some of them don’t measure up and you should exercise caution even when dealing with a TrueCar or Costco certified dealer.

Finally, you should remember that good dealerships have some bad people working there and bad dealerships have some good ones. If you’ve done your research and chosen a dealership but are unhappy with a sales person or manager, ask for someone else to assist you. We’ve sometimes encountered sales people in our mystery shops that apologized for dishonest advertisements and warned the mystery shopper not to overpay on a car.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Hidden Charges in the Service Department



The last time you paid your bill for your car’s maintenance or repair, there was there was an extra, probably unnoticed charge at the bottom of the service invoice. This extra charge was not for the parts or labor performed on your car. If you noticed it at all, it was hidden at the bottom of the invoice near the line for sales tax.

This service charge is the “little brother” of the infamous Dealer Fee, the hidden PRICE INCREASE which is added to the bottom of the bill of sale when you buy a car. Just like the dealer fee, this service charge is not really a fee at all; rather, it's pure profit to the dealership or independent service facility. Just like the dealer fee, it too goes by many different names: "Sundry Supplies Fee", "Miscellaneous Fee", "Hazardous Waste Disposal Fee", "Waste Oil Disposal Fee", “Environmental Impact Fee”, etc. The “Waste Oil Disposal Fee” is particularly deceptive and dishonest because car dealers sell their waste oil to refiners for a tidy profit. Unfortunately, charging any arbitrary extra amount onto the price of auto service is completely legal in Florida! There is also no law requiring consistency in naming this extra charge or even in limiting the amount of that charge. If a car dealer wanted to name the fee CAR DEALER’S RETIREMENT FUND, it would be legal (and a lot more honest than Environmental Impact Fee).

The size of this bogus fee is calculated as a percentage of the total legitimate parts and service charge you incurred and varies from as little as 5% to 10% and higher. Typically, there is a self-imposed “cap” on this phony charge so that you don’t notice it when you pay your bill at the cashier. Caps also vary from about $25 to $50. Remember that most people service their cars about every 6 months or 5,000 miles and keep their cars 6.5 years. If your average “hidden charge for service” was $15, over the course of ownership you would pay $195 for work that was never performed on your car! The average dealer fee in Florida is over $1,000, but a car dealer makes his money on the bogus service charge with volume. A car dealer may sell a few cars each day, but he or she may service dozens. Therefore, a car dealer “steals” far more money from his service customer than he does his car buying customers.

Auto service companies and car dealers know that this is wrong and expect some of their customers (those that are alert enough to catch it) to react angrily. Calls from these customers are what inspired me to write this column. One caller that was a regular reader of my column and called me to ask what the “sundry supply fee” for about $30 at the bottom of his service invoice at Sunrise Ford in Fort Pierce was. I explained it to him. By reacting angrily and threatening to take his service business elsewhere, he was able to have his $30 refunded.

This is my recommendation to you: always inspect the service invoice before you pay. If there is any charge on the invoice that you cannot recognize, ask for a complete explanation. The explanation you are likely to hear is that these are for “miscellaneous” supplies and costs the dealer incurs in repairing the average car, probably not yours. They will talk about nuts and bolts, screws, fasteners, grease solvent, and maybe even “soap to wash the mechanic’s hands”. Of course, these are just normal overhead costs of doing business. They might just as well be charging you for their power and water bill or salary to their mechanics. You tell them that their costs of doing business should have been included in the price you were quoted for the labor and parts on your repair order, not sneakily tacked onto the bottom of the invoice when you were paying the cashier.

Monday, October 01, 2018

Ten Tips on Buying the Right Used Car

I sell new and used cars, but if I was not a car dealer and I needed to buy a car, I would buy a used one instead of a new. This is because a used car is a better value. You get more for your money due to avoiding the initial rapid depreciation of a new car.The price gap between used and new cars has increased to highest level in over a decade. I use the term “used car” in this article because I despise mumbo jumbo euphemisms like “pre-owned”. A used car is a used car is a used car.


(1) Never buy a used car without a CarFax or AutoCheck report. The dealer should provide you with one at no charge because any dealer worth his salt runs one of these two reports on every used car he trades in or buys to protect him. Simply don’t buy a used car from anybody that does not give you this report. CarFax reports now have, not only the information about collision damage, floods damage, previous odometer reading, and title issues, (all obtained from insurance records) but also the mechanical repair history (obtained from dealer records). The CarFax report also shows outstanding safety recalls, but I also recommend that you double check this with the NHTSA, National Highway Traffic Safety Association at www.SaferCar.org. In my experience, CarFax and AutoCheck miss safety recalls about 30% of the time. Unfortunately, there is no law requiring car dealers to even disclose an unfixed safety recall and most dealers are willingly selling their customers cars with dangerous safety recall like Takata airbags.

(2) Have your car inspected by an independent mechanic. Insist on having the used car you are thinking about buying inspected by your mechanic, not affiliated with the dealer. This should cost you no more than $150 and will be money well spent. The mechanic should look, not only for mechanical issues, but body and flood damage. If the mechanic finds some minor things that need fixing, insist that the dealer take care of these and include it in the price he already quoted you. If the dealer won’t allow this, don’t buy from him.

(3) Consult www.ConsumerReports.org , www.TrueCar.com,www.CostcoAuto.com, www.KBB.com, and www.Edmunds.com. These sources have complete information on the safety, reliability, maintenance cost, and even what a fair price is to pay for any used car. Consumer Reports lists the “Best and Worst Used Cars”. This is great guide and don’t ever buy a used car that’s on the “worst list”.

(4) A Certified Used Car is only as good as the dealer who sold it to you. Most manufacturers don’t even require that the dealer fix open safety recalls to call the car “Certified”. All manufacturers sponsor “certified” used cars of their make. The main reason for this is that they like to sell the dealer warranties that the dealer then marks up and sells to you. A secondary reason the manufacturers do this is to enhance the resale value of their make car. This helps them sell more new cars because of the higher trade in value and the higher residual values on cars they lease enhance their profits. You can buy a warranty for a used car even if it’s not certified, but in a certified used car it’s usually included in the price (which makes the price higher). One good thing about manufacturers’ certified programs is that sometimes the manufacturer will offer you lower financing rates. Certified used cars require that the dealer inspect all critical parts of the car and fill out a checklist that is anywhere from 75 to 150 items. That’s all well and good but how carefully is this inspection being done and by whom? You should ask to see a copy of the check list and ask about the qualification of the mechanic who performed and signed the inspection. All too often, the dealer assigns the lowest priced mechanic he has to perform these checks. It’s questionable whether he even performs all of them. A red flag is if you notice a straight line drawn through all the check boxes instead of them being checked off individually.

(5) Money Back Guarantee. A lot of dealers advertise that if you change your mind about the car you bought you can bring it back and exchange it for another. This is a worthless guarantee. You can be sure that they will pick the car and the price of the car they will exchange it for and will end up making an additional profit. CarMax has a reasonable guarantee which refunds all your money within five days with restriction that the car is returned in the same condition that it was sold. CarMax is a good place to buy a used car. My biggest problem with CarMax is that readily sell used cars with dangerous safety recalls, like the Takata airbag. CarMax, GM, Sonic Automotive and the FTC were recently sued by CARS, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety over this issue. The case is currently on appeal.

(6) Contact the previous owner of the car. The previous owner of the used car should be happy to talk to you. Insist that the seller provide you with his telephone number. If the dealer sold the car to that owner as a new or used car and serviced it, ask if you can see the service file.

(7) Test drive the car just as you will be driving it later. Simply taking the car for a spin around the block with the salesman is not enough. I recommend that you drive the car in the manner and places that you will be driving it when you own it. Take it out on the expressway if you do a lot of higher speed driving. You should drive the car for at least a few hours at all the same speeds, conditions, and on the same roads that you normally experience. Park the car, back it up, and take a friend for ride to get their opinion. You don’t want to have any surprises when you bring it home for keeps.

(8) The Internet is the best place to shop for your used car. www.AutoTrader.com lists virtually every used car offered by every car dealership in the USA. Most dealers today display all their used car inventory right on AutoTrader and their website along with the prices. These prices are close to the real price you will pay. The dealer knows that he won’t get many responses if he overprices his used cars. Shopping on the Internet give you ample opportunity to compare the same or similar used cars with lots of different dealers. As always, call the dealer before you come in to confirm the Internet price is an out-the-door price without a dealer fee, doc fee, dealer prep, electronic filing fee, and dealer installed accessories.

(9) Commit all of the dealer’s promises to writing. Take notes of everything the salesman and sales manager promise you such as “we’ll fix that CD player if you’ll bring your car in next week” or “if you ever have a problem with the car we’ll give you a free loaner when you come in for service”. Make those notes part of the buyer’s order and be sure that a manager signs it. It’s also a good idea to always shop with a friend. In a “He said she said” situation, two people trump one.

(10) Get at least three bids on financing. Know what your lowest interest rate is for the year, make, and model car you’re buying. Get quotes from your bank or credit union and at least one other bank in addition to the rate your dealer offers you. If you do use your dealer’s financing, be sure you know and understand everything that’s included in your finance contract. You will be offered products like warranties, GAP insurance, maintenance, road hazard insurance, etc. It’s illegal for a dealer to tie your acceptance for financing or interest rate to your buying a warranty or any other product.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Open Letter to Florida Car Dealers:



I wrote this letter to Florida car dealers almost over decade ago and, so far, I’ve received no replies…at least from car dealers. But I’ve received thousands of replies from car buyers thanking me for taking a stand against the Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practice of dealer fees. I thought that I’d give it another try.




SUBJECT: ELIMINATE THE DEALER FEE

Dear Fellow Florida Car Dealer, 

I started in the retail auto business in 1968, about 50 years ago, and I have seen a lot of changes in the way we dealers sell cars and the expectations of our customers. My remarks in this column are made sincerely and with a positive intent toward you and your customers. I’m not trying to tell you how to run your business; I’m suggesting a change that will reward both you and your customers.

Every car dealer in Florida (except me) adds charges to the price of the cars he sells, variously referred to as a “dealer fee”, “documentary fee”, “dealer prep fee”, electronic filing fee, notary fee, closing fee, tag agency fee, e-filing fee, etc. This extra charge is printed on your buyer’s orders and is programmed into your computers. It is regulated in many states including California. You charge this fee to every customer and it ranges from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. Florida law requires that you disclose in writing on the buyer’s order that this charge represents profit to the dealer. Florida law also requires that you include this fee in all advertised prices. You don’t usually do this, and you get around the law by limiting the number of advertised vehicles (as few as one). You also disclose only in the fine print that there is a dealer fee, but don’t include in the price. You don’t even disclose the amount of the fee. You usually have multiple dealer fees by different names.

The argument that I hear from most car dealers when I raise this issue is that the dealer fee is fully disclosed to the buyer on his buyer’s order. But, most car buyers are totally unaware that they are paying this. Who reads all the voluminous paperwork associated with buying a car? The few who notice it assume it is an “official” fee like state sales tax or license and registration fee. Those few astute buyers who do question the fee are told that your dealership must charge this fee on very car which is not true. These astute buyers are also told that all other car dealers charge similar fees. This is almost true, but, as you know, my dealership does not.

The reason you charge this fee is simply to increase the price of the car and your profit in such a manner that it is not noticed by your customer. This is just plain wrong. Dealers will admit this to me in private conversations and some will admit that they have considered eliminating the fee as I have but are afraid of the drastic effect to their bottom line. By being able to count on an extra $999 in profit that the customer is not aware of or believes is an “official fee”, you can quote a price below cost and end up making a profit. Or, if the price you quote the customer does pay you a nice profit, you can increase that by several hundred dollars.

This “extra, unseen” profit is even better for you because you don’t pay your salesmen a commission on it. That’s being unfair to your employees as well as your customers. When the rare, astute buyer objects to the dealer fee, the right thing to do would be to decrease the quoted price of the car by the amount of the dealer fee. This would have the same net effect of removing it. The salesman won’t permit this because he will lose his commission (typically 25%) on the decrease in his commissionable gross profit.

If you don’t know me, I should tell you that I don’t profess to be some “holier than thou” car dealer who was always perfect. Although, I never did anything illegal, when I look at some of my advertising and sales tactics 20+ years ago and more, I am not always proud. But, I have evolved as my customers have evolved. My customers’ expectations, level of education, and sophistication are much higher today. Your customers are no different. As I began treating my customers, and employees, better I discovered that they began treating me better. Yes, I used to charge a dealer fee ($495), and when I stopped charging it many years ago, it was scary. But I did it because I could no longer, in good conscience, mislead my customers. Just because everybody else was doing the same thing did not make it right.

Now here is the good news. My profit per car did drop by about the amount of the dealer fee when I stopped charging it. But, when my customers realized that I was now giving them a fair shake and quoting the complete out-the-door price with no “surprises” the word spread. My volume began to rise rapidly. Sure, I was making a few hundred dollars less per car, but I was selling a lot more cars! I was, and am, selling a lot of your former customers. My bottom line is far better than it was when I was charging a dealer fee. You can do the same! Currently I’m the largest volume single point car dealer between Orlando and Coconut Creek (near Ft. Lauderdale). That’s not bad for a little dealership in Lake Park, FL (population 9,000).

Why am I writing this letter? I’m not going to tell you that I think of myself as the new Marshall that has come to “clean up Dodge”. In fact, I’m aware that this letter is to some extent self-serving. Lots of people will read this letter to you and learn why they should buy a car from me and not you. And, I’m also aware that most dealers who read this will either get angry and ignore it or not have the courage to follow my lead. But maybe you will be the exception. If you have any interest in following my lead, call me anytime. I don’t have a secretary and I don’t screen any of my phone calls. I would love to chat with you about this. My cell phone number is 561 358-1474.

Sincerely,

Earl Stewart

Monday, September 17, 2018

My Lunch with Bob Woodward


“Most Important Threat to the United States and the World”

I spent several hours with the renowned Washington Post reporter, Bob Woodward, a few years ago. My wife, Nancy, and I and six other Toyota dealers met at the “Newseum” in Washington D.C. and had lunch together at the Capital Grille next door. This once in a lifetime experience was my reward for being one of the top Toyota dealers in the USA, measured by sales and customer satisfaction.

You might be too young to remember the Watergate national scandal. Bob Woodward and another young reporter at the Washington Post, Carl Bernstein, were the reporters that broke the most important political story of the 20th century which led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Bob Woodward has written several books, won the Pulitzer prize, and is generally regarded as the #1 investigative reporter and political author in the world. Even if you were too young to remember that, you’ve recently heard of him with his latest book, Fear, Trump in the White House. I’ve downloaded and just begun to read it.

Now what on Earth can my conversations with Bob Woodward have to do with car dealerships? I’m glad you asked! As you know, I’ve been on a crusade for many years to make the dealer fee illegal in Florida. In addition to the dealer fee issue, I write a weekly newspaper column, a blog [www.EarlStewartOnCars.com], and host a weekly radio show [JVC radio WSVU; 95.9, 106.9 FM & 960 AM 8-10 AM EST Saturday] campaigning for truth, ethics, and legality in advertising and selling cars.

The main reason my message is so slow to reach the public is the refusal or reluctance of the great majority of the media to report the story. In fact, 2 years ago, I was previously on another radio station, Seaview 900 AM. The local car dealers threatened the station owner that they would stop advertising on 900 AM if they didn’t “fire Earl Stewart”. I was fired and off the air for over year until JVC Broadcasting bought Seaview and the new owners, Vic Canales and Matt Goldapper, hired me back. I salute and thank these gentlemen for their courage and journalistic ethics.

Why won’t many TV and radio stations and newspapers (fading from importance in the digital age) report rampant, unfair and deceptive selling and advertising practices by many car dealers in Florida? It’s all about the money. Car dealers are responsible for about 20% of total retail sales. As a group, they’re often the largest single buyer of advertising in the media. When the media runs a negative news or editorial piece about car dealers, they risk losing that advertising revenue. Newspapers are going out of business daily. Many of our largest newspapers, the NY Times for example, are teetering on bankruptcy and local newspapers (Palm Beach Post in my market) are even more severely affected.

During my lunch with Bob Woodward, he asked each of us what we considered the single most important threat to the United States and the world. My answer was “radicals inciting terrorism and the threat of a new world order”. Another Toyota dealer was afraid of “hyperinflation brought on by this Administration’s out of control spending”. After hearing all our greatest fears, Bob Woodward told us his greatest fear affecting the USA and the world. He fears that the media is failing to fulfill its vital role to report all the news fearlessly, completely, honestly, and ethically. We Americans take a lot of things for granted and I’m afraid that a free, open, and honest media keeping our government and corporations honest is one of them. Most of the world doesn’t have a free press and it’s no coincidence that those parts of the world without it also don’t have freedom.

Newspapers like the Hometown News, Florida Weekly and radio stations like WSVU should be admired and respected for having the journalistic ethics and courage to allow me to express my opinions about unfair and deceptive trade practices in the retail car business. My local newspaper, the Palm Beach Post, is not so inclined. For fear of losing the advertising business of local car dealers, they refuse to run any news or Op Ed article with my name in it. This is not just my “opinion”. PB Post reporters have said “off the record” that they cannot get permission from their editors to do stories about my company or me. I know one former PB Post reporter who quit his job for this very reason. When I finally realized that the PB Post had put a “black out” on any news about me or my company, I met personally with the former publisher, Doug Franklin at the time, and he privately confirmed that he could not risk losing car dealer advertisers by reporting my views or even running positive news articles about me. I do have to give him credit for being candid about this. He equates the financial survival of the Palm Beach Post with maintaining sufficient advertising revenue. Survival is our strongest instinct. It’s a very rare person or company that will put ethics ahead of survival. Would you? Ironically, the Palm Beach Post and most newspapers have lost car dealers and most other advertisers to digital and TV. “Selling out” their journalistic ethics didn’t work in the long run.

So, there you have it. What do you think is the greatest threat to the USA and the rest of the world? I’m inclined to agree with Bob Woodward. Who is going to keep our politicians, Wall Street, corporations [including car dealers] honest and ethical if they know that nobody will ever learn about their shenanigans in the media?

Monday, September 10, 2018

Buy a New Car Without Getting Ripped Off Ten Tips from a Recovering Car Dealer


1. Use a trusted third buyer buying service. The top three are , True Car (www.TrueCar.com ), Consumer Reports (https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/car-prices-build-buy-service/index.htm), and Costco (https://CostcoAuto.com ) The one caveat is to be sure to deal directly with the TrueCar, Costco, and Consumer Reports designated individuals in the their “certified dealerships” and NEVER vary from the specific car you selected or price quoted by TrueCar, Costco, or Consumer Reports. NEVER pay any additional fees unless they are GOVERNMENT fees for sales tax and the license plate.

2. Ignore all car dealer and car manufacturer advertisements. Almost without exception, it’s impossible to buy or lease a new car for the advertised price. Either it’s simply untrue or there’s something hidden (usually in the fine print) that makes the car much more expensive than advertised. Do your own research online. TrueCar.com, Edmunds.com, and Kbb.com (Kelly Blue Book) are accurate sources of information for fair selling prices.

3. Always get three “bids” for your trade-in. Car dealers love to buy cars directly from owners for their used car lots. Their vernacular is “over-the-curb”. Shop the value of your trade-in with three car dealers of the same make as your trade-in. Make an appointment with the used car manager and tell him you don’t want to buy another car. Explain that you’re “down-sizing and just want to sell your car. Be sure that he knows that you’re getting two more bids from two other dealers. If you’re near a CarMax, that’s a good place to get a bid.

4. Check with your bank and/or credit union. You’ll get a better interest rate and terms than the dealer will likely give you. The exception is with manufacturer offered interest rates, but you often must forego a cash rebate for this. Your best bet may be to take the manufacturer’s cash rebate with a slightly higher interest rate from your bank or credit union.

5. Always compare out-the-door prices. You’ll NEVER get an out-the-door price from a car dealer unless you demand it and then you still might not get it. An out-the-door price is the amount you can hand the dealer a check for and drive the car “out-the-door” to your home with. Every other price you see advertised or quoted is plus a lot more money. Usually you never see the true out-the-door price until you’re in the “business office” aka F&I and “the box” signing stacks of papers spit out by the computer. Typical hidden additions to the price you think you can buy the car for are dealer fees by many different names like tag agency fee, electronic filing fee, dealer services fee, doc fee, notary and closing fee, administrative fee…and “the beat goes on”. Names for aliases for dealer fees are limited only by the dealer’s imagination. I recently mystery shopped a car dealer who claimed he had no dealer fee, but he had an “electronic filing fee and tag agency” fees…both phony fees that are pure profit to the dealer. But wait, there’s more…DEALER INSTALLED ACCESSORIES. Most car dealers add these to the price you pay. Some examples are nitrogen in the tires, plastic pin stripes, “protection packages” including paint sealant, roadside assistance, etc, window tint, and anything else the dealer can buy cheap and overcharge you for.

6. Consult Consumer’s Report before you choose the new car you will buy. Consumer Reports in the most reliable source of information you can access in choosing your next car. Their annual auto issue is priceless…always have in in your library. You don’t have to buy the safest, most fuel efficient, lowest maintenance and repair car with the highest resale value, but at least you will know which cars they are. Then you can choose the one you want.

7. Deal strictly online with car dealers, anonymously. There’s no good reason to visit a dealership and talk to a car salesman other than to test-drive the car you’ve selected and to pick it up after you’ve bought it. Dealing online you won’t be hounded by phone calls from a hoard of car salesmen (don’t give them your number or give them a phony one). Create a new, free address from Google or Microsoft. All dealers have “Internet departments” now. Those sales people are authorized to quote lower prices than the regular “floor salesmen”. Dealer will always give you a lower written price online than they will quote you face-to-face because they know, if it’s too high, they may never hear from you again.

8. Never drive the new car home until you know your credit has been approved. You will be cajoled to drive the car home as soon as you sign the papers. The salesman has two reasons. (1) You will “fall in love with the car”, brag to all you neighbor about the good deal you got, and your family will fall in love with it too. Even in you find some “surprises” in the reams of paperwork you brought home, you’re unlikely to “return the puppy to the pet store”. That’s why they call this practice “puppy-dogging”. (2) Often dealers send credit applications to multiple banks for approval (called shot-gunning). If you have marginal credit, you’re likely to get an approval with “exceptions”. These usually entail higher interest, more down payment, and shorter terms. Customers are far more inclined to agree to this after they’ve taken their puppy home and shown it to all their friends and neighbors.

9. Have a friend accompany you in the Finance Office. Dealer have a large menu of “products” they will try to sell you after you’ve bought the car. The best rule of thumb is to buy none of these until you you’ve had time to study and understand their value. Some examples are extended warranties, maintenance plans, GAP insurance, road hazard insurance, lost key insurance, paintless dent repair, emergency road service, etc. Sometimes one or more of these products is added to your payment without your knowledge or you may be told that “the lender requires that you buy an extended warranty”. This is never true. Having a witness with you is some protection against this.

10. You do not have to bring your car back to the dealer you bought from for service. Buy the car from the dealer that gives you the best price and bring your car for service to the dealer that gives you the best service. You can even bring your car to an independent service company for maintenance or repairs if they aren’t warranty items. Be sure to keep a good record of all repairs and maintenance and use the manufacturer’s owner’s manual a your guide for what maintenance must be done.

*Copies of Confessions of a Recovering Car Dealer are available online at https://www.amazon.com/Confessions-Recovering-Dealer-Earl-Stewart/dp/0985729511. 100% of the proceeds are donated to Big Dog Ranch Rescue, www.BDRR.org.