Monday, March 19, 2018

Car Dealers Exploiting the Elderly

Not a week passes without at least two or three elderly people contacting me about being victimized by a South Florida car dealership. These are usually pre Baby Boomers in their seventies, eighties and nineties. I’m happy to say that I have a high rate of success if I’m contacted soon after the purchase…within a few days. The first thing I do is contact the dealership’s owner. With publicly owned dealerships like AutoNation, Penske Automotive, and Sonic, and Group One I have to contact the real General Manager. I emphasize “real” because sales managers will often try to foist themselves off as the General Manager, but they are only in charge of the car sales departments and are really “general sales managers”. In the rare occasions I strike out, I have no alternative but to contact the Florida Department of Motor Vehicle, DMV which is the best governmental agency to keep a car dealer on the straight and narrow. You can download a complaint form to the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles at

I use the term “car dealer” often in my columns and I want to make it clear that I am not trying to get personal. I could use the terms “car salesman” or “car sales manager”, but the dealer is the boss and I firmly believe the placard Harry Truman had on his desk, “The buck stops here”. The guy or gal that owns the place is responsible for the actions of their employees. Just because he doesn’t know that there are some salesmen or managers taking advantage of his customers, is no excuse.

When I became a senior citizen I began to see the world in a different light. I’ve been a car dealer for over 50 years, but I have seen my own business through the eyes of a senior citizen for only the last few. One thing that has helped this awareness has been my relative new public persona, brought on by my TV commercials, radio show, public speaking appearances and this column precipitate a lot of phone calls, texts, emails, and letters from seniors in South Florida and all over the USA. Some of these are very complimentary. Many of them are also calls for help or advice from those who were taken advantage of when they bought their car.

I get more calls from widows than any other single group. Recently, I was introduced to a widow in her seventies who had come in to buy a car with her nephew. She had never bought a car before. Her husband had always handled this responsibility. He passed away 2 years ago. She was very wise to bring along her nephew to assist her in her first car purchase. Our culture and especially the roles of women have made incredibly positive changes since the second half of the 20th century. More women who grew up in the fifties, sixties, and seventies were relegated to the role of homemaker and mother. The Man had a “regular” job and earned the money, and made the major decisions like buying a car. As you know men generally predecease their wives and many widows have never bought a car before.

Buying the right car at the right price is no easy task. There are a lot of variables like trade-in allowances, monthly payments, discounts, interest rates, lease or buy, finance or pay cash, and all that I just mentioned has to do only with the cost of the car. What is the best make and model for you? This process should take lots of time in the study and preparation, but too often purchases are made in just a few hours with little or no preparation.

The reasons why the elderly are so often targeted and exploited by car dealers (and other businesses) are many and complex. For one thing, there are just a lot of elderly people living in South Florida and other popular retirement communities. When a reporter asked John Dillinger why he robbed banks, Dillinger replied, “Because that’s where the money is”. Even though most senior citizens are smarter than ever, I believe that we are perceived by many as not being so smart. We are looked upon as easy prey. Also, I think that we pre-baby boomers grew up in a more trusting, family oriented time and we sometimes trust others more than we should.

In summary, if you are a pre-baby boomer like me, take extra precautions before you enter a car dealership. Do your homework carefully. Never, never make a rush decision. Do not buy that car on the same day you come into the dealership. Go home, discuss it with friends and family, and sleep on it. And if you call me, please call me before you buy the car, not after it’s too late.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Consumer Reports: Don’t Buy Another Vehicle without it!

If you don’t already subscribe to Consumer Reports, you should. I have been a subscriber for as long as I can remember. I rarely buy any product without consulting this great magazine. I also subscribe to Consumer Reports online,, which is even more current than the regular magazine. I recently received their annual auto issue (April 2018), which no car buying family should be without. All libraries should have this on hand.

Don’t be fooled by other magazines with similar names purporting to objectively analyze and recommend products. There is only one Consumer Reports. They do not accept any advertising and therefore are not beholding to any companies. CR is a not for profit organization and receive all their funding from donations and the sale of their subscriptions. They even go beyond this and will not allow a retailer or manufacturer to use the name Consumer Reports in their advertising. Even if Consumer Reports gives a product a great rating, that company cannot mention this in their advertising. If they do, they get sued by Consumer Reports. Lastly, CR will not accept the gifts of products from manufacturers for testing. They purchase the products at full retail asking price to be sure there can be no conflict of interest. No other company goes this far and is this “squeaky clean”. J.D. Powers is a company that ranks and compares lots of products including cars, but they allow companies to use the JD Power name to advertise their products when they rated them good. You can understand why a consumer might be just a little more skeptical of J. D. Powers’ objectivity than Consumer Reports’.

I am not saying that Consumer Reports is infallible. They do make mistakes and they have been successfully sued by some companies that were affected by their mistakes in testing. But this is very rare. As a car dealer for over fifty years, I have not always liked what I read about all the makes and models of cars I have sold, but I grudgingly had to admit that the reports were almost always accurate. I must confess that with some makes and model cars I have sold over the years, I was very thankful that the circulation of Consumer Reports is not very large. Their circulation is growing as consumers become more educated and sophisticated.

This annual auto issue should be a mandatory read before you buy your next used or new car. Here are some of the articles in this issue…Top Picks (the best new vehicles they have tested), Best and Worst (tells you the ones you shouldn’t buy), New Car Ratings (255 tested models, from best to worst by category), and Ten Top Picks (Only the very excellent models), Reliability trends (repair histories on all makes and models.

Consumer Reports also offers other car buying services like their “New Car Price Service” which discloses the actual cost to the dealers, rebate and incentive information, negotiating strategies, and their expert recommendations. They also offer a “Used Car Price Service” which provides an evaluation tool kit that helps you establish the right price for most used cars made from 2010 to 2017.

Monday, March 05, 2018

The Ten Commandments for a Car Dealer (Secrets for Success for all Businesses)

I composed these “ten commandments” for all the employees in my car dealership, aka The Earl Stewart Code. They didn’t come to me in a vision or on a mountain top, but evolved over fifty years as a car dealer. Most of them evolved over the last two decades which is why I often refer to myself as a “recovering car dealer”. But just like the biblical Ten Commandments, they don’t do any good unless people know, understand, and apply them. In my dealership, all my managers and other employees know that we must “walk the talk”.

(1) Do whatever our customer asks, if she believes she’s right. It’s not important whether our customer is right or wrong, only if she honestlybelieves she’s right.

(2) Do what is right for the customer even if you don’t have to. Just because we’re not required by law or contract to do the right thing is no excuse.

(3) If your supervisor is not available, then you do what is the right thing for our customer. All Earl Stewart Employees are empowered to spend or do whatever is necessary to do the right thing by a customer. If in 20-20 hindsight you should err, you will not be held to blame because you acted in good faith to make our customer happy.

(4) Always answer all phone calls, emails, texts, and messages of any kind from our customers ASAP. Nothing angers a customer (or me) more than a delayed or non- response from us.

(5) All Customers must be treated with courtesy and respect always. Just because you judge a customer to be unreasonable is no excuse not to treat that customer with courtesy and respect. If you are incapable of dealing with a customer, involve your supervisor or me.

(6) You will always tell our customers the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I believe in giving every Earl Stewart employee a second chance except when it comes to dishonesty.

(7) Your first loyalty is to our customer, not to the auto manufacturer. In the rare case where a dispute arises between our customer and Toyota over warranty coverage, for example, we advocate for our customer. We argue and present the facts on behalf of our customer but abide by Toyota’s decision.

(8) You must personally take ownership of our customer’s problem. This means that if you are the first person to learn of a customer’s complaint or problem, you have the responsibility to stay on top of its resolution until you personally verify that the issue has been resolved. Don’t just refer or delegate the problem to someone else even it is outside your department.

(9) Promise our customer less than you will deliver. Always be conservative when making promises to your customers. Overestimate the time of a service or the date of arrival of the new car they ordered. Under-promise and over-deliver.

(10) Trust your customer as much as you hope he will trust you. We’ve all been burned by trusting someone who disappointed us but that’s a very small percentage. The fastest way to earn trust is to trust the person you want to trust you. Somebody must go first. Let it be us.

Monday, February 26, 2018


The Monroney label, commonly knowns as the “window sticker”, is meant to inform car buyers of the official retail price suggested by the car manufacturer. The U.S. Senator who drafted this law, Mike Monroney, said this about his law: “The dealer who is honest about the so called ‘List Price’ cannot compete with the one who packs several hundred dollars extra into it so he can pretend to give you more on the trade-in.” Senator Monroney said this in 1958 and the only thing that has changed is that dishonest dealers are now charging several THOUSAND dollars extra. To add insult to injury, some remove Monroney Labels before delivery which is illegal.

The Monroney label is the window sticker that is mandated by federal law to be affixed to every new vehicle sold in the United States up until the time the new owner takes delivery. The name, Monroney, derives from Senator Michael Monroney’s law passed by Congress in 1958. Prior to the proposal of this bill, there was often a large discrepancy between the showroom price and the actual price of a new vehicle. The fact was that existing price tags did not tell the full story. Most customer-quoted prices were for "stripped-down" models and did not include additions for preparation charges, freight charges, federal, state, and local taxes, or optional factory-installed equipment requested by the purchaser. These hidden charges were used by some dealers to increase the selling price while giving the new vehicle buyer an inflated idea of their trade-in allowance. This price confusion led to a slump in auto sales during the early 1950's. Senator Monroney's bill was designed to prevent the abuse of the new vehicle list prices, but would not, however, prevent dealers and buyers from bargaining over vehicle prices.

Well, as you might expect, car dealers have figured out a way to evade this very good law. An alarmingly large number of dealers use a label that is designed to look almost identical to the official Monroney label. It has the same coloring, fonts, type size and layout. This “phony Monroney” is affixed right next to the genuine article. Unless you really look close and read all the fine print, you will have no idea that you are looking at a counterfeit Monroney label. This phony Monroney includes extra charges to artificially inflate the manufacturer’s suggested list price, MSRP.

One of the most egregious of these charges is an addition of pure markup just for profit which has a variety of names. Some of these are “Market Adjustment”, “Additional Dealer Markup”, “Adjusted Market Value”, “ADM”, “Market Adjustment Addendum” and “Market Value Adjustment”. Some dealers advertise discounts from DSRP vs. MSRP, with DSRP standing for “DEALERS suggested retail price.” This is simply an amount that the dealer adds to the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. It is almost always used in high-demand, low supply cars. I have seen these labels with charges as much as $10,000 added to the MSRP. Additions of $1,500 to $3,995 are common. Dealers also use the counterfeit labels to price dealer-installed accessories, which are OK, if the accessories are not marked up higher than the manufacturer marks them up. But dealers usually add virtually worthless accessories just to increase the price of the car to you with very little increase in cost to the dealer. Nitrogen in the tires, pin stripes, roadside assistance, floor mats, etched and tinted glass are just a few examples.

When customers confuse the phony Monroney with the real one, this distorts their point of reference for comparing prices between different dealerships. Manufacturers’ Monroney labels are consistent for the same year, make and model with the same accessories. A 2016 Honda Accord with the same factory accessories will have the same MSRP at every Honda dealership you visit. But if dealers fool you into thinking their label is part of the Monroney, you’re not comparing “apples and apples”. This can adversely affect a good buying decision in many ways. Some buyers focus mainly on how big a trade-in allowance they can get for their old car. If one dealer has the same car marked up $3,000 more than another dealer, he can offer you $3,000 more for your trade and still make the same profit as the other dealer. Some buyers focus on how big a discount they get from “sticker”. It’s easy to give a higher discount if you have artificially inflated the MSRP by thousands of dollars.

My advice to you is carefully inspect the sticker on the new car you are contemplating buying. Read it completely and especially the fine print. If there is a second label on the car, it is possible that it is fair. This would be for purposes of adding an item, installed by the dealer like floor mats or stripes, priced the same as the manufacturer charges. If that second label includes a markup over MSRP for no reason other than profit for the dealer, make sure that you adjust for that number in your comparisons for discounts and trade-in allowance. Some dealers also add a second markup to these labels and that is the infamous “dealer fee” also sometimes called “doc fee” and “dealer prep”. Some dealers do not put this on the phony Monroney but print it on their buyer’s orders and program it into their computers.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Should I Trade in My Old Car or Sell it Myself?

When you trade in your old car on your next car, the dealer will try to retail your car or sell it at auction for more than he allowed you in trade. If he successfully retails your car, he will make about $2,000. If he wholesales it at the auction, the profit will be less. You should know that this is what the dealer wants to do. Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way and he will lose money on your car at the auction. Or, he may be unable to retail your car and then most certainly lose money when he is forced to wholesale it.

Obviously it is more difficulty for an individual to make a profit by selling her own trade-in than it is for the dealer. That is one of the main considerations you must consider before deciding to sell your old car yourself. Most people run an ad in the local paper and/or online ( to advertise their trade. If you do this, you need to know what to ask for your car, and I recommend consulting This is Kelly Blue Book’s Web site and will tell you about what your car is worth wholesale and retail. Another way to determine this is to ask dealers for your make of your car what they will buy it for. This will establish the wholesale value. CarMax is a good company to consult if there is one near you. Once you establish the wholesale, you should consider a markup of less than what car dealers are asking. A $1,000 markup is about half of what car dealers are marking up used cars for and a good price for you to try. When deciding how much profit you want to make, remember that you’re losing the 6% (or whatever state sales tax applies) sales tax reduction that you earn when you trade your car in. This takes a lot of work and you will be dealing with a lot of “tire-kickers” and people who cannot afford to buy your car. I strongly advise you not to extend credit. Require full payment in cash. There’s also the “security issue” of having strangers visit your home and drive our car. Set a time limit on how long you will try to sell your car. Remember that your used car is depreciating every week and your cost of advertising will climb. I wouldn’t suggest you hang on to your old car for more than a month., is a good alternative to advertising your car in the newspaper. A lot of car dealers use eBay to retail used cars and it is very effective. There are schools on how to retail merchandise on eBay and eBay has tutorials. There are also a lot of books at any bookstore on this subject. There are companies who will do all the work for you and you only pay them a fee if they are successful in selling your car. If the dealer you are buying your new car from sells cars on eBay (most do), you can ask him if he will post yours eBay along with his cars for a fee. is also a good way to advertise your car online.

If you fail in your attempt to retail your old car, remember to be careful to maximize the amount you get from your dealer as trade-in. Often dealers will attempt to trade a car in for below wholesale. Be sure you have a firm handle on the true wholesale value of your trade. You can get bids from other dealerships to purchase your car for cash and you can check with If you are buying a car from a dealer franchised to sell a different make than your trade-in, be wary. This dealer will likely be unable to offer you as much as a dealer who is franchised to sell the make of your trade. People looking to buy a used Toyota are more likely to visit a Toyota dealership than a Chevrolet dealership. That is why it’s important to get bids from other dealerships before accepting the trade-in offered by the dealer you’re buying your new car from.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Buy Your Next Car Online

Prediction: Five years from now, 90% of all new cars will be purchased online. Currently, in 2018,  it’s less than 30%. The reason this percentage will balloon is simply that the online price is usually your lowest price. More and more car buyers are figuring that out every day. Dealers must give their best price to a prospect inquiring over the Internet because that dealer will have that one chance to sell the car. If they try “the old negotiating game” the Internet prospect will simply choose the lowest price from several other quotes he gets. When my friends ask me to advise them on how to get the best price on a new car, I always tell them to use the Internet.

I’m not suggesting that you don’t visit your local dealer to see, touch, smell, and drive the new vehicles you’re considering. This is very important. You can’t make a valid, final decision on which new vehicle is best for you by solely reading data and looking at pictures on the Internet. Research of that nature is important, but you should finalize your decision with visits to the dealers to experience the vehicle.

Once you have made your final decision on the year, make, model, color, and accessories, you are ready to use your smartphone or PC, and choose the dealer from whom you will buy this specific vehicle. If you’re not handy with computers, ask a friend or relative who is. First go to the manufacturer’s Web site like,,, etc. You will be able to type in your zip code to find all the dealers of that make within a given radius, usually about 40 miles, giving you 3 or 4 dealers. To expand the radius, choose another zip code further from yours. The dealers within your radius will show their Web site addresses. Click on their Web site and ask for a quote on the specific car you have selected. Most Web sites have a page for what is called a “quick quote”. You type in the year, make, model, color, and accessories. It will also ask you for your name, telephone number, address, if you have a trade (always indicate you do not have a trade), whether you are ready to buy now (yes), and other questions. All you really need to fill out is year, make, model, and accessories and your email address. If you prefer not to be contacted by phone, don’t fill in the phone number. If they require it before you can submit your request, type in any 10 digits so that the Web page will allow you to. If you can’t find a “quick quote” link, just email your request to their Internet sales department.

Depending on your computer skills, this whole process should take less than half an hour. Think of all the time, gasoline, shoe leather, and especially aggravation you are saving compared to visiting several dealerships in person. The time it will take to get back quotes varies from dealership to dealership. You may get some back within a few minutes, some will take a few hours, and some may take a day or two. Believe it or not, some might not respond at all. There are even a few dealers who will not quote a price on the Internet, but try to lure you into their store with false promises. Ignore them. I recommend that you get a minimum of 3 valid price quotes on your specific vehicle. It’s so easy to get quotes, why not get a half dozen or so? You are not necessarily even limited by driving distances. If the best price is from a dealer who is too far away, show that quote to a dealer nearer you and ask him if he will match it.

There are some things that you must be careful about. Be sure that that the price you get is an “out the door” price. That is a price which excludes only federal, state, and local fees and taxes which are usually just for tax and tag. Most dealers in Florida tack on fees of their own which are variously referred to as “dealer fee”, “delivery fee”, “do fee”, electronic filing fee, tag agency fee, etc. Typically, there are more than one of these phony fees. This is illegal or highly regulated and enforced in many states, but not in Florida. These fees vary from around $700 to over $3,000. Be sure that this fee (which is just profit to the dealer) is included in your “out the door” price. Also, be certain that you’re comparing “apples and apples”. When you select your low bid, double check that this dealer is quoting you on the same year, make, model, and accessories as the other dealers. A good double-check is to compare the MSRP. The MSRP, manufacturer’s suggested retail price, will be identical on identically equipped cars of the same model and year. Also, be sure that the car  you are considering will actually be there when you come in. Give them deposit on your credit card to hold the car for you. I they try any “flim-flam”, you can always stop payment on your credit card.

One “trick” you can use on a car dealer who is reluctant to quote you his real out-the-door price is to tell him your bank or credit union requires a signed buyer’s order from the car dealer with total (itemized) out-the-door price. Tell the dealer that gives you the lowest online price to email or fax you a copy of this buyer’s order so that you can take it to your credit union or bank, pick up the check, and bring it to the dealer. If he refuses to do this, you know he’s lying to you about his price. I mystery shopped a dealer last week that gave me an impossible low price on line. I emailed him that I liked the price, would come in the next day to buy the car, but he wouldn’t send me a copy of the buyer’s order. I asked him three times and he would not respond.

Online car buyers are the wave of the future. The retail car business is going through rapid changes and the old fashioned, price-haggling way of buying cars is slowly but surely becoming obsolete. If you haven’t already, now is the time to join the ranks of the smart, sophisticated car buyers.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Getting the Best Price from the Car Dealer

Buying a car involves deciding upon a mind-boggling combination of choices: make, model, trim level, options, accessories, etc… Almost every one of these choices affects the cost of the vehicle. Throw in the vast array of manufacturer rebates and lease and finance incentives and you have a very confusing landscape to navigate. This makes simply knowing the cost of any particular car very difficult.

Almost all car salespeople and sales managers are paid a percent of the profit on the cars they sell. The average percent paid to the salesperson is 30%; he makes $60 on a $200 profit and he makes $1,200 on a $4,000 profit. The profit per car for the average car salesperson in a month varies greatly and can range from as low as $100 (or less) to as much as $10,000 (or more)… even on the identical car! A car salesperson’s success depends on how high a price he can sell you the car, so each deal is different and depends on the dynamic between the salesperson and the customer.

All of this is because of the antiquated system of selling cars, a system that was derived from nineteenth century horse-trading. Back in the day, horse-buyers were far better at negotiating a price fair than car-buyers today. Most people couldn’t afford a horse, and those that could were far better prepared and equipped to negotiate.

These days, some car buyers are very shrewd, savvy negotiators and can hold their own with any car salesman. However, many car buyers are not as well prepared. Young, first time car buyers might not be so shrewd. Buyers whose first language isn’t English can have problems. The elderly, especially widows, are often victimized by car salesmen. The shrewd negotiator can actually buy the exact same car from the same dealer and salesman on the same day for thousands less than the elderly widow.

One of the most important things you can do to prevent paying a much larger profit for the same car than the next customer is to compare prices with different dealers for the EXACT SAME YEAR-MAKE-MODEL with the exact same accessories and exact same MSRP. Remember to use the MSRP, the manufacturer’s suggested retail price and not the dealers price often displayed next to the MSRP sticker.

It can be difficult to get a firm price from a car dealer, but I’ve found a method from my hundreds of mystery shopping reports that works every time. Tell the dealer that you are financing through your credit union or bank, and they require an official signed buyer’s order from the dealership before they will give you the check made out to the dealer. Take that buyer’s order to at least two other car dealers of the same make and ask them to beat that bottom line price. You can also compare that price to the TrueCar price at and the Costco Auto Buying program at

One word of warning is DO NOT VARY FROM THE EXACT CAR YOU SELECTED when you compare prices. Each car dealer you visit will do and say anything to persuade you to choose a different car. The dealer knows that his hands are tied and he must cut his profits if he gives you his best price on the car you’ve selected. He may tell you another car is better, cheaper, or that the car you selected is not available. Persist and get at least three prices on the car you decide on.