Monday, June 29, 2020

HOW TO BUY A CAR DURING A PANDEMIC

First, don’t buy a car now unless you must. New and used cars are in increasingly short supply, and this results in increased prices. Availability of models, options and color you prefer are limited and growing fewer. Favorable financing is increasingly difficult, because banks and credit unions are tightening due to the worsening economy. If you lease your car, the bank will probably extend your lease for a few months. Auto production is increasing, but it will be while before auto inventories rise to pre-pandemic levels.

If you feel you must buy a car, these are some rules you should follow:

Research your purchase online from the comfort and safety of your home before you venture out. The only reason to leave your home is to test drive the vehicle you’ve chosen. www.ConsumerReports.org,www.KBB.com, www.Edmunds.com, www.TrueCar.com are some very reputable sources of information for pricing, safety, reliability, and cost of maintenance. Communicate with the dealerships solely by phone, email, or text. When you select the dealership with the lowest price, (via competitive bidding) verify that this is the OUT-THE-DOOR price. The definition of an OUT-THE-DOOR price is the number you can write your check out for, get into your new car, and drive it home. DO NOT LET A CAR DEALER SURPRISE YOU BY ADDING HIDDEN FEES AND DEALER INSTALLED ACCESSORIES. 

If you’re going to finance your vehicle, pre-arrange this with your bank or credit union. Dealer financing is almost always more costly. The exception can be manufacturer’s financing, but their low rates (0% is not uncommon) requires excellent credit. Also, if you do have excellent credit, the manufacturer’s financing usually offers an alternative cash rebate which might be better than the 0%.
If you have a trade-in, get bids to buy it from several sources before you ask the dealer what he will offer.www.Carvana.com, www.WeBuyAnyCar.com, www.TrueCar.com, and www.CarMax.com are three reliable sources. Competing dealers selling the make of car you’ve chosen to buy will also make offers. Used cars are scarce now and dealers are actively buying cars directly from owners to stock their used car lots. If your dealer will match the best price you received, you should trade it in to him. Especially if your state (like Florida) allows you to reduce the sales taxed price by the trade-in allowance. 

Insist that the dealer bring the exact vehicle you’ve chosen to your home so that you can test-drive itbefore signing a finance contract or buyer’s order. The dealership should assure you that the person bringing the car to you is wearing a face mask, and that the vehicle has been RECENTLY DISINFECTED. You should make it an extensive test drive, not just “around the block”. Drive the car where and how you normally drive everyday…lower speeds and higher speeds on the same roads you normally travel on.

When you’re completely satisfied that the vehicle you’ve chosen drives the way you expected it to, arranged the best financing, received the highest price for your trade in, you’re almost reading to sign and present your check for the OUT-THE-DOOR price. The final step is to ask the dealer what the conditionsare that allow you to return the vehicle and get all of your money back, should you change your mind after you’ve signed the papers and/or given him your check? Some people believe that you have 72 hours to change your mind. THIS IS UNTRUE. Legally, when you sign on the dotted line you own the car and cannot return it for any reason. However, some dealers do offer you the right to return the vehicle for a period of days with certain CONDITIONS. More dealers have begun doing this during the pandemic, but be very sure you carefully read and understand all the CONDITIONS. Some typical conditions are “not a cash refund, but the right to exchange it for another vehicle”, mileage limitation, time limitation, and the car must be in same condition as when you took delivery. Most dealers offer no guarantee, but you should at least try to get something in writing before you take delivery. Some guarantee is better than none. The depreciation on a new car, once you’ve taken delivery, is ENORMOUS…thousands of dollars. If something happened that made it necessary for you to return a new car, it would cost you THOUSANDS.

I began this article by saying “don’t buy a car during this pandemic unless you have to. This is not something you should reveal to the dealers you’re getting prices some. You’ll always get a better price when the dealer thinks you don’t have to buy a car and could easily postpose your purchase.

Monday, June 15, 2020

CAR DEALERSHIPS ENDANGERING CUSTOMERS

MOST SALESPEOPLE ARE NOT WEARING FACE MASKS!

Regular readers of this column know that I mystery shop a South Florida car dealer every week. I’ve been doing this for over 17 years. You can access the archive of all my mystery shopping reports at www.EarlOnCars.com. I send my mystery shopper into a different car dealership each week and he or she pretends to buy or lease a new or used car. We report exactly what happened in the sales process, naming the dealership and the salespeople. From these reports we comprise two lists…” Recommended Car Dealerships” and NOT Recommended Car Dealerships.

In Florida and most states, car dealerships were ruled as “essential businesses” like grocery stores and pharmacies. They’re allowed to remain open during this pandemic. We continued the mystery shops during most of the pandemic with a brief hiatus when we quarantined ourselves, the “Earl on Cars” team, for 3 weeks. We’ve shoppednine car dealerships in just over the last two months and the salespeople in TWO THIRDS of the dealerships are NOT WEARING FACEMASKS.

The following 3 car dealership’s salespeople ARE wearing masks…Ed Morse Honda in Riviera Beach, Bev Smith Toyota in Ft. Pierce, Braman Honda in Greenacres/Lake Worth.

The following 6 car dealerships salespeople were NOT WEARING MASKS…HGreg Nissan in Delray, Sutherlin Nissan in Ft. Pierce, Advantage Ford in Stuart, Wallace Nissan in Stuart, Napleton Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge in North Palm Beach, and AutoNation Chevrolet in Greenacres/Lake Worth.
None of the 9 car dealerships we shopped required, or even asked or recommended, that their customers wear masks.

As of today, June 15, 2020, Florida is one of 5 RED STATES that has seen the Covid19 virus surge, after pandemic controls were relaxed. In Palm Beach County, today was another record day for Corona virus cases. The total grew by 391 to 8,833 as deaths reached 439.

You don’t see this lack of caring and disrespect for the lives of employees and customers in any other retail business except car dealerships. All grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants, Walmart, Costco, Target, Apple…virtually all retailers require all employees to wear masks and many are requiring their customers too.
I know there’re those that believe they don’t need to wear masks during the Covid19 pandemic. There’re are also those that believe they don’t need to wear a motorcycle helmet when riding, abstain from drinking while driving, or quit smoking cigarettes. We cherish our freedoms in America and our laws and constitution allow us the freedom to even do stupid things if we don’t harm other Americans by our actions. We all know that the right of free speech ends when you “shout FIRE in a crowded theatre”. When you don’t wear a mask while you’re close to others during a pandemic, you’re infringing on their rights for LIFE, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I strongly recommend that you not patronize a car dealership or any other retail business that doesn’t require all employees to wear facemasks and ENFORCES the rule. I also urge you to wear your facemask, even if the retailer does not require it. A boycott of car dealerships and any retail store that doesn’t require face masks will quickly get their attention and likely bring about change.

Monday, June 08, 2020

PRIMER FOR NOVICE NEW CAR BUYERS

Top 10 Rules Protecting You from Predatory Car Dealers
This article is for those prospective car buyers that are the least prepared to safely navigate the “mine field” known as the car dealership. You may be very young and are purchasing your first car; or you may be an elderly widow whose husband had purchased all your cars. You might be an immigrant, new to our country and not proficient in the English language. You may have had to leave school and gone to work to support your family before you received as complete an education as you would have liked. Whether or not you fall into any of these categories, you can still benefit from these 10 rules. I promise you that, if you rigorously follow them, you will buy your next new car at a low price, and will not be taken advantage of by a car dealer. 
  • Never, never, never buy a new vehicle in response to a car dealer’s or manufacturer’s advertisement. All auto advertisements are lies designed to get you “in the door” and sell you a car at a price much higher than the advertised price. To skeptics of this statement, I challenge anyone to show me a new car advertisement that they responded to and bought (paid in full for) the same car at the advertised price. 
  • Spend several days, preferably weeks, searching for and studying which is the best vehicle for you and your budget. Online sources are vast and excellent. My personal favorites are www.ConsumerReports.org,www.Kbb.com (Kelly Bluebook), and www.Edmunds.com.
  • Begin price-shopping only when you’ve identified the specific vehicle you will buy. You must know the year, make, model, included options, and the MSRP. The MSRP (Federally required Monroney Label), the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, allows you to compare discounts between competing dealers. This way you’re comparing “apples and apples”. Dealers will try anything to switch you to a different vehicle so that you cannot accurately compare their price with their competitors’.
  • You must test-drive the specific vehicle you plan to buy. This is the only time you’ll physically visit the car dealership. Don’t go in alone. Two heads are better than one, and there’s less likelihood that you’re later involved in a “He said…she said argument”. Do not let the salesman know that you’re planning to buy soon; he’ll turn up the pressure to sell you a car TODAY. Tell him that you’ve just begin to look around and want to take a test drive. Be sure you allow yourself a long test drive, not just around the block. Once you take delivery of your new car, there’s no bringing it back.
  • Now the fun begins! From the safety and comfort of your home, you can shop and compare prices with as many car dealers as you want. Do your shopping online via email. Create a separate free email address with Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, or Apple so that you’re not deluged by car salesmen. Withhold your real phone number. If the online template requires a phone number, make one up (or give them the number of somebody you don’t like…just kidding. 😊
  • Make it clear in your online communications, that the price you’re asking for is the OUT-THE-DOOR price. This is the most difficult and necessary part of this “primer”. Car dealers almost NEVER give their prospective customers out-the-door prices; In fact, car salesmen can be FIRED for doing this because they’ve armed the prospective customer with a price that can be shown to their competition. If the competitor offers a lower price, the first dealer loses the sale. So, why would they give YOU an out-the-door price? You make it clear that, if they don’t, they’ll never hear from you again and they will definitely lose the sale; but if they do give you their out-the-door price, you’ll show their competition, and if they don’t beat it, you will buy from this dealer. With “no out-the-door price”, they have NO chance; with an out-the-door price, they have some chance. “Half a loaf is better than none.
  • Definition of the Out-The-Door Price: The amount of money you can write a check out for, present it to the salesman, and then drive your new car home. Most of the profit car dealers make is added to the price you saw advertised or were quoted by the salesman. It’s added in the form of hidden fees and dealer-installed accessories. The only legitimate fees that can legally be added are government fees like sales tax and license/registration. The reason you must insist that ALL charges be included in the out-the-door price is that car dealers are experts at disguising dealer-hidden-fees as legitimate government fees with names like tag agency fee, electronic filing fee, notary fee and doc fee. These are simply added price/profit to the dealer.
  • Don’t play the dealers’ game by arguing about hidden fees and dealer installed accessories. Car salesmen are trained to overcome all objections, including those raised against hidden fees and dealer installed accessories. Virtually all dealers charge hidden fees and add unwanted accessories to the car after you’ve committed to the sale. By insisting on a TRUE out-the-door price which you will compare to their competition, you’ve taken away all the value to the dealer of hidden fees and accessories. That value to the dealer is sneaking those price increases, in and making you believe its “Standard Operating Procedure”, or maybe you just don’t even notice. When they include their hidden profit in their out-the-door price, who cares? Their competition will keep them honest by beating their price if they can.
  • Get financing quotes from your bank and/or your credit union. The interest rate, terms and down payment will probably be better than what the dealer offers. Also, you won’t be subject to being sold a lot of overpriced products in the dealer’s F&I department.
  • If you have a trade-in, get bids from www.WeBuyAnyCar.com, CarMax, www.CarVana.com, or from the used car departments of dealers that carry the make of new car your buying. Only trade your old car in if the dealer can offer you a competitive price. Keep in mind that most states allow you a sales tax deduction on a new car equal to the sales tax percent of the value of the trade-in.

Monday, June 01, 2020

Sell Cars from Your Home Working for the Honest Car Dealer

If you know me and my company, Earl Stewart Toyota of North Palm Beach, you’re aware that my car dealership is unique in its honesty and transparency. You may know that my dealership won the Palm Beach Post award for the Best Car Dealership in Palm Beach County for 2019 and 2020 (the only 2 years the vote was taken). You know that I’m not only a car dealer, but a consumer advocate that advises thousands of people on “how not to get ripped off by car dealers. My wife, Nancy, and my son, Stu, broadcast a weekly live talk radio (WSVU) show, EarlOnCars, advising listeners how to buy, lease, repair and maintain their cars. I write newspaper columns for the Florida Weekly and Hometown News and I write a blog, www.EarlOnCars.com.

Earl Stewart Toyota is the only car dealership that gives its customers, up front, the lowest, out-the-door price on every new and used car we sell. We add NOTHING to the quoted or advertised price…no hidden fees or dealer-installed accessories. Our price on every car is the price you can write us the check for and drive your car home. We encourage our customers to take our best price and compare it with our competition. If you can find a better deal, we want you to take advantage. If you would rather buy from another Toyota dealer because he’s much closer, you can have my best price and ask him to meet it or beat it.

We offer an UNCONDITIONAL, 7-day, moneyback guarantee on every new and used car we sell. A lawyer will tell you that this is a dangerous thing for me to offer, because it means that you can get all your money back for any reason, like you “wrecked the car”, drove it thousands of miles and got tired of it, or just found another dealer that would sell the same car for less money.

For years we’ve offered online, Amazon style click and buy. We also deliver to your home free, anywhere in Florida. We’ll appraise your trade-in and handle your financing without you ever having to talk to a salesman or come into the dealership, and then deliver your purchase and pick up your trade-in.

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably very skeptical of my claims. You should be, because there’s not another car dealership anywhere that does what we do. Google “Earl Stewart” and “Earl Stewart Toyota”. Check me out carefully and please talk to anybody that’s done business with me…I have lots of customers because I’ve been selling cars from the same location in North Palm Beach for 47 years. If you investigate me thoroughly, you’ll find many more reasons most used car and new Toyota buyers would choose to buy from me…I give my personal cell phone number to every customer because, if they have a problem, “the buck stops here”. I have 5 red phones in my dealership everywhere our customers are, new car showroom, used car showroom, service cashier, service aisle, and body shop. Pick up the red phone and it automatically rings my personal cell phone, 24/7.

Most importantly, this dealership is guided by a unique code of conduct we have named The Earl Stewart Code - see it here: EarlStewartCode.com. This is our DNA and it gives our team the ethical foundation from which we conduct business. The Earl Stewart Code has been adopted by several other businesses locally and around the country.

Remember that the purpose of this article is not to sell you a car; although I must admit I wouldn’t refuse. 😊 My purpose is to build a statewide salesforce of folks working out of their homes. Toyota is the most popular new car brand, but sells only 15% of the market; however, almost everyone is a prospect for a used vehicle. The terrible Coronavirus pandemic has changed our World and more and more people are finding out that they like working from their homes. We’re learning that people can be more productive and efficient working from home and save the commute time and expense. If you are one of those, I’d like to talk to you.

I’ll bet you know a lot of people that would consider buying a new Toyota or reliable used car of any make. If you represented Earl Stewart Toyota and could promise them a totally honest, transparent, and hassle-free buying experience, I think you could be very successful. For most people (probably including you), buying a car is an unpleasant experience. For 43 years the Gallup Company has polled Americans who have ranked car salesmen last, or nearly last, in their annual Honesty and Ethics in Professions poll. Click on this link and see for yourself. https://news.gallup.com/poll/1654/honesty-ethics-professions.aspx

How much you earn is directly related to how many people you can talk to, your natural selling talent, and how much time you can put in. You’ll be paid $200 for every car we sell from the prospects you give us. I think you’ll agree that you can offer the prospective customers you speak to a far superior car buying experience than they can find anyplace else.

If you’re interested, go to my website, https://www.earlstewarttoyota.com/careers/ , scroll down to "Work-from-home Sales Broker" and fill out the application. Remember that we’re not looking for experienced car salespeople…too many bad habits. We’re looking for people who understand why most people hate the car-buying experience and why they would appreciate the suggestion of a pleasurable way to buy a new or used car. When you find those people, put them in contact with us. If they buy from us, we’ll send you a check for $200. Historically, 30% to 40% of prospective customers we meet, buy from us. Using social media and your telephone, I think you can generate a lot of prospective customers. Feel free to call me personally, if you have any questions…my personal cell phone is 561 358-1474. (Have you ever known the owner of a large car dealership that would give his personal cell phone number out?)

Monday, May 25, 2020

OPEN LETTER TO FLORIDA CAR DEALERS

SUBJECT: 
ELIMINATE HIDDEN FEES
Dear fellow Florida car dealer, I started in the retail auto business in 1968, about 52 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.

Virtually every car dealer in Florida adds a multiple, hidden charges to the price of the cars he sells, variously referred to as a “dealer fee”, “doc fee”, “dealer prep fee”, “tag agency fee”, “electronic filing fee”, dealer services fee”, etc.. This extra charge is printed on your buyer’s orders and is programmed into your computers. It has been regulated and minimized in many states including California. Florida has virtually no regulation and no regulation that is enforced. You charge these hidden fees to every customer and it ranges from a few hundred dollars tothousands. Florida law requires that you disclose in writing on the vehicle buyer’s order that these charges represent profit to the dealer. Florida law also requires that you include these fees in all advertised prices. You almost never do this, and another way that you get around the law by limiting the number of advertised vehicles (typically one).

The argument that I hear from most car dealers when I raise this issue is that the hidden fees are fully disclosed to the buyer on the vehicle buyer’s order. But most car buyers are totally unaware that they are paying this. Usually they negotiate the car purchase on your “worksheet” which is not a legal document. The legal buyer’s order is only “revealed” in the finance office when it’s spit out of the computer with dozens of other documents the buyer must sign. Who reads all the voluminous paperwork associated with buying a car? The few who notice it assume it’s an “official” fee like state sales tax or license and registration fee. Those few astute buyers who do question the fee are often told that your dealership must charge this fee on very car, which is untrue. 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’shidden from 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 did but are afraid of the drastic negative impact to their bottom line. By being able to count on an extra $500 to $3,000 in profit that the customer is not aware of or believes is an “official fee”, you can advertise and quote prices below cost and end up making a big profit. Or, if the price you quote the customer does pay you a nice profit, you can increase that profit by several hundred or thousands of 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 hidden fees, the you can simply decrease the quoted price of the car by the amount of the hidden fees. This would have the same net effect of removing it. The salesman won’t do this because he’ll 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 30+ years ago, I’m 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 conscious, mislead my customers. Just because everybody else was doing the same thing did not make it right.

Now here’s 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 completeout-the-door price with no “surprises” the word spread. My volume began to rise rapidly. Sure, I was making hundreds of dollars less per car, but I was selling a lot more cars! I was, and I 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!

Why am I writing this letter? I’m not going to tell you that I think of myself as the new Marshal that has come to “clean up Dodge”. In fact, I understand 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, 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 personal cell phone number is 561 358-1474.

Sincerely,



Earl Stewart

Monday, May 18, 2020

Why Do Car Dealers Lie about their Prices?

You probably already know that you can’t buy a new or used car for the advertised price; the out-the-door price always ends up thousands of dollars higher. Car dealers are the only retailers that routinely trick their customers like this, at least to the degree that car prices are understated.

Have you ever wondered why virtually all car dealers do this? Imagine that you owned a Ford, Honda, Chevrolet, or Toyota dealership in Southeast Florida. Each of these car brands has as many as 20 dealers and no fewer than 12 selling the IDENTICAL product. Toyota has 19 car dealerships between Ft. Pierce and Key West. Every Toyota dealer pays Toyota the exact same price for their cars; but Toyota dealers don’t sell those cars to their customers for the exact same price. They mark up each car as much as they can…the highest price that the customer will pay. If a Honda dealer sells 25 identical Honda Accords in a given month, the likelihood is that each sold for a different price; the typical variation in profits on the identical vehicle can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

Let’s say you owned a Honda dealership. The Honda manufacturer gives you a quota…a minimum number of Hondas you must sell monthly and annually to fulfill your contract allowing you to sell Hondas and often to receive volume cash bonuses. The only way you can do this is to price your Hondas “competitively”. But, you also must maintain a high enough markup on each Honda, so that your dealership remains profitable. This is the “Catch 22” and dilemma of all car dealers. A South Florida Honda dealer has EIGHTEEN other Honda dealers advertising the same cars he sells. If you advertise a Honda Accord for a higher price than most other Honda dealers, you won’t sell enough to meet your quota; if you advertise that Honda Accord for a lower price you’ll sell lots of Accords, but you’ll lose money on every car.

Therefore, all Honda dealers and all car dealers of all makes see only one viable course of action. Advertise their cars at a very low price, lower than their competition (and lower than they can or will sell the car for), so that the customers will come in to buy. Once the customer is in the dealership, the “games begin” to raise the advertised price to a price as profitable to the dealer as he can negotiate. The tools the dealers use to accomplish this are many…hidden profits (aka dealer fees) disguised as government fees, dealer pre-installed accessories, and switching the customer to a different vehicle or a lease rather than a purchase.

Car dealers see themselves as having no choice but to sell cars this way if they’re to remain in business. They blame their actions on the auto franchise system and there is some truth to this. Apple sells you iPhones directly, but Toyota cannot sell you a Toyota directly; car manufacturers MUST sell through their dealers. This system is mandated and entrenched by state law in all 50 states. The manufacturers created the dealer franchise system in the early twentieth century because they couldn’t sell their cars fast enough directly. Once a critical mass of dealers was created by the auto manufacturers, the dealers organized and lobbied their state legislatures to created laws protecting their franchises from the manufacturers. The main reason they did this was because the manufacturers were granting franchise agreements to too many dealers…” over-dealering”. Too many car dealers selling the same car in a market creates too much competition because it drives the prices down. Unfortunately for the dealers, there were (and are) already too many. Today, car dealers are overprotected, enjoying exclusive markets with state laws making it almost impossible to control, much less, eliminate even the most “problem” car dealers.

The auto franchise system is over 100 years old and obsolete, but it’s entrenched and will remain for the foreseeable future. New vehicles will, one day, be sold online directly by the manufacturers and maybe even through Amazon or Walmart. Vehicles will be built to order and delivered within a week. The price you see will be the price you pay, and you will be able to return the car for a full cash refund if you change your mind. Service, maintenance, and repairs on modern vehicles is minimal. Separate service centers will still exist to handle this need. Service centers will also have new vehicles of each model for you to inspect and test drive. Tesla is doing today exactly what I described, except for the one-week delivery time and unconditional moneyback guarantee.

But there’s a larger reason why car dealers get away with their deceptions. That is “because they can”. Auto manufacturers realize they’re stuck with the dealer franchise system and “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”. Auto manufacturers have huge political lobbying clout and, when you add the car dealers and their associations’ money, state and federal politicians have no choice but to “play ball”. There are about 17,000 franchised car dealers. They have enormous lobbying power nationally through NADA, the National Auto Dealers Association, and they also have enormous lobbying power in all 50 state legislatures. The political donations that Big Auto and Car Dealers give politicians make the NRA look small by comparison.

Monday, May 11, 2020

ATTORNEY GENERAL ASHLEY MOODY: ENFORCE FLORIDA’S LAWS REGARDING ADVERTISING HONEST CAR PRICES

Attorney General Moody, 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 and office PC and your smart phone.

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 may have heard of me. I’ve been a car dealer in Florida for over 50 years. In those latter 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 17+ 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 600), there are additional, hidden charges, including “non-governmental” fees, added to the advertised price. As an attorney and Florida’s top law enforcement officer, you should appreciate the fact that I’ve never been sued by a car dealer based on charges I’ve made regarding his violation the Florida Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act and I’ve made hundreds of such charges. As an attorney, you know that the perfect defense against libel and slander is the truth.

When I raised this issue with your AG predecessors, Bill McCollum and Pam Bondi, I was told that the AG’s office didn’t have a significant number of complaints from Florida car buyers on this issue. I believe the reason that Florida car dealers have been violating this law for so long is because the law has never been enforced, and that car buyers have become “accustomed to being deceived”. They may not know about the law. They may think that filing a complaint is not worth the effort because 99% of all car dealers are adding hidden fees to the advertised price, and car buyers consider it the norm.

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.

* 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.”