Monday, April 21, 2014

Suggested Word Track For No-Haggle, No-Hassle Car-Buying

You can use this word track to buy a car online, via regular mail, over the telephone, or in person. I strongly recommend that you use online but I know that some car buyers, seniors like me, are not as comfortable with buying over the Internet. Using this word track in person can work, but it will be much more difficult and take a lot longer. Only a person with a very strong will, stamina, and a very thick skin should attempt this. I strongly recommend that you don’t.

(1)   Dear Car Salesman,  “Within the next two weeks (enter your own time frame), I will be purchasing (leasing) a (fill in the specific make, year, model and optional accessories).”  You should carefully research the vehicle that you decide to purchase using all sources of information available such as Consumer Reports. You should also test drive the car to be sure it feels and drives the way you want it to. It is vital that you not change your mind during the purchasing process. If you do change your mind, you must begin all over again. Never let a car salesman change your mind for you. That is one of their favorite ways to charge you more money than you had anticipated paying.

(2)   “Please quote me your lowest price on (your specific car). This price must be an out-the-door price with only state sales tax and the license tag fees paid to the state. To be sure there is no confusion, please understand that the only dollar amounts that I will pay in addition to the price you quoted are taxes and fees actually paid to the state government. I will not pay dealer fees by any name such as electronic filing fees, tag agency fees.”

(3)   “I understand that my request may not be one you wish to comply with because you are concerned that I will shop and compare your price with other car dealers. Your concerns are valid because this is exactly what I will do. You may be asking yourself, ‘why should I do this if I know that my lowest price may not be low enough and that I will show it to your competitor to get an even lower price?’ My answer is quite simple; you may have only a small chance of winning my business if you do give me your lowest price, but you will have ZERO chance of winning my business if you do not, because you will never hear from me again.”

(4)   “I will sell my trade-in to the highest bidder, just like I will buy my new car from the lowest bidder. I will also finance my car at the lowest interest bid by a bank or credit union. If you can meet or beat other dealers and banks, I will trade my car into you and/or finance with you.”

(5)   If you quote me your lowest out-the-door price and I come to your dealership to purchase my car, please don’t even think about: (A) Telling me that the car I specified was sold and that you would like to show me other cars just like it. (B) Telling me that the car I specified has some accessories/options that you installed like nitrogen in the tires, glass etch, pin stripes, floor mats, paint sealant, etc. (C) Telling me that you priced in rebates and incentives that I don’t qualify for like college graduate, military, customer loyalty, customer conquest, etc. (D) The price you quoted me is only valid if I finance my car through you. If you do any of these things, I will not only not buy from you, but I will report you to the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles, BBB, the County Office of Consumer Affairs, Florida Attorney General, and your manufacturer. “

(6)   “If everything goes well with no shenanigans, I will write a letter of commendation to your owner and manufacturer. I will also tell all of my friends, neighbors, relatives, work associates, and club members about my wonderful experience with you and your dealership. I will also post  recommendations on Google, Yelp, Facebook, and Twitter.”

(7)   The choice is yours and I hope that you see the benefits of selling me a car at the lowest price you can afford to give me. I also hope you can see the dangers of giving me a dishonest price so that you can get me into your dealership and try to charge me more than we agreed.”

(8)   I wish you the best of luck and I sincerely hope we can do business and have a long car buying and servicing relationship.”

Monday, April 07, 2014

The 3 Main Reasons You Overpay for a Car

Almost everyone that buys a new or used car looks at the purchase as a single transaction. But it’s not; it’s THREE transactions. Those are (1) Getting the lowest price for the used or new car you have decided to buy. (2) Getting the highest price when you sell your trade-in. (3) Getting the lowest interest rate when you finance your purchase.

Car dealers depend on you looking at the purchase of your car, the trading in of your old car and the financing as one transaction done with them. This allows them to sell you a new car at a very low price (even below their true cost) if they can get your trade-in for less than it’s really worth. The vernacular that car dealers use for this practice is “stealing the trade”. The same thing is true if they can finance your purchase at an interest rate higher than normal. Car dealers get “kick-backs” from banks when they charge an interest rate higher than the lowest interest rate the bank offers. In fact, car dealers make more money from the financing of cars than they do from the cars they sell.
Car dealers know that most prospective car buyers have a “hot button” when it comes to buying a car. With many it’s the monthly payment. With some it’s “How much can you allow me for my trade?” Some are mainly focused on the price of the car their buying. Some are actually focused only on how small a down payment they have to make. With others, it’s the lowest interest rate. The salesman’s job is to find your hot button. Once they know that, they can give you what you’re focused on, like high trade-in allowance, but still make a much bigger profit on the overall transaction than you should be willing to pay.

You’ve seen and heard the advertisement. “$3,000 Over Kelly Blue Book for your trade-in,  Minimum $10,000 trade-in if you can push, pull, or drag it in, or We need your (fill in the blank of any year-make-model) and will pay you $5,000 over book.” All those ads are designed to do are get you into the dealership based on your hot button. They can actually give you a high trade-in allowance just by marking up the car you’re buying enough to offset how much extra they give you for your trade. 
The same thing sort of trickery applies to any one single hot button. A low monthly payment can generate a huge amount of profit to the dealer with a long enough terms (84 months for example) or a high interest rate. A low price on the car you’re buying is offset by “stealing your trade”, allowing you thousands less than your trade is really worth. A low down payment leaves the door open too. You’ve all seen the 0% financing ads, but this means nothing if you overpay for the car you’re buying or let go of your trade for too little.

The only save way to get the lowest total transaction price is to negotiate each price separately…the car, the trade-in, and the financing. When you’re shopping for the lowest price for your car, tell the car dealers you don’t have a trade-in and you’re paying cash. When you’re shopping for the highest price on your trade-in, tell the car dealers that you don’t want to buy a car, just sell the one you have. When you are shopping for the lowest interest rate, check with you own bank or credit union and another bank or credit union for their best rate before you ask the dealer what his lowest rate is.
After you’re armed with all of this information, go to the car dealer who offered you the lowest price on the car you want to buy. Then ask him if he can meet or beat the highest price you have quoted on your trade-in. Similarly, ask if he can meet or beat the lowest rate you have on your financing. When you’ve done all this, you can be assured you have the best total transaction price. There’s one caveat on the trade-in. In Florida, you pay 6% sales tax on the difference between the trade in and the price of the car. Therefore the dealer you trade the car to can be 6% lower than the high bid on your trade from another dealer and still match it, because you will lose the sales tax savings if you sell your car to another dealer since you won’t have a trade. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Truth Sells Cars

Remember that you heard it here first. There is a company that “gets it” when it comes to selling cars. If you’re a reader of my weekly column and blog, you’ve heard me mention TrueCar before. In full disclosure, I’m a dealer for TrueCar and I’m also a member of their national dealer council.

The CEO of TrueCar is a very smart man named Scott Painter, and about 10 years ago he figured out that the way to be successful in the retail car business was to create a company that always told the truth about selling cars. He saw that most car buyers, not only disliked the car buying process, but actually feared it. He knew that car buyers are usually fearful that they will pay too much for their next car. Nobody likes to be taken for a sucker. How bad do you feel when you find out that your friend bought the same car that you did for $2,000 less? He read the annual national Gallup polls that ranked car dealers last in honesty and integrity. He saw and heard the bait and switch advertising and was aware of the unethical and deceptive sales practices that exist in most car dealerships.

Scott Painter also saw the amazing success of 21st century companies like Apple, Amazon, Starbucks Costco and Nordstrom. They are successful because their customers believe what they tell them is true. He saw a huge opportunity if he could create an online company that would take the fear and distaste out of buying a new or used car. Scott found a group of very smart investors who shared his vision and TrueCar was born.

TrueCar sells cars through existing dealerships.  To become a TrueCar dealer the dealership must allow TrueCar to access their data management system, DMS. TrueCar keeps this information confidential and does not disclose the name of the individual dealers. But by analyzing the data of all the cars sold in a market, TrueCar knows what each year-make-model car is selling for. They can then tell prospective car buyers what they should pay for that car. The buyer knows the price of the average transaction as well as the lowest and the highest transactions. TrueCar then gives them the “TrueCar Price” which is the lowest price that a TrueCar dealer will sell that car for. This price is a good, low price, considerably below MSRP, and lower than the average price transaction in that market.

The TrueCar dealers are giving you a low price because they know you are comparing their price with, not only other TrueCar dealers, but other dealers for that make in your market. The TrueCar dealer is contractually obligated to sell you that car at the price he posts on the TrueCar website. 
I’m not suggesting that buying a car from a TrueCar dealer today is completely without risk. I am saying that it’s the safest way to get your best price on a new or used vehicle. You should still shop and compare your TrueCar price with at least two other car dealers. TrueCar is evolving and improving their processes and their dealers continuously. I speak from the perspective of a member of TrueCar’s dealer council. Last week I attended a meeting in Santa Monica, Ca. where I met with Scott Painter and all of the top executives of TrueCar. Plans are in the works for even more transparency when it comes to the TrueCar price.

Scott Painter walks a tightrope between the car dealers and the consumers. The car dealers, car dealer associations, and politicians (influenced by dealer lobbyists) rebelled against TrueCar two years ago. Dealers did not like the fact that TrueCar was requiring them to offer their lowest price to the car buyers. Most car dealers think that the “haggle and hassle” way of selling cars is the best way to make more money and sell more cars. Dealers quit in large numbers and TrueCar lost over half of their dealers nationwide. This mass defection was aimed at the heart of the True Car business model: in several states, True Car charges dealers $299 for every new car sale and $399 for every used car sale generated through their referral process. The FTC is currently investigating this as an illegal boycott by the car dealers and it hurt TrueCar financially.

 Since then, TrueCar has rebounded strongly and is currently bigger and financially stronger than ever before. Dealers have come to realize that they do sell more cars with TrueCar, albeit at a lower profit. TrueCar is growing exponentially and I expect them to be the main way that cars are bought and sold in the USA within the next ten years. Scott Painter has a favorite saying…”Truth Sells”. In fact, he bought the URL, www.Truth.com. He’s looking at expanding the honest way of retailing to other industries worldwide. Who knows? We may be buying houses, stocks, and insurance through a “True” company in the next decade.


My advice to you, the car buyer, is that the next time you buy any new or used car, click on www.TrueCar.com. My advice to the car dealers (who regularly read my column and blogs) is “Get aboard the TrueCar train before it leaves the station.” The way TrueCar is growing, you may not be able to sign up with TrueCar in the future.  TrueCar will sign up only a limited number of the franchises of one make in a particular market. By the way, TrueCar also won’t sign you up unless you agree to play by the rules and they will enforce the rules. Hiding dealer fees and dealer installed accessories when you quote the price, bait and switch, and all those other shenanigans are strictly forbidden. But don’t be afraid, because you will sell more cars and have happier customer because, as Scott Painter says, “The truth sells.”

Monday, February 24, 2014

With Car Insurance Companies Profit Comes First; You’re Second

Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there. You’re in good hands with Allstate. Saving people money for over 75 years (GEICO). Think easier; think Progressive. Nationwide is on your side.  You’ve heard all of these slogans thousands of times and seen the warm and fuzzy ads on TV too many times. I can tell you from personal experience owning and operating body shops for 46 years, insurance companies are not like good neighbors.

Insurance companies are the most profitable companies on Earth, but you can’t always tell that by their tax returns or financial statements. Insurance companies are sheltered from paying taxes like other corporations must do because they can, and are required, to “reserve” large amounts of cash contingent to paying claims. Then they take those huge hoards of cash and wisely invest them in stocks, bonds, real estate, etc. so that they can grow those cash reserves. When you pay a monthly premium to your car insurance company, they don’t pay any income tax on that. They invest it and grow that premium, compounding it over the years. Only after years of accumulating your premiums and growing that cash through investments do insurance companies begin to pay income taxes. This continuous, compounding tax deferral is how Warren Buffet made the bulk of his vast fortune.

How did insurance companies come to win this great tax advantage over all other corporations? They can afford to pay the best and most powerful lobbyist, in Washington D.C. and all fifty states. When a big insurance company says “jump” our elected officials say “how high”. For a politician to vote against a bill that Big Insurance wants is political suicide.

I have nothing against profit and I applaud those companies that make large profits. Under our capitalist system and the free market place, those companies that can provide the best products and services and satisfy the customers the best should prosper. I have a problem with companies that make their large profits by distorting the tax code to favor their companies over others and that earn greater profits by exploiting their customers and associates.

Collision insurance companies pay body shops less than $50 per hour to repair your car after it has been damaged in a collision. Car manufacturers pay mechanical service departments over $100 to fix your car when it has a mechanical problem, more than twice what insurance pays for body repair. Mechanical and body repair technicians are typically paid a commission based on the amount of labor they perform. This commission is a percentage of what the insurance company or manufacturer pays the service department or body shop. It follows that body repair technicians earn far less than their mechanical technical counterparts.

Now, here’s the rub! Body repair technicians are at least as well trained and skilled as mechanical repair techs. In fact, there is a greater shortage of good body repair techs than mechanical. One would think that the laws of supply and demand would command a higher wage for body repair techs, or at least the same as mechanical techs. But they make much less. This is where you come into the picture. Let’s say your car has been in a bad accident incurring thousands of dollars in damages. You want it repaired right, not just so it looks as good as it did before, but, more importantly, so it’s as safe as it was before. You want to be sure that the technician who repairs your car knows and cares what he’s doing! You’ve heard the expression, “You get what you pay for.” This means that if you hire a plumber to fix your clogged sink because he agreed to charge you half the hourly rate of what all the other plumbers were charging, it’s likely that the problem wasn’t corrected the it should have been.

The reason that body repair technicians are paid so little is because the insurance companies mandate it. About 95% of all auto repair work is paid for by insurance. Insurance companies largely control which body shops repair the vehicle of the insured. Each insurance company has a list of “preferred body shops”. If body shops are not on the preferred lists of any insurance companies, it’s very likely that they won’t be able to remain in business. One of the requirements to be on that list is to charge the insurance company what they say you can charge. The insurance companies claim to arrive at these hourly rates by market studies, but the studies are bogus and rigged to come up with an hourly rate far below what it should be.
The body shops and the insurance companies know that it’s impossible to repair cars safely and properly at the hourly rate they pay so they “do what they have to do” to get around that rate. The insurance companies force the body shops to use cheap after-market or used parts when new original manufacturer’s parts should be used. Insurance companies also “look the other way” when body shops repair or straighten a metal part that should have been replaced, but cost more. Most of the damage that’s done to a car in a collision is below the surface and invisible after the repair is completed. This means that all visible evidence of substandard and unsafe repairs is hidden. The customer comes in to pick up her car and it “looks great”. She may never how many short cuts were taken so that the car could be repaired for what the insurance company was willing to pay.

My advice to you if you have a car in need of body repair is be sure that you choose the body shop, not your insurance company. Check out this body shop carefully, just like you’d check out a doctor or dentist for yourself or a family member. Ask for referrals, check with the BBB, and the County Office of Consumer Affairs. Google the company and check out their online ratings. Your insurance companies will try hard to persuade you to use their “preferred shop”. They will tell you that they won’t guarantee the repair unless you take it here. If you pick a good body shop, that shop will give you as good, or better, guarantee on their work than the insurance company. Be sure that the body shop you choose is on your side and not the insurance company’s. Explain that you want new parts, not used, rebuilt, or after-market. If the insurance company objects, stand shoulder to shoulder with your body shop and demand that the repair be done properly and safely. If the insurance company still gives you a hard time, tell them that you will take them to court and they will usually back down. Some body shops will do this for you, but you have to assign your rights to litigate on your behalf to that body shop.

If this sounds like too much trouble, it’s not as bad as it sounds. Insurance companies know that they are doing the wrong thing and they don’t like to go to court or attract attention. You will be surprised how often people like you who have the courage to stand up to Big Insurance will find them backing down.

Monday, February 17, 2014

How to File a Car Dealer Complaint With the Florida Attorney General


Some of my regular readers will recall that I testified before the Florida Senate Commerce Committee a few years ago. My purpose was to introduce legislation to make the dealer fee illegal in Florida. The bill never got out of the senate committee because it was “shot down” by the Florida Automobile Dealers Association, FADA, which is referred to as and pronounced fah-dah.  For those who don’t already know, FADA is a powerful lobby for the car dealers. They have a lot of money because car dealers make a lot of money and can donate a lot of money to their political action committees, PAC’s. In full disclosure, I have donated to FADA political action committees in the past and continue to do so. That’s because they protect car dealers against harmful action by the auto manufacturers, but I abhor the way FADA protects car dealers that advertise and sell cars in deceptive, unethical, and even illegal ways.

A big reason that I was defeated in that effort was that the attorneys at the hearing representing the Florida Attorney General (AG) told the panel of senators that they received relatively few complaints on car dealers charging dealer fees. In fact, they received many more complaints on other businesses like storm shutter installers and paving contractors. The AG lawyers said they had to focus their limited resources on those businesses that had the most number of complaints. Of course, the lawyers from FADA completely concurred with that excuse.

Hence, I’m writing this article on “How to file a car dealer complaint with the Florida Attorney General”. There’s no question in my mind that most car owners in south Florida have a “beef” with a car dealer that they bought, leased, or serviced their car with. In fact, it’s not just south Florida, it’s the entire country. The Gallup organization conducts a national poll every year asking us which businesses we consider the most honest and ethical. Car dealers finish last almost every year (Congressmen are usually next to last).

I’m not sure why more victims of car dealers don’t file complaints with the regulatory agencies. I do know why car dealers do not receive as much negative publicity as they deserve and that’s because the local media is afraid of them. Car dealers are the largest local advertisers and they spend a huge amount of money on advertising that newspapers and TV and radio stations rely on. You may know that car dealers banded together to force Seaview Radio (WSVU in North Palm Beach) to cancel my consumer advocate show, Earl Stewart on Cars, which had been on the air for 7 years. They told the owners and management of Seaview that they would not advertise unless my show was canceled. Perhaps it’s the lack of reporting by our local media on how car dealers deceive car buyers with their advertising and sales practices that makes for so few complaints being filed.
If everyone who reads this column/blog who has been wronged by a car dealer will take the time to file a complaint with the Florida Attorney General’s office, I’m confident that we will see some immediate action. Because of my role as an advocate for car buyers, I hear from dozens of victims of car dealers every month. If those same people would also file a complaint, car dealers would rise on the priority list of companies that are ripping of Florida consumers so that the AG would be able to allocate their limited resources to control and curtail unethical, deceptive, and illegal advertising and sales practices by car dealers.

Please click on this link, www.FileAComplaintFloridaAttorneyGeneral.com and file a complaint. You may also call the Office of Citizen Services at 850 414-3990 or the Fraud Hotline at 866 966-7226. I know you’ve complained to your friends and neighbors and maybe even to me. But now it’s time to complain to somebody who can stop these car dealers from taking advantage of you.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Dealer Installed “Options”, Not Optional

I’ve written many articles about the infamous “Dealer Fee”. There’s another very common trick that most dealers use that is equally prevalent, deceptive and called “dealer installed options”.

Dealer installed options are products that have very low cost and value that have huge markups. Typically they are preinstalled on all of the dealer’s cars in inventory, with the exception of a few “ad cars”. These ad cars are ordered in small quantities, stripped of factory accessories and often without even an automatic transmission. They are typically ordered in the least desirable color and trim. The advertised car also either pays no commission to the salesman or a very small one. Typically only one car is available and when you ask to see it, the salesman will tell you that it’s been sold.

The advertisement will sometimes say, “Many cars are available at similar prices” or words to the effect that there is more than one, but they are all priced higher than the one car advertised. The dealers will put a stock number in the fine print. This is the stock number of the advertised car and is the dealer’s defense for having only one car (which was just sold) at that low price. Even if you are able to read the fine print, seeing something like “#6339A” is not something that would give anyone a clue that this means there’s only one car available at this price.

I recently sent a mystery shopper in to investigate an advertisement by a South Florida dealer who was advertising a new 2014 Toyota Corolla for $14,988. The shopper was told by the salesman that this offer was for only one Corolla and it was a stick shift. When she asked to see the car, the salesman said the car was “unavailable”. Then the salesman explained that all of their other Corollas had an additional charge of $897. This was for “dealer installed options” consisting of pin stripes ($199), floor mats $299), and nitrogen in the tires ($399). The dealer’s approximate cost for these items is about $100, about a 900% markup! There was also a charge of $24.99 for an “electronic filing fee” and $75 for a “Tag Agency Fee”. These sound like state fees but they are not, only costs from subletting to outside private companies being passed along to the car buyer for more profit to the dealer. The bottom line is that the car advertised for $14,988 really cost $15,985, almost a thousand dollars more!

What I’ve described above is the rule, not the exception, with most South Florida car dealers. The only way to avoid this sort of thing is to insist on a bottom line price. The only charge you should pay in addition to an advertised or quoted price is state sales tax and fees for the license tag and registration. You can check with the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles to confirm what a tag and registration costs. Costs the dealer may claim he incurs for obtaining these like “electronic filing fee” and “tag agency fee” are bogus charges which simply reimburse the dealer for his normal operating expenses. When you pay a dealer for his expenses, you are paying him a higher price and profit on the car. The law requires that this be disclosed as a dealer fee and included in all advertised prices.

As far as “dealer installed options” go, the safest bet is just don’t buy them. Make it clear from the beginning that you insist that all options or accessories be factory installed. If a dealer won’t agree to this, don’t buy a car from him. If there is an option the factory doesn’t offer that you want to buy, be extra careful to compare prices on that option with others who offer the same thing. The only reason dealers install options on cars is because they can mark them up exorbitantly as in the “900%” example above. Also, remember that dealer-installed options are not warranted by the manufacturer of the car and their quality is not as high.

By getting at least three out-the-door prices on the exact same year, make, model car you want with identical MSRP’s you are assured of getting a good price. Don’t be fooled by “dealer list” which many dealers quote you to make you think it’s the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, MSRP. Also, do the same thing with getting the best price on your trade-in and the best rate on your financing. Shop your trade-in just like you want to sell it without buying another car. Be sure you check interest rates with your bank or credit union and another bank just be sure.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Shame on Consumer Reports!

Consumer Reports (CR) is considered to be the journalistic icon of consumers’ rights in America. I have written columns for this blog and Hometown News. I’ve advocated on my radio show for Consumer Reports. I considered them the single most reliable source for consumers selecting the best products and sellers of those products, and I still do. Since 1936 Consumer Reports has set the example for unbiased, scientific evaluations and opinions on virtually every product Americans buy. They report, not only on products and services, but those who sell those products and services. They accept no advertising or any other consideration from companies. In fact, they will not even allow a company to use their name if they have endorsed a product of that company. When Consumer Reports recommends a product, you can be sure that it is their honest belief that that the product is a good one. Everyone is entitled to one honest mistake and I have to believe that this was the case with Consumer Reports.

Consumer Reports offers an auto-buying service to its members and charges $12 to give their members “Consumer Reports bottom line price” to buy any new car. They sublet this to an outside car buying service, TrueCar, which provides this data. In fact, TrueCar provides this service directly to car buyers for no charge at www.TrueCar.com, whereas CR chargers $12 for each car you want to get the “best” price on.  In full disclosure, I’m a member of TrueCar’s national dealer council. I’ve written about TrueCar in Hometown News and my blog, highly recommending them, just as I have Consumer Reports. TrueCar, as a result of my advising and urging, will be moving soon to require all car dealer members of the TrueCar program to more clearly disclose the “true”, bottom line price.

Consumer Reports is inadvertently leading their members who purchase what they believe to be the “bottom line price” a price which is actually much higher than the bottom line. In the example above, the “estimated dealer price” of $22,253 with “estimated savings: $4,782” on a new 2014 Toyota Prius, is actually $23, 252, almost one-thousand dollar higher! The estimated savings are only $3,783, not $4782.

The extra $999 that the dealer adds to the bottom line price is disclosed in the pricing that CR gives their members, but it’s disclosed in the fine print and below the focal point of their documentation which states, “This is your Estimated Dealer Price” and the price is featured in bold print and color. Some might say that as long as the extra dealer profit not included in the “bottom line” price is disclosed in the fine print, CR’s done nothing wrong. First of all, this is not the way Consumer Reports does business. CR is vehement against fine print ads that trick buyers. This issue was actually brought to my attention by a very well educated, intelligent consumer who was tricked by this very CR “bottom line” price. She brought it to the attention of her mother (who happened to be my wife) because she thought my price (I’m a Toyota dealer) was higher than the other two dealers’ prices. If an intelligent woman that is a college graduate, and investment banker can be duped by Consumer Reports’ “bottom line price, what chance has the average consumer?

Florida law requires that that dealer fees aka “Dealer Processing Fees” and many other names be included in the advertised price of the vehicle. I’m not a lawyer, but I think a good argument could be made that this information emailed to a prospective car buyer could be construed to be an advertisement. This particular dealer adds $999 to the Consumer Reports’ “bottom line price”, but he could add as much as he likes. In fact, Florida law has no cap on the amount of fees (by names limited only by the imagination of car dealers) that dealers can add to their quoted prices. The phrase, dealer fee, is used only for convenience; other fee names commonly used are dealer prep, pre delivery inspection, tag agency, electronic filing, administrative, doc., documentary, notary and closing, etc. If a dealer thought he could get away with hit, he could charge a million dollar dealer fee and Florida would deem that legal! Florida requires that the dealer disclose on the invoice the following: “This charge represents costs and profit to the dealer for items such as inspecting, cleaning, and adjusting vehicles, and preparing documents related to the sale”. The truth be known, added cost to the price of a product is defined as “profit” so the disclosure should simply read this charge represents profit to the dealer, period.

I know that Consumer Reports is not aware of any of this and hopefully they will read this blog or Hometown News column and realize that they are inadvertently aiding and abetting dealers in unfair and deceptive advertising and sales practices. If you are a subscriber/member of Consumer Reports or have used their auto-buying service, please consider calling and or emailing them on this subject. Maybe you should send them a copy of this column.