Monday, November 11, 2019

Negative Equity

(aka "Upside Down" & "Underwater")
You’ve probably seen a lot of car advertisements claiming, “WE WE’LL PAY OFF YOUR OLD CAR, NO MATTER HOW MUCH YOU OWE”! This is a lie, because no car dealer every pays of your car for you; you pay off your car because the dealer adds the payoff amount to the price of the car that he’s selling you.

The Wall Street Journal recently (11-11-19) featured a front-page story, “Car Debt Traps More Drivers”. The article begins “John Schricker took out a loan to buy a car in 2017. Then he took out another. And then another. In two years, the 40-year-old electrician signed up for four auto loans, each time trading in the previous car and rolling the unpaid balance into the next loan. He recently bought a $27,000 Jeep Cherokee with a $45,000 loan from Ally Financial Inc.”

This practice has been going on as long as there’ve been car dealers, but it’s worsened in recent years due to sharply increasing car prices with sharply reduced dealer profits on new cars. Car prices are soaring from the revolution in digitalized electronic safety features, but dealers’ profit margins have shrunk from the increasingly educated 21stcentury consumer, armed with the Internet and online buying. 33% of new car buyers that traded in their old car so far in 2019 owned more on their trade-in than its actual value, compared to 28% five years ago and 19% a decade ago, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Due to car dealers’ reduced ability to make large profits on the sale of new cars, they are focusing on their finance profits. Finance profits are enhanced by the sale of extended services contracts aka warranties, pre-paid car maintenance, GAP insurance, road hazard and roadside assistance insurance, and a litany of other overpriced and usually unnecessary services and products. Car dealers make more money in their F&I (Finance and Insurance) departments than their new car sales departments. Adding the negative equity from car buyers’ trade-ins to the loan on their new cars further enhances the dealers’ profits in their Finance and Insurance Departments.

Many new car buyers with negative equity in their trade-ins are not aware of it, and car dealers don’t bring it to their attention for fear of losing the sale. The facts are revealed in the sales and financing contracts which most buyers don’t read carefully or understand. Most car buyers are focused on one thing…their monthly payment. If a dealer can offer a monthly payment close to their current payment, this usually satisfies the buyer. Dealers can often do this by extending the terms of the loan to a much as 72 months, surprising the buyer with a large down payment, or “flipping” the buyer to a lease.

All the above is why new car buyers should make a point of completely understanding all the numbers of their purchase or lease transaction. This is best done by separating the new car purchase into (1) establishing the actual value of the trade-in compared to the payoff to the bank, (2) knowing the out-the-door selling price of the new car, and (3) the best interest rate, down payment, and terms usually obtainable from their bank of credit union. Car dealers finance most of the new cars they sell through kick-back arrangements with their banks. These interest rates and terms are usually not best for the buyer.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Should I Buy a Car or Have a Colonoscopy?

If you’re over 55, you should have had a colonoscopy. If you haven’t, call a gastroenterologist, because this could save your life; It did mine, but that’s another story. I had another colonoscopy (about a half dozen, so far) a few days ago, and I must tell you that it’s a very unpleasant experience, mainly from the mental anguish, anticipation and the discomfort of the “preparation” the previous day. I had a lot of time to think about my procedure and I started thinking about how this experience parallels that of buying a car. It’s something you must do and has a very good benefit, but you dread the process.

If you need further proof that buying cars is an unpleasant experience, just read the latest Gallup Poll entitled HONESTY AND ETHICS IN PROFESSIONS. The Gallup organization has been taking this poll every year since 1977. Car dealers have ranked last, or nearly last, in every poll…FORTY-THREE YEARS! For the latest full year poll in 2018, click on
https://news.gallup.com/poll/1654/honesty-ethics-professions.aspx.

My newspaper columns and blog consist mainly of suggestions and inside information that can make your new or used car buying experience less of a fearful one. Some of the titles/subjects are “Always Get an Out the Door Price”, “Bait and Switch Advertising”, “Beware of Deceptive Internet Car Pricing”, “Beware of Direct Mail Car Advertising”, “Buying a Car When You Have a Credit Problem”, “Eight Steps to Ensure You Are Buying the Best Car for the Best Price”, “List Price and MSRP Might Not Be the Same”, “Negotiating to Buy a Car”, “Open Letter to Florida Car Dealers” (I, II, III, and IV), “Shop Your Financing and Trade”, “Should I Buy My Car at the End of the Lease?”, “Should I Lease or Buy my Next Car?”, “Should I Pay Cash or Finance My Next Car?”, “Should I Trade in My Old Car or Sell it Myself”, “Tell Your Car Dealer to be Nice”, “The Right Used Car is a Better Buy than a New Car”, “Translating Misleading Car Ads”, “What is the True Cost of that New Car?”, “What to do if You Are Treated Badly by a Car Dealer”, “When is a Car Sale Not a Car Sale?”, and “The Internet Price is the Lowest Price for a New Car”. You can read all my articles (hundreds) at www.EarlOnCars.com. You’ll find links there to listen to my live, weekly radio show (Saturdays 8-10 AM EST), my YouTube videos, Podcasts, Facebook, Twitter and a wealth of other information on “how not to get ripped off by a car dealer”.

Almost every one of these articles originated from readers of my column, callers to my radio show, and others’ experiences when buying cars from car dealers. I get a lot of calls from people who’ve never bought a car from me. They call to tell me of their bad experience with another dealer and, when I get several calls on the same subject, I write a column on it. People often call me asking for advice or assistance after they’ve already bought, which is “closing the barn door after the horse is gone.” On more than one occasion I’ve called car dealers asking them to consider undoing a wrong they have caused one of their customers. I must confess that my batting average on this effort is “below 300”. I won’t give up, however. One of my most recent calls was from a customer who was charged nearly a $1,000 in service work performed on her car when she had brought it in for a routine service that should have cost her less than $100. She called me for help and was forceful and diligent in following my advice. She got a complete refund on the “unasked for, unnecessary charges”.


One thing that amazes me about these weekly columns and my radio show is that I have been writing and airing for nearly 14 years is that no car dealer has ever called me to complain, or for any other reason. I’ve not been sued either. I think that says something about the truth of my articles. I’m not a lawyer, but I do know that you can’t successfully sue somebody for libel or slander if they write or say the truth. I’m puzzled why not one single dealer would call me just out of curiosity. I don’t have a secretary and I don’t screen any of my calls…nor do any of my employees. They do know how successful my dealership is and how fast my sales are growing. They know that I’m selling a lot of their former customers. Many of these new customers tell me how they told the other dealers why they chose to take their business elsewhere. I believe that before too much longer we will see some changes in the way other car dealers do business even if they refuse to call me, as I have repeatedly invited them to do. Sooner or later they will understand that treating your customers with courtesy and integrity is just plain good business.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Ten Tips on Buying the Right Used Car


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

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

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

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

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

(5) Money Back Guarantee. A lot of dealers advertise that if you change your mind about the car you bought you can bring it back and exchange it for another. This is a worthless guarantee. You can be sure that they will pick the car and the price of the car they will exchange it for and will end up making an additional profit. CarMax has a reasonable guarantee which refunds all your money within five days with restriction that the car is returned in the same condition that it was sold. CarMax is a good place to buy a used car.

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 21, 2019

If You Can’t Find an Honest Service Department, You May be Able to Find an Honest Service Salesperson

Servicing your car is just as scary as it probably was buying it, but you only must buy a car every 4 or 5 years, maybe even longer. During the time between buying one, you should bring it in for service at least a dozen times, and that doesn’t even count repairs.

Car dealers make more money servicing your car than they do selling you one. The more service they sell you, the more money they make. Today’s automobiles are of far better quality and require far less maintenance than those of 20 years ago. Requiring less maintenance and repairs is a threat to the car dealers’ most profitable department. One way they can overcome this is to simply sell you more service than you really need by convincing you that it’s necessary.

Did you know that virtually every employee in a service department gets a percentage of the total amount of service he sells you? The guy that writes up your service order when you drive in is on commission. They are service “salesmen”, but they don’t like to be called that. Their title is usually “service advisor” or “assistant service manager”. The mechanic that fixes your car is on commission. The service manager that supervises the mechanic and the service salesman is paid on commission. After the service salesman sells you as much service as he can, the mechanic’s role is to find anything that needs to be fixed on the car that the service salesman or you were unaware of. He then calls the service salesman and tells him about the additional repairs you “need”. I recommend that you stick to what your car’s manufacturer recommends for maintenance in your owner’s manual. When your service salesman tells you what he recommends, be sure that the manufacturer recommends it too. There are some exceptions to this, based on certain local environmental conditions, but very few. Always question any service not recommended by your owner’s manual. When a repair is recommended that you were unaware of, get a second opinion from another service department, especially if it’s an expensive repair.

Now, don’t get me wrong; just because people are paid on commission doesn’t make them dishonest or uncaring. However, if there’s a “rotten apple in the barrel” he will take advantage of a commissioned pay plan to maximize his earnings. There are very few companies with zero “rotten apples”. A good company does its best to ferret out the rotten apples but it’s a constant battle. In fact, there are companies that have more rotten apples than good. When you have a department or company where everybody is on commission, it takes an awfully altruistic manager to fire a top-producer. The more his “rotten apples” sells the more money the supervisor earns. This applies also to the “supervisor’s supervisor, all the way up to the guy that owns the company. The higher up the ladder you go, the harder it is to identify these more passive, unseen rotten apples that “aid and abet” the front-line apples. The head guy usually has what many CEO’s insist on…DENIABILITY. You hear a lot about that in government scandals. The press always wants to know, “Who knew what and when did they know it?” Everybody remembers Watergate where the rotten apples extended from the bottom of the barrel all the way to the top. It took Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein over several years to follow the tracks all the way to the top of the barrel.

More often than not, there are people in all companies that are honest and caring for their customers. The point of this article is that you’re better served to look for that good person than only for a good company. There is no surefire way to do this, but I can suggest a few methods. Clearly, you’re more likely to find a good service salesman in a company that has a good reputation. You find good companies by personal experience, recommendations by friends, and ratings by various services like Google (most reliable), Yelp, Dealer Rater, and BBB. If you read the reviews, often the individuals are mentioned. If you’ve dealt with this company before, others in that company, like the salesman sold you the car, can refer you to a particularly good service salesman. All manufacturers measure the customer satisfaction index of every service salesman. Insist on seeing these scores and find out how the service salesman ranks among his peers, both in the company and the entire region. Finally, always make an appointment to see that service salesman you’ve chosen. If he’s on vacation or not available for other reasons, wait for your service until he can see you.

Finally, when you find yourself a “good apple” for a service advisor, don’t keep it a secret. Tell all your friends and tell the service manager and the owner of the dealership. When you do this, you’re doing your friends, the service advisor, the service manager, and the owner a great favor. You’re also spreading the word that treating customers with honesty and compassion is good for business.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Buying a Car When You Have a Credit Problem

There are fewer things more sensitive or embarrassing than having to share your personal credit problems with a stranger. Having credit problems can also put many buyers in a weakened and defensive position when buying a car. Many people with bad, or too little credit believe the car dealer is somehow “doing them a favor” by selling them a car and getting them financed. Make no mistake about it. A car dealer is probably making more money selling a person with bad credit a car than one with good credit. If you have a credit problem, go about buying a car with the same care and due diligence as if you had the very best credit. Shop and compare your financing, your interest rate, and your trade-in allowance. Get at least three quotes on each of these.

Lenders who specialize in lending to those with bad credit are known as “special finance” lenders. Many of these lenders charge the dealer a large upfront fee, as much as $2,500. Legally, the dealer is not supposed to add this fee to the price of the car you buy but, in the real world, the price of the car is usually higher as the result of this fee. In addition to an upfront fee, the interest rates are very high from special finance lenders. Because they anticipate a much higher amount of repossession losses, they must make more on each transaction. Don’t automatically accept a dealer’s opinion that you must finance through such a lender. There are many conventional banks that loan to people with bad credit. Their interest rates are lower than special finance lenders, and they don’t charge large upfront fees.

There is much fraud in special finance lending. Credit applications are falsified to show more time on the job, higher incomes, etc. W-2 forms and check stubs are counterfeited. Buyer’s orders show accessories and equipment that do not really exist on the car. Hold checks or promissory notes are misrepresented as cash down payment. Co-signers signatures are forged. Confederates pose as employers, answering pay phones to verify employment. These falsifications are performed by finance managers, salesmen, brokers for special finance lenders (who are paid on commission) and the customers themselves. If you sign a credit application, be sure that you know all the information on that application is accurate. Be sure that you understand and agree to all parts of the transaction including down payments, accessories on the car, etc. Never be a party to falsifying information to a lender to obtain a loan. This is a criminal offense.

Advertisements aimed at people with bad credit usually exaggerate with claims like, “We finance everyone”, “Wanted, good people with bad credit”, “No credit, no problem”, and, my favorite, “No credit application refused” (it doesn’t say your loan won’t be refused, just your application). My advice is to ignore these kinds of ads and these kinds of dealers. Their strategy is to take advantage of people with bad credit who they believe will buy any car, pay any amount of interest, and any profit to the dealers as long as the dealer can get them a loan.

It is common practice in Florida to encourage the car buyer to drive the car home immediately upon signing all of the papers. In some states like New York this is not permitted until all the car has been registered with the state in the new owner’s name. The reason for this immediate delivery (commonly referred to as the “spot delivery”) is to discourage and possibly even prevent the buyer from changing his mind. Taking possession of the car is a legal consideration making the purchase more binding. I recommend that you not rush the purchase or the delivery. For one thing you want to be sure that the car is exactly the way you want it…clean inside and out, all the accessories properly installed, no dings, dents or scratches, and that you have a complete understanding of how to operate all of the features of the vehicle.

I mention the risk of the “spot delivery” in this column on buying a car with bad credit because it can be especially harmful to someone whose credit is denied after the car has been delivered. You will most likely be required to sign a “Rescission Agreement” before you drive the car home. This is a legal document which requires you to return the car if your credit is denied. You will probably be told that your credit will be approved, but sometimes the dealer is wrong. The rescission agreement will have a charge for time and mileage that you have put on the car you are driving. Usually this is a very high charge from 25 cents per mile plus $50 per day and higher. It can take weeks for a special finance lender to rule on a credit application. If your credit is denied you could owe the dealer thousands of dollars which the down payment you made might not even cover.

As frightening as all of the above may sound, the one single thing you can do to prevent bad things from happening when you purchase a car is to choose your car dealer very carefully. How long has he been in business? What is his track record with the Better Business Bureau, the County Office for Consumer Affairs, Google ranking, Yelp ranking, and the Florida Attorney General’s Office? Ask friends, neighbors, or relatives who have dealt with this car dealer what their experiences have been like. Choosing a good dealer with integrity will resolve 95% of all your concerns.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Profiles of Car Dealer Victims

There’s a mindset among many Americans that, “The best government is that which governs least”. I understand and largely accept that thought, but I do believe governments have a duty to protect those that cannot defend themselves. When I advocate passing laws to prevent car dealers from adding hidden fees to their advertised prices, or selling cars without disclosing dangerous recalls, I’m often attacked by those who say car buyers have a responsibility to discover these deceptions on their own…without government interference. It’s like saying, “If you were more careful, you wouldn’t have been cheated; you deserve what you got!”

I receive a lot of emails, calls, and letters every week from victims of car dealers who were taken advantage of in buying, leasing, and servicing their cars. They mostly call to ask what they can do to get all or some of their money back. These “victims” fall into different categories: The elderly; the very young; Those who don’t speak or understand English well; The uneducated; People with bad credit; and everybody else.

(1) The elderly, especially widows, are the most victimized. The reasons for this are that Florida, especially South Florida, is a “retirement” state. Baby boomers and pre-baby boomers make up a disproportionately large percentage of Florida’s population. Not only that, but life expectancies have soared in recent years…81 for a woman and 76 for a man. Husbands usually predecease their wives. Women’s role in the American culture is a great deal different than in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Often, the husband was, not only the breadwinner, but the decision maker in the household. Widows of that era are often buying their first car today. Men and women in their seventies, eighties, and nineties (Yes, I have a lot of customers in their nineties) aren’t as sharp as they once were. I’m 78 and I’ll be the first to admit this. In my opinion, men and women of my age, and older, are more trusting. We can’t forget the terrible disease, Alzheimer’s. Unless a court declares a person incompetent, a person with Alzheimer’s can legally buy a car in Florida and it happens all too often. This is one of the most despicable acts that some car dealers commit.

(2) What chance does a teenager or kid in his twenties have when negotiating with a car salesman and his manager to buy a car? Usually it’s the parents who call me to tell me how their son or daughter was taken advantage of. I don’t tell them this, but what I’m thinking is “Why did didn’t they accompany them to the car dealership to advise them?”

(3) South Florida is not only a retirement area, but it’s a haven for immigrants from Cuba, Haiti, and South and Central America. Many of these are first generation Americans who have a difficult time with English or can’t speak, read, or write English at all. These people are easy prey for unscrupulous car dealers. Can you imagine how difficult it would be for you to get a fair price on a car you were buying in a foreign country where you were didn’t speak or understand the language?

(4) Let’s face it; there are too many Americans who never had the benefit of a proper education. We have too many high school dropouts and too many high school graduates who still can’t read or write as well as they must to function in our society. Lack of a good education is one of America’s most serious problems and we’re seeing other countries like China, Japan, Germany and India pass us by in educating their children. It’s almost criminal how the educated are exploited by car dealers’ advertising and sales tactics. How many car dealers’ TV and online advertisements have you seen that you laugh at, knowing that they’re totally untrue, “bait and switch” to lure you into the dealership. You wonder who would believe that kind of nonsense. The reason that car dealers keep running those ads is because they work.

(5) There are always people with bad credit who must buy a car, especially In Florida. Without an effective mass transit system, a car is virtually a necessity to get to your job or find a job, not to mention the doctor, school, or the pharmacy. People with bad credit are at the mercy of the car dealer. The main thing on these peoples’ minds is not how good a price or a car can I buy or how low an interest rate, but can they be financed? Knowing this, car dealers will charge whatever price and interest rate the lender will let them get away with. People with bad credit almost always pay dealers a higher profit than those with good credit.

(6) “Who should be held responsible for car dealers ripping off customers?” For categories (1) through (5), the answer is our regulators and our lawmakers. But for the last category, “Everybody else”, it’s themselves. Of course, it goes without saying that the car dealers who do this are responsible too. But who doesn’t know that most car dealers do business this way? Who doesn’t know that car dealers perennially rank last on the annual Gallup “Honesty and Ethics in Professions” poll? I received an email from a woman who fell in none of the first 5 categories above. She was terribly victimized by a very unethical car dealer from whom she bought two used cars on the same night. Her email asked me for advice on what she should do. Of course, the “horse was out of the barn” and this makes things more difficult. This woman did not ask for or receive a CarFax report on either used car. Nor did she take either car to her mechanic for approval. She clearly didn’t investigate the dealer for reputation. She didn’t check any sources like Consumer Reports for recommended used cars. She did not shop and compare prices for similar cars and the list of “did not’s” goes on. If you don’t do your due diligence when you buy a car you are equally culpable with the car dealer who took advantage of you.

At this point, I will shamelessly plug my book, Confessions of a Recovering Car Dealer. I say “shamelessly” because 100% of the proceeds from my book go to Big Dog Ranch Rescue. You can buy at book on Amazon by clicking onwww.EarlsBook.com.It will tell you everything you need to know about how not to be ripped off by a car dealer. Or, you can read my blog articles on this at www.EarlOnCars.com.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Earl’s Costco Auto Buying Program Tutorial

I’m a strong advocate of the Costco auto-buying program. In full transparency and disclosure, I’m also a certified Toyota dealership for Costco. I get more questions about the Costco Auto buying program than just about anything else and that’s my reason for writing another article on the subject.

My only complaint about Costco’s program is that, in my opinion, there’s too large a burden of due diligence placed upon the Costco car buyer. I believe that a Costco member should be able to go online at www.CostcoAuto.com and get the out-the-door price of the vehicle they want and the dealership they can buy it from. Sadly, this is not often possible, and what follows is a “tutorial” of the precise steps you most follow to get the true Costco member price. 

  1. Go to www.CostcoAuto.com. Click on “New Vehicles” and enter your zip code. Select the year, make and model of vehicle you want to buy. NEVER GO TO THE DEALERSHIP WITHOUT REGISTERING ONLINE. You may be deceived by a non-Costco certified salesman into believing you’re getting the Costco price.
  2. Click on “Locate Dealer”.
  3. Enter your name, Costco member number, and email address. Click again on “Locate Dealer”. If you’re not a Costco member, I recommend you pay the nominal annual member ship, $65, and become a member. Your savings on buying a car will exceed this cost many times.
  4. You will be given the name of the dealership and the name of the sales people at that dealership that are certified Costco representatives. DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUSTANCES, DEAL WITH ANY OTHER SALES PEOPLE.
  5. You will be contacted by phone and email almost immediately by the Costco representative. Verify that she or he is named on the Costco website.
  6. Ask the Costco representative to email you the out-the-door Costco member price on the vehicle you have selected. Explain that this price must include all charges by the dealership except government fees…sales tax and license tag and registration. If she or he refuses, report this to Costco at 800 755-2519.
  7. If you must visit the dealership to further evaluate the vehicle you’re buying, demand that you see theCostco Member-Only Price Sheet. This price sheet on the specific car you’re buying should disclose any added price for dealer installed accessories. If there are dealer installed accessories, DEMAND A CAR WITHOUT THEM. This price sheet must also disclose any added, hidden non-government fees aka “dealer fees” by many names like doc fee, electronic filing fee, tag agency fee, dealer prep fee, administrative fee and notary fee.
  8. Determine your own out-the-door price by adding any of these hidden fees or dealer installed accessoriesto the “Costco Price”. Also beware of hidden fees that aren’t disclosed on the Costco Member-Only Price Sheet. These will “pop up” later in the F&I or Business Office and are unknown and unacceptable to Costco.
  9. To be safe, you should shop and compare the final out-the-door price you’ve calculated with at least two other dealers.
  10. If your experience with the Costco dealer was not a good one and they did try to deceive you, contact Costco at 800 755-2519. You will be asked by Costco to fill out a customer satisfaction survey after your purchase which will entitle you to service and parts discounts with that dealer.

Costco requires their certified dealers to sell Costco members cars at a LOWER PRICE THAN THEY SELL CARS TO ANY OTHER CUSTOMER. You may or may not know that most car dealers sell the same car to different buyers at vastly different prices…depending on the sophistication of the buyer, the salesman, type of advertising, and even the time of the month. A few buyers get extremely low prices which requires a certified Costco dealer to sell a Costco member the car at an even LOWER price. Car dealers don’t like to do this and come up with very clever ways to trick Costco buyers into paying more…hidden fees and dealer installed accessories are two of their favorite tricks. COSTCO MEMBERS BEWARE.