Monday, May 03, 2021
Shame on Florida’s regulators and legislators for aiding and abetting Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices by 99.9% of all Florida car dealers. Almost every auto dealer in Florida adds hidden, extra charges to their advertised and quoted prices for autos and even service. The Attorney Generals have all “looked the other way” on this for many years. Our lawmakers in Tallahassee have done the same. Why? Without car dealers, their associations and Political Action Committee contributions, nobody can get elected to office in Florida or any other state.
Florida does have a law, ostensibly controlling “dealer fees”, but it may as well be not have such a law. It’s not enforced and, even if it was, it’s written with so many loopholes that smart dealers can technically comply and still deceive their customers. Because the law is never enforced, dealers generally ignore it. The law has been ignored for so long that, it may as well not exist. It’s very similar to the speed limit laws on most highways, especially I-95, Florida turnpike, and the Sawgrass Expressway. Every driver on these highways knows they can exceed the speed limit by 9 or 10 miles and mph with no chance of being stopped even faster with very little chance. Now, because every driver is speeding and practically no speeding tickets are issued, it’s actually dangerous not to speed.
The analogy to hidden fees by dealers is solid. It’s dangerous for a car dealer to not charge a dealer fee because all the competing dealers in his market do add hidden fees to their advertised and quoted prices. If he advertises a new Honda Accord for $1,000 more than his Honda dealer competitors, he has very little chance of selling the car. Honest, ethical car dealers are forced to “fight fire with fire”. I’ve had many car-dealer friends and associates over the year tell me, “Earl, I don’t like having to charge hidden fees, but, if I didn’t, I’d “go broke”! Car dealers profit margins as percent of sales is very slim, between 1% and 3%.
The average new car today sells for about $40,000. A 3% profit is only $1,200 and that’s the gross profit before expenses…commissions, advertising, and lots of other overheard expenses like rent, utilities, and insurance. The net profit on a new car is only $200 or $300. Because a dealer’s competitors are all advertising and quoting prices a $1000 or more below their cost, how can an honest dealer with no hidden fees to secretly raise the price survive?
The average hidden fees in South Florida are over $1,000. All dealers have several fees by different, official-sounding names, adding up to as much as $3,000. Some of the popular deceptive names are electronic filing fee, tag agency fee, doc fee, e-filing fee. Some dealers even double charge for the factory freight which is included in the price of all new cars.
Other dealers charge for “dealer prep”, purportedly to prepare the new car for delivery when they are generously reimbursed for this by their manufacturer. Incredibly, the Florida addressing dealer fees requires dealers to lie to their customers by “disclosing” their dealer fees by this verbiage…” This charge represents costs and profit to the dealer for items such as inspecting, cleaning, and adjusting vehicles,.”. Florida statute 501.976 (18) requires the dealer to tell you that they are charging you for performing the same work on your new car that they’ve ALREADY BEEN PAID FOR by their manufacturer.
This is not a re-run column. I’ve written many columns railing against the hidden dealer fees that are an out-of-control pandemic, especially in Florida. I won’t give up because I know that truth and justice will ultimately prevail. I know that consumers and voters are growing smarter at warp speed during this digital 21st Century. Consumers and voters will reach a breaking point, where they’ll no longer tolerate regulators and legislators who allow this unfair and deceptive affront to car buyers to exist any longer.
Monday, April 05, 2021
I’m proud that my car dealership was featured last week on the NBC Today Show (View the video at www.EarlStewartCovidRescueTeam.com). Thus far, we’ve made Covid vaccination online appointment for over 200 senior citizens, unable to navigate the process themselves.
This inspired me to form a similar team of online-savvy, educated car-buyers to assist our very large elderly population in buying their next car online. If you’re a regular reader of this column, newspaper columns, or a listener to my radio show, you know that the safest way to buy a car today at a low price today is online. A high percentage of our elderly population can’t operate, or are uncomfortable with, computers and smartphones.
If you’re computer-savvy” and have the time and car-buying skills, please let me know. Click on www.EarlOnCars.com and the link on the right, Volunteers for Senior Online Car Buying Assistance. I’ll ask for a summary of your qualifications and your contact information. I’m looking for volunteers from all over the USA who listen to my radio show, read this blog and newspaper column, and follow me on Facebook and YouTube. Thank you for your consideration.
Monday, March 01, 2021
- First, the good news about dealer financing. If you’re buying a new vehicle, most manufacturers offer very low interest rates to induce you to buy…often as low as 0%. If you’re buying a new vehicle, you should always find out if the model you’re buying has special low financing offered by the manufacturer. You also need to know if you’re credit score will qualify you for this low rate. If so, remember that there’s usually a special discount offered as an ALTERNATIVE to the low interest rate. You can’t have both the discount and the low interest rate. The dealer’s advertising doesn’t make this clear because he wants you to believe you can have both. You need to do the arithmetic, taking into consideration the amount you’ll be financing, the number of months you finance, and how the difference between the low rate and your bank or credit union’s rate. Remember, the 0% may be offered for 60 months, but you’re going to trade the car in after 48 months.
- If the manufacturer doesn’t offer a very low interest rate on the model you’re buying, that you can use, always get a rate from your bank and credit union. If you’re not a member of a credit union, consider joining one. Just because the company you work for doesn’t have a credit union, there are credit unions you can join without the affiliation of your company. If you don’t have a banking relationship with a specific bank, contact one and ask. Be sure that you understand that the dealer is getting the money he wants to loan you from a bank (often owned by his manufacturer). The dealer then MARKS UP the interest rate the bank charges him and applies that to your car loan. The dealer “pockets” the mark-up. The amount of the mark-up varies, but 2% is common. If you’re financing $30,000 for 60 months, the dealer’s mark-up is about $1,700. Some dealers retain all of that, but most keep about 75% or $1,275. The dealer will usually make another $1,000 in warranties, maintenance and “products” like GAP insurance. The dealer averages less than $1,000 on the sale of a new car. He’s making twice as much financing the as he did selling it
- If you were raised like me, your parents told you never to borrow more money than you absolutely must. When you do borrow, you should always make as large a down payment as you can afford. This doesn’t always hold true today because interest rates are at historical lows and sometimes manufacturers offer even lower rates. If you have excellent credit, your down payment should be as low as the bank will accept…hopefully zero. Today, you can conservatively invest your money to earn a higher return than you must pay to finance your car. But, if you’re going to finance with the dealer and intend to make a large down payment, NEVER TELL THAT TO THE DEALER before he gives you his final out-the-door price. Why? Because the banks dealers finance your car through limit the amount they will finance based on your credit and, the more you put down, the higher the dealer can increase his profit margin. Dealers will often push you for a larger down payment because they can’t finance as much profit as they’d like. They’re likely to tell you that the bank requires a larger down payment which is true, but they don’t tell you it’s because they’re making a huge profit on the car.
Monday, February 15, 2021
I’m not suggesting that a lease can never be as good a value as a purchase or even better. To the informed, sophisticated lessor, leases can be the way to go. Manufacturers do sometimes offer special lease rates and residual values which can make a lease cheaper than a purchase. But fewer lessors/buyers can navigate the following “complications and deceptions” of leasing.
- Car dealers make more than TWICE as much when they lease you a vehicle rather than selling it. This is largely because they can attract you on a falsely low monthly payment, and your focus isn’t on the actual total cost of leasing.
- Every advertised lease you see has a large down payment hidden in the fine print.
- Customers are coerced and enticed to lease or buy another car from their dealer after their first lease. This is because the dealer never loses contact with you. You must return the lease car to him and he remains in close contact with you every time you make a lease payment. If you don’t buy or lease another vehicle from the dealer/manufacturer, you’re penalized with a “lease disposition fee” of several hundred dollars.
- There are many more hidden fees in a lease contract than a purchase contract. There’s an “acquisition fee” for several hundred dollars, lease disposition fee at the end of the lease, charge for above “normal” wear and tear when you turn in your lease car, and a mileage charge for exceeding a certain number of miles per year. Of course, the dealer still charges the same hidden dealer fees he charges you when you buy the car. Most of these charges should be included in the monthly lease payments up front, but they aren’t.
- Despite popular belief, you must make all the lease payments you signed the contract for. It doesn’t matter if you decide you don’t like the car or if it breaks down a lot and/or runs terribly. The leasing company (usually owned by the manufacturer) is separate legal entity. You still must make every lease payment even when the reason you can’t drive your lease car is the fault of the manufacturer or dealer. You also must make all the lease payments even if you’re disabled and can’t drive or die (your estate is liable for all remaining lease payments). The leasing company will insist that you make your monthly car insurance payments even if you can’t drive the car and it’s sitting in your garage.
- Because your monthly lease payments build no equity as they do on a purchase, you will always have to make a large down payment when you buy or lease another vehicle. Basically, once you lease a car, you can be trapped into leasing again and again. Today’s new vehicles are so reliable and maintenance free that many buyers are keeping their cars for five years and more. Furthermore, they have no more monthly payments!
- The dealer that leased you the car and other competing car dealers will be calling you to lease or buy another car when they know you have only a few more payments left. They’ll also tell you not to worry about the remaining lease payments because they’ll make those to the leasing company for you. Yes, they will pay the leasing company the remaining payments that you owe, but WITH YOUR MONEY, because they add those payments onto the price of the next car they lease or sell you. Remember that the dealer, the leasing company, and the manufacturer are all separate legal entities. Each has their own selfish interests, and you’re not one of them.
Monday, February 08, 2021
This is important for you to know and understand, because what a car dealer tells you and how he treats you isn’t always the way his manufacturer would have it. If you have problems with your dealer you should communicate your dissatisfaction to his manufacturer and consider trying another dealer of that same franchise. The manufacturer will communicate your dissatisfaction to the dealership owner and/or general manager, and will sometimes (off the record) direct you to a better dealership. The manufacturer has no power or control over the dealer to force him to do the right thing, but sometimes the mere communication to the dealership management can have a positive effect. Your best bet is to simply try a different dealer. He might be a better dealer, but, if even if he’s not, he’ll be competitively motivated to make you see him in a more favorable light.
Fortunately for you, there’re lots of car dealerships that sell the same make you want to buy. There are about 18,000 new car dealerships in the US. If you’re a Chevy buyer, there’s about 3,000 to choose from, and probably 3 or 4 nearby. Online, you have an almost unlimited number of dealer choices.
The lack of the ability of auto manufacturers to control their dealers is unique among all other franchised businesses. The control and protection of new car dealerships is in the hands of our 50 state governments. Each individual state government department of motor vehicles insulates new car dealers from any real control by auto manufacturers. This was accomplished in the first half of the twentieth century by powerful dealership lobbying groups to protect dealers against unfair and punitive bad behavior directed at car dealers by auto manufacturers. This legislative protection against manufacturers has had the unintended consequences to protect dealers from control against bad behavior by them against car-buyers.
You might be wondering why the states don’t do a better job of protecting car buyers against predatory car dealers. The answer lies in the same powerful lobbying that insulated dealers from their manufacturers. Car dealers, their PACS, and associations are numerous, very wealthy, and very politically powerful.
You can file a complaint with the state Attorney General and/or Department of Motor Vehicles, but that’s time consuming and it’s often after-the-fact. Your best bet is, after you’ve chosen the right car, invest some time in choosing the right dealer.
Monday, January 25, 2021
If you doubt me, look at the signed documents you should have been given when you purchased your car…specifically the Vehicle Buyer’s Order, Installment Sales Contract, or Lease Contract. Near the top will be the supposed “Selling Price” and below that there’ll be several additions. Two are legitimate government fees which are not profit to the dealer, because he must pass these along to the state government. These are sales tax and license/registration. But some of the “fees” are disguised profit to the dealership. Florida has a law that that this added profit must be disclosed to the buyer as such, but this disclosure is disguised and hidden in the fine print. If you look closely, you’ll see “fees” named tag agency fee, doc fee, notary fee, electronic filing fee, dealer prep fee, administrative fee, service fee, and delivery fee. Florida law allows dealers to make up any name they wish and that’s just what they do. The surefire test if a “fee” is really dealer profit, is whether you were charged state sales tax on it. The state does not collect sales tax on a real government fee, just on the true price of the car including the dealer’s profit.
The other bogus price increase, in addition to hidden fees, are dealer-installed accessories. These consist of overpriced, virtually worthless items pre-installed on the car you bought, but not included in the advertised or quoted price. Some examples are nitrogen in tires, roadside assistance, pinstripes, road hazard insurance, fabric protection, and paint sealant. You didn’t ask for these, but you bought them anyway because they were added to your car before you bought it.
I’d love to hear from anybody reading this if they actually paid the advertised or quoted price. Call or text me at 561 358-1474. I’m not concerned about my “phone ringing off the hook” because I know almost everybody was tricked by their car dealer.
Monday, January 18, 2021
Your answer: I’ll ask you once more for your best price. There are 3 car dealerships that sell this same make within a half-hour drive of here. If I don’t get your best price right now, I’ll walk out of your showroom and you’ll never see me again.
Salesperson Says: “I’m sorry, but we just sold that car we advertised, but we have others just like it”.
Your answer: I know that Florida law now allows you to add your $999 dealer fee to the advertised price, because, technically, I’m not buying the advertised car. I also know that you can now legally add “dealer installed options” to the low ad price. However, if you do not sell me the car I came in to buy for the advertised price, I will walk out that door and you will never see me again.
Salesperson Says: “This price is good for today only”.
Your answer: I don’t believe you and I won’t make my decision to buy today. I want to shop and compare your price with your competition and, if yours is the best price, I will call you to see if I can buy it for that price. If you tell me that I can’t, I’ll buy it from your competitor.
Salesperson Says: “This price is so low that I’m willing to guarantee it or pay you $1,000 [or some other amount] if you can find a better one”.
Your answer: First of all, no retailer can always have the lowest prices. If they did, they could not make a profit and remain in business. I’ll bet you can’t give me the name of just one customer that you paid your $1,000 guarantee to. I also know that you ‘reserve the right to buy the exact car from the dealer that I say has the lower price.’ What makes you think that I would believe your competitor would sell you that car so that you could steal his customer?” You must think I’m really stupid and I don’t want to buy a car from somebody who thinks his customers are stupid.
Salesperson Says: “I can give you this price only if you take a car from my present inventory. If I have to order a car or dealer-trade a car, the price will be higher.”
Your answer: My car is very important to me. I want the exact color and accessories that will satisfy me and not a compromise. I will buy the car from you only if you agree to get me the exact car I want at the price you just quoted me. If not, I’ll bet that your competitor will.
Salesperson Says: “I can’t give you this price in writing unless you will give me a deposit”.
Your answer: I know that Florida law allows you to keep my deposit if I change my mind about buying. I also know that you do not want to commit to a price in writing because I might show your price to your competitor who may beat it. That’s the risk you have to take if you want my business. If you do, you have a chance at my buying a car from you. If you don’t, you have no chance because you will never see me again.
Salesperson Says:“What will you pay for this car today? Or, make me an offer on this car and I’ll take it to my manager for approval”.
Your answer: This is not a game that we’re playing. I’m about to make the 2nd largest purchase of my life. If I was shopping for a TV set and the salesman said that to me, I would walk out without another word and buy from his competitor. And that’s exactly what I’m about to do to you unless you give me your best price in writing.
Salesperson Says: “We cannot quote you a price over the phone”.
Your answer: It makes no sense to me that I should have to drive 10 miles and back to your dealership just so that you can tell me the price of the car I want to buy. I can get prices on the Internet so why can’t I get them on the telephone? I think the reason you want me to drive to your dealership is so that you can pressure me into buying today without competitive shopping. If you won’t give me your best price right this minute, you will never hear from me again because I will buy from your competitor.
Salesperson Says: “I’m sorry but the owner isn’t available right now and we are not allowed to give out his cell phone number”.
Your answer: If the owner of this dealership is too busy to speak to his customers than I’m too busy to buy my next car from him.
Salesperson Says: “The reason that this $999 item labeled dealer fee [or doc fee, dealer prep, handling fee, admin fee, pre-delivery fee, etc] was not included in the price that I quoted you is because it is ‘to cover our costs of inspecting, cleaning, and adjusting vehicles and preparing documents for sale’.”
Your answer: The price quoted to a customer for any product should include all of the costs of the seller. Furthermore, I know that the manufacturers of all cars reimburse their dealers for “inspecting, cleaning, and adjusting vehicles”. I also know that now you’re going to tell me that you must charge me your dealer fee because you charge all customers this same fee. But, I also know that you can deduct the amount of your fee from the price you quoted me and leave the dealer fee on the buyers’ order which will have the same net effect of removing it. If you do not agree, I will walk out of your dealership and never return.