Monday, February 18, 2019

Car Dealer Victim Profiles


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 (often widows)

The very young, usually buying their first car

Those who don’t read, write, speak or understand English well, not born in this country

The less educated.

People with no or bad credit. 

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. Men usually predecease their wives. Women’s role in the American culture is a great deal different than in the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s. Often, the husband was not only the breadwinner, but the decision maker in the household. Widows of that era are often buying or leasing 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 dementia can legally buy a car in Florida, and it happens all too often. Knowingly selling a car to a person with dementia is a despicable act that too many car dealers commit.

2. What chance does a teenager or a young person 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 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 did not 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 advertisements have you seen that you laugh at, knowing that they are 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, marginal or no credit who must buy a car. 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 one through five, 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 recently 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 Reportsfor 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 the charity, Big Dog Ranch Rescue, www.BDRR.org . You can buy this book at www.Amazon.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 at www.EarlOnCars.com. Or, how about tuning in my weekly radio show aired on 95.9 FM, 106.9 FM or 960 AM in North Palm Beach? It’s live talk radio from 10 am to noon Saturdays Eastern Time. You can also stream this show live onwww.Facebook.com/EarlOnCars or at www.StreamEarlOnCars.com. Call me during the show and ask any question you like.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Earl’s 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 very strong will, stamina, and a very thick skin should attempt face-to-face negotiation. 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 paid to the government. I will not pay dealer fees by any name such as electronic filing fees and 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 as 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 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, Instagram, 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.”

If you apply this word track and do not vary from it or weaken to the car salesmen’s objections, you will buy your next new or used car for a very low price and without the haggle, hassle, and resulting anxiety and anger that you’ve experienced in the past. Good Luck.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Most Florida Car Dealers Break the Law Every Day

The following is part of Section 501.976, paragraph (16) of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act: “The advertised price of a vehicle must includeall fees or charges that the customer must pay...except “state and local taxes, tags, registration fees and title fees” …. In other words, ONLY GOVERNMENT FEES may be excluded from the advertised price of car in Florida.

I have been mystery shopping Florida car dealers every week for 14 years and I estimate more than 95% violate the law with all their vehicle advertisements.

Your reaction to this incredulous statement must be something like, “How is that possible?” Ask yourself if you’ve ever bought a car in Florida at the advertised price plus only sales tax and license and registration fees. If you dig out your paperwork and check, you’ll discover that you paid from several hundred to several thousand dollars more in hidden fees and dealer installed accessories.

Some car dealers don’t even mention the fact that they have hidden fees or dealer installed accessories on every vehicle they sell. Some will disclose in the fine print the fact that they do have a dealer fee, but they don’t mention theamount. If they do mention the amount in the fine print, this doesn’t comply with the law which says, “the advertised price must include all fees or charges the customer must pay, except government fees”.

Florida regulators are primarily responsible for letting this law be flagrantly broken by virtually every car dealer in Florida. The Florida Attorney General’s office know this is going on, but refuses to do anything about it. The last time I asked the Attorney General why they took no action, I was told that they receive very few consumer complaints. This doesn’t surprise me because this law has been violated and ignored for so many years that most car buyers don’t even know that hidden fees are illegal. I also must add that car dealers and their lobbying association, Florida Auto Dealers Associations (FADA) have strongly supported the election of every Florida Attorney General.

You would think that public awareness through the media, the fourth estate of government, would rally public outcry and eventually get the attention of the Attorney General…not so. Local auto dealers are among the biggest advertisers on radio, TV, and newspapers. If a local radio station, TV channel, or newspaper says something bad about a local car dealer, the loss of that advertising revenue could seriously affect their bottom-line. When was the last time you saw, heard, or read a negative story about a local car dealer? I never have, and I’ve been a car dealer in Florida for 50+ years.

With the rapid switch from newspaper, TV and radio to digital…Facebook, Google, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter, there’s hope for us to spread the word. Talk about your last car buying experience on your favorite digital platform. Some of these could go viral and even the Attorney General might decide to act.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Minimizing the Pain of Auto Service or Repair

The pain of buying a used or new car may be greater than the pain of having it serviced, but you need to have it serviced far more often than you must buy a car. Below, I’m listing eight suggestions to make your visit to your car dealer’s or independent service department as pleasant as possible.

(1) The Dealer with the Best Price Might Have the Worst Service. Remember that you don’t have to have the same dealership service your car that sold you your car. You probably bought your car from the dealer who gave you the best price. You should have your car serviced at the dealer who can best maintain and repair your car. The price of service is important, but secondary to the quality of the service and repairs. Do a little research. Ask friends and neighbors who drive your make of car. Check with the BBB and the County Office of Consumer Affairs. Ask the service manager at the dealership to show you his factory score on CSI (customer satisfaction index) and customer service loyalty (what percent of customers return to this dealer for service?) Every manufacturer surveys dealers’ service customers and ranks that dealer by how well he treats his customers.

(2) Establish a personal relationship with your service advisor. The person in the service drive who writes up your repair order is very important. Be sure you get a good one. He should be knowledgeable, attentive to your needs, promptly return phone calls, and recommend only necessary services. You might not find this person on your first visit, but if you aren’t comfortable with the person you are dealing with, ask for one with whom you are. When you make an appointment to have your car serviced, always ask for that service advisor.

(3) Don’t pay the “gotcha”, miscellaneous supplies fee. Almost all car dealers and independents tack on a phony fee when you pay your bill which is simply more profit to the dealer but is disguised by various labels. It is also sometimes called “environmental impact fee”, “sundry shop supplies” and many others. The cashier just adds a percentage ranging from 5% to 10% to your bill. This is no different than the “dealer fee” that the sales department tacked on to the price they quoted you on the price of the car. Most dealers will waive this fee if you complain about it, especially if you threaten to call the BBB, their manufacturer, or the Florida Attorney General’s office.

(4) Always road test your car, preferably with the technician. If you brought your car in for a drivability problem such as a noise, vibration, or pulling to the right or left, don’t accept the car back until you ride in the car with the technician or service advisor and confirm that the problem has been remedied. I also recommend that you drive the car with the service advisor to demonstrate the problem when you bring it in. Experiencing what you experience always communicates your problem more accurately than verbally describing it.

(5) Ask for a written estimate of the total cost of repairs and maintenance.
Florida law requires that the dealer give you a written estimate. By law, they may not exceed this by more than 10%.

(6) Make an appointment ahead of time. You should insist on making an appointment and you should try to make that appointment at a time when the dealer’s service department will be least busy…typically the middle of the afternoon on weekdays or Saturday and Sunday. Avoid the 7:30-8:00 morning rush. When your service advisor has written up your repair order, ask him how long it will take. After he tells you, ask him to let you know ahead of time if, for any unforeseen reason, your car will not be ready in the promised time. Often when you call a service department they will tell you to “bring the car in anytime” or “come right over”. Service advisors will tell you this because they are either too busy or too lazy to take the time to make a proper appointment. When they tell you this, tell them that your time is very valuable and that you insist on an appointment at a time when they can get you in and out quickly. Always write down the name of the person that gave you the appointment.

(7) Shop and compare high cost repair prices. Most service departments are competitive on maintenance items like oil changes, wheel alignments, and tire rotations. However, the costs of major repairs can vary considerably. If you are looking at an air-conditioner, transmission, or engine repair that can cost several thousands of dollars, get bids from more than one service department. Often just suggesting that you will do this will keep the cost down from the dealership you prefer.

(8) Introduce yourself to the service manager. This falls along the same philosophy as developing a good personal relationship with your service advisor. It can’t hurt to know the “boss”. If you are on first name basis with the service manager, it just might earn you a slightly higher level of treatment from those that work for him. Be sure you meet the real manager. Lots of service advisors/salesmen call themselves managers or ASM’s… assistant service managers”. They are not…they are service salesmen.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

ATTENTION: CAR SALESMEN: JOIN MY WITNESS PROTECTION PROGRAM



Your car dealership probably adds non-government fees to the advertised prices of all the vehicles they sell. Florida law (and all other states) requires that all such fees be included in the advertised price. Why should you “rat” on your car dealer? These hidden fees cost you money just like it costs the unsuspecting customer. Your commission (average 25%) isn’t applied to these hidden fees which are generically referred to as dealer fees, but go by many other names. What they have in common is that they are not government fees. The Florida Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act, FDUTPA, section 501.976, par. 16-18. (see in the last paragraph).

These hidden fees average over $1,000 in South Florida which costs a car salesman an average of $250 commission on every car he sells. An average car salesman sells about 12 cars per month which totals $3,000 monthly that’s going into your dealer’s pocket instead of yours. Your dealer may have told you that the law requires he add his hidden dealer fees to the price of every car. This is untrue. If he eliminated the dealer fee and just raised the price of the car by that amount, you would be paid your fair commission. Your customer would also know the true price instead of being tricked.

The witness information I gather from your feedback towww.YourAnonymousFeedback.com can be used to make dealer fees illegal in Florida and perhaps the entire USA. I’m consulting with attorneys to launch a large class action suit against car dealers on behalf of car buyers. Tell me what’s going on in your dealership when you sell cars to customers who come in on advertised vehicles. Does your dealer include all his hidden dealer fees in the advertised price? The names of these fees vary, but some of the most common are dealer services fee, dealer fee, notary fee, doc fee, tag agency fee, electronic filing fee, e-filing fee, dealer prep fee, etc. Does he include some but not all? The best test of whether a fee is bogus or not is whether the dealer collects sales tax on the amount. If he charges the customer sales tax, it’s a bogus, non-government fee. All non-government fees (no matter what name your dealer chooses) must be disclosed on the buyer’s order with the language you can read in FDUTPA in the last paragraph of this article. They also must be included in the advertised price.

I completely understand why you’d be nervous about whistle-blowing on your employer. I’m sure you work hard and don’t want to lose your job. The link I’ve provided, www.YourAnonymousFeeback.com, is run by a company named Incogneato that provides this link to hundreds of blue chip companies so that their employees and customers can offer anonymous feedback. Some of these companies are Amazon, Tesla, Airbnb, PSB (Public Service Broadcasting) and Adobe. You can check them out at www.incognea.to. YOUR ANONYMITY IS GUARANTEED.

You can help put a stop to all dealer fees which will significantly increase your sales commissions and allow you to be honest with your customer.

Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act 
(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.”

Monday, January 14, 2019

Car Dealer Don’t Trust You: Their CUSTOMERS!



I’m always amazed by the way car dealers who use deceptive advertising and unethical sales tactics rationalize their behavior by blaming you, their customer. The following is a direct quote from an anonymous car dealer’s email I received in response to one of my columns in this newspaper:

“I don't think you would make any of these comments if you sold fords in a non-metro market. How do you expect dealers to change when consumers think they should pay less than dealer cost for a car and then walk into any other form of retail store and pay what they are asking?? Your ideas are noble but there are other dealers who have tried 'your' methods who are no longer in business.”

This dealer is saying that his customers are so ruthless and cunning that they won’t buy a car unless they can buy it below his cost, and his only solution is to trick them into thinking that they are buying it below his cost, like tacking on a “dealer fee” to the price they quoted the customer. He also goes on to say that my “ideas are noble” but I can’t possibly be successful, and I will go broke trying. I truly appreciate his concern and I want to assure him, if he is reading this article, that my business is doing well.

This attitude is a prevailing part of the culture in many car dealerships. Many dealers, dealer managers, and sales people don’t trust their customers (how paradoxical!). They don’t even like their customers. A very common expression among car dealers and their sales staff is “Buyers are liars”. This means that a prospective customer will not tell you the truth about the condition of his trade-in, he will lie to you about the price he got from your competitor, and he is likely to remove those new tires that were on his trade-in when the dealer appraised it when he comes in to pick up his new car.

There are also a lot of dealerships where used car buyers and people with bad credit are held in especially low esteem. They have nicknames for people with bad credit like “slugs” and “roaches”. Apparently dehumanizing these unfortunate members of our society with derogatory labels makes it easier to treat them so shabbily. People with bad credit are targeted with direct mail, TV and digital advertisements making absurd promises that convince prospective customers that they can finance a car no matter how bad their credit. In some dealerships applicants are coached on how to falsify credit application and pay records. In some cases, the applicant may not even know he is signing a false credit application which is federal offence. In most cases the credit is refused and the applicants are not even given the courtesy of a return phone call to tell them this.

I don’t claim to be a psychologist (and I don’t even play one on TV), but I’ve read articles explaining how humans will stereotype other people in a fashion that falsely justifies their negative behavior toward those same people. We see this with racism and even in wars. If you make yourself believe that car buyers are out to take advantage of you, “buyers are liars”, you can’t feel guilty about tricking them into paying a dealer fee. If you trick a “roach” or a “slug” into coming in to buy a car on credit when they probably can’t, why should you feel guilty? After all, roaches and slugs don’t have feelings.

What these kinds of dealerships don’t understand is that you must trust a person first before you can expect her to trust you. You must treat a person with respect before you can expect that person to respect you. Somebody has got to go first. My experience over the past 50+ years as a car dealer is that 99.9% of my customers are good people who I can believe and trust. Those are pretty good odds and I just assume that every customer I’m dealing with is part of that 99.9%. Once in a great while I get burned, but the loss from that one in a thousand that takes advantage is far out-weighed by the other 999 who respond positively to my trusting them and treating them with courtesy and respect.

Monday, January 07, 2019

QUICK REFERENCE GUIDE: DON’T GET RIPPED OFF BY A CAR DEALER



1. Choose the exact vehicle you want to buy or lease before you discuss price. Research this carefully and take your time. Consumer Reports is your best guide. Test drive the exact year, make and model vehicle for several hours, at least. Do not discuss price at this stage under any circumstances.

2. Go online to find your lowest price. The 2 best resources arewww.TrueCar.com and www.CostcoAuto.com. There’s no charge from TrueCar but you must be a paid member of Costco.

3. You should also check the best price with at least 3 dealerships. Deal only with their Internet departments. Insist on an out-the-door price plus GOVERNMENT FEES only. Beware of hidden fees by various names, collectively referred to as “dealer fees”. Beware of DEALER installed options added to the quoted price.

4. Shop and compare interest rates and terms with your bank and your credit union. Never rely on dealer financing without comparing it with your bank or credit union.

5. Get the true value of your trade-in by pretending that you want to sell to dealers who sell the same make as your trade. CarMax is also a good place to bet a bid on your trade-in. Remember to deal with the used car manager of the dealership and tell him you are selling your car and do not want to buy another.

6. Once you’ve determined the dealership that apparently has the best price, visit that dealership to confirm things are on the “up and up”. If they try to add anything to their quoted price except FEES THEY MUST PAY TO THE GOVERNMENT which can only be sales tax and license plate, LEAVE. Offer this dealer your trade-in if he will match your best price and your financing if he can beat your bank or credit union. One caveat on the trade-in…Florida and most states offer a sales tax savings for the trade-in allowance. Be sure that your third-party trade-in offer allows for this.

I guarantee you that if you follow these six simple rules, you will never again be ripped off by a car dealer.