Monday, January 26, 2015

Open Letter to Florida Car Dealers III

Subject: We Have Met the Enemy & He is Us! 
Dear Florida car dealer, even if you weren’t a good history student in school, you probably remember the quote from Commodore Perry from the War of 1812, “We have met the enemy and they are ours”. The satirical comic strip, Pogo, has a memorable quote satirizing Commodore Perry, “We have met the enemy and he is us”. This fits the image problem we car dealers have today. We brought it on ourselves through our devious advertising and sales practices. However, we blame everybody but us…our customers, lawyers, the media, and car dealers like me who dare to speak the truth.

This is the 3rd letter I have written to Florida car dealers in my weekly column. The first asked you to stop charging your “dealer fee” on top of the price you quote your customers. The second asked you to advertise cars at a price you were willing to sell the car for and have an ample supply of. In both letters I made the point that there is a minority of car dealers like me who do not charge dealer fees or resort to “bait and switch” ads. I also confessed that I used to be one of those dealers that I am writing about today. I did charge a dealer fee once and I did advertise cars that I hoped the customer would not buy.

At the end of each letter, I asked that you call or email me to discuss my letter. So far, I have received no phone calls and the only emails blame me and others like me, for the negative image that car dealers have in our society. Here is an example of the emails I have received from dealers: 

“I read your sanctimonious babble in today’s paper and you are correct in assuming your comments will garner the attention of other dealers. It is comments like the ones you made that keep public opinion of our chosen profession in the doldrums. Like it or not we’re together in this battle and your “holier than thou” claim will only fuel the fire. Want to show the world your true compassion? Donate 20% or more of you net profit to charity then you’ll truly be the “great guy” you aspire to be.”

We can see this sort of “shoot the messenger” attitude with our politicians who blame the media for their negative image. It always amazes me to hear Republicans accuse the media of left wing bias and the Democrats blame the same media for a right wing bias. Sure there is bias in the media just like there is some bias in all of us. But, when your image in the eyes of the American public is as bad as that of politicians and car dealers, how can you not understand that there is a problem? The only profession I can think of that ranks as low in the public esteem is that of lawyers. 

If you will call or email me to discuss my position in an open minded manner, I think you will be surprised and happy that you did. My business has grown steadily since I began to really understand that satisfying and respecting my customers was the most important single ingredient for my overall success. I’m certainly not making the claim that my way of doing business is the only path to success. I know a lot of car dealers who sell more cars and make more money than I do who do not take my approach with their customers. You can “fool some of the people all of the time”. However, that minority that can be fooled all of the time is shrinking daily as our customers become more educated and sophisticated. One day soon, there won’t be enough of them to go around and the majority of car buyers will be doing business with guys like me. 


Earl Stewart

Cc: Pam Bondi
Warren Buffet
Ted Smith
Adam Putnam
Jeff Atwater
Rick Scott
Andy Gardiner
Steve Crisafulli

Monday, January 19, 2015

Open Letter to Florida Car Dealers Part II


Dear fellow car dealer, in case you missed my last letter to you on “dealer fees”, you can find it on my blog just by clicking here Open Letter to Florida Car Dealers

The subject of this letter is the ads most car dealers run which are designed to motivate prospective car buyers to come into their dealerships believing that they can buy or lease a vehicle for less than they really can. These ads appear in newspapers, direct-mail, TV, radio, and the Internet. If you are one of the few car dealers who do not do this, I know you will enjoy reading this column and agree with me.

One of the most common lures is advertising the new vehicle below your cost. You spend thousands of dollars advertising monthly and consider losing a little money on one or two cars as part of your advertising budget. The problem is that you deliberately limit the number of cars you will sell at this price and you do this in a deceptive manner.

One way this is done is to show a stock number next to the price of the car. This translates into there being only one car available at that price. Another technique is to use the phrase “other cars available at similar savings”. First of all, how do you define “similar”? Secondly, Florida law requires that you include “dealer fees” in all advertised prices, but not in cars that are sold for “similar savings”. Adding back that dealer fee can turn a “loss leader” back into a profit.

Another trick is to show huge discounts from “list” when list is defined in the fine print as including “dealer installed” options. By simply marking up whatever options you choose to install on an advertised car, you can generate as much markup as you like.

Bait and switch is also aimed at monthly payments. By disclosing in the fine print that a very, very high credit score is required to qualify for an advertised low payment, lease or purchase, you limit the possible buyers that can qualify to a very small percentage of the population. The vast majority that cannot qualify ends up with a much higher payment and higher profit to you.

A favorite deception is to advertise very large “minimum trade-in allowances”. I have seen trade-in “minimums” as high as $15,000. These ads are clearly aimed at prospects from the lower economic strata that are currently driving older cars and may be less sophisticated and informed buyers. A smart buyer knows that you cannot possibly allow someone $15,000 on a trade-in worth $250 unless you make back that deficit in additional markup on the car you are selling.

Another deception aimed at the lower economic, less educated portion of our society is the “no credit, no problem” ad. Having bad credit or no credit most definitely is a problem. It might not be a problem for you but it is for the person with the bad credit and it is for the bank that will refuse to finance that person. Another version of this trick is “no credit application refused”. A sophisticated buyer knows that all you are saying is that you will allow anyone to fill out a credit application and you might even agree to submit it to a lender. But you are not telling him that her credit application will be refused if her credit is too bad or not sufficient.

There are other examples that I could cite and there will be new ways that many dealers will come up with to lure buyers into their dealerships. As I said in my last letter, I am asking you to voluntarily stop this form of advertising before the regulators make you stop. I am not suggesting what you are doing is illegal, but I am saying that it is not right. I am also saying that it is bad business. If I can’t get your attention by asking you to treat your customers with respect and consideration, how about if I tell you that you can sell more cars and make more money if you do?

You are successful in luring lots and lots of people into your dealership, but you sell only a small portion of these people cars. Those you don’t sell are probably angry at you when they learn they cannot buy the car for the price they believed. Even the ones you do sell may be angry because they had to pay you more money than they wanted. Unhappy customers don’t come back and they tell their friends. You have to spend more and more on advertising because your repeat and referral business is so bad. This is not good for your bottom line and your manufacturer is probably “on your back” because your customer satisfaction rating is so low.

If you would like to discuss this with me, please call or email me. My numbers and addresses are below.


Earl Stewart

Cc: Pam Bondi
Warren Buffet
Ted Smith
Adam Putnam
Jeff Atwater
Rick Scott
Andy Gardiner
Steve Crisafulli

Monday, January 12, 2015

Open Letter to Car Dealers


Dear fellow Florida car dealer,

I started in the retail auto business in 1968, almost a half-century ago, and I have seen a lot of changes in the way we dealers sell cars and the expectations of our customers. My remarks in this column are made sincerely and with a positive intent toward you and your customers. I am not trying to tell you how to run your business; I am suggesting a change that will reward both you and your customers.

Virtually every car dealer in Florida adds a charge to the price of the cars he sells, variously referred to as a “dealer fee”, “documentary fee”, “dealer prep fee”, “electronic filing fee”, etc. This extra charge is printed on your buyer’s orders and is programmed into your computers. It has been capped, typically below $100, in most states but Florida allows you to charge as much as you can “get away with.” You charge this fee to every customer and it ranges from a few hundred dollars to THOUSANDS. In South Florida the average dealer fee is about $1,000. Your attorney probably advises you that if you charge a dealer fee to any customer, you should charge all customers, but that is to avoid lawsuits against discrimination. THERE IS NO LAW requiring that you charge all customers a dealer fee. Florida law does require that you disclose, in writing on the buyer’s order. that this charge represents profit to the dealer. Florida law also requires that you include this fee in all advertised prices. You don’t always do this and you get around the law by limiting the number of advertised vehicles (as few as one).

The argument that I hear from most car dealers when I raise this issue is that the dealer fee is fully disclosed to the buyer on his buyer’s order. But, most car buyers are totally unaware that they are paying this. Who reads all of the voluminous paperwork associated with buying a car? The few who notice it assume it is an “official” fee like state sales tax or license and registration fee. Those few astute buyers who do question the fee are told that your dealership must charge this fee on very car, which would not be true if you were to make the decision to not charge the dealer fee to anyone. You could easily avoid charges of discrimination by simply reducing your selling price by the amount of your dealer fee. These astute buyers are also told that all other car dealers charge similar fees. This is almost true, but, as you know, my dealership does not.

The reason you charge this fee is simply to increase the price of the car and your profit in such a manner that it is NOT NOTICED BY YOUR CUSTOMER. This is just plain wrong. Dealers will admit this to me in private conversations and some will admit that they have considered eliminating the fee as I have, but are afraid of the drastic effect to their bottom line. By being able to count on an extra $999 in profit that the customer is not aware of or believes is an “official fee”, you can actually quote a price below cost and end up making a profit. Or, if the price you quote the customer does pay you a nice profit, you can increase that by several hundred dollars.

This “extra, unseen” profit is even better for you because you don’t pay your salesmen a commission on it. That’s being UNFAIR TO YOUR EMPLOYEES AS WELL AS YOUR CUSTOMERS. When the rare, astute buyer objects to the dealer fee, you should decrease the quoted price of the car by the amount of the dealer fee. This would have the same net effect of removing it. The salesman will argue against this because he will lose his commission (typically 25%) on the decrease in his commissionable gross profit. When you’re talking about cutting a salesman’s commission by 25%, he can come up with all sorts of “creative” reasons that the dealership MUST charge the dealer fee. 

If you don’t know me, I should tell you that I don’t profess to be some “holier than thou” car dealer who was always perfect. Although, I never did anything illegal, when I look at some of my advertising and sales tactics 20+ years ago and more, I am not always proud. But, I have evolved as my customers have evolved. My customers’ expectations, level of education, and sophistication are much higher today. Your customers are no different. As I began treating my customers, and employees, better I discovered that they began treating me better. Yes, I used to charge a dealer fee ($495), and when I stopped charging it a few years ago, it was scary. But I did it because I could no longer, in good conscious, mislead my customers. Just because everybody else was doing the same thing did not make it right.

Now here is the good news. My profit per car did drop by about the amount of the dealer fee when I stopped charging it. But, when my customers realized that I was now giving them a fair shake and quoting the complete out-the-door price with no “surprises” the word spread. My volume began to rise rapidly. Sure, I was making a few hundred dollars less per car, but I was selling a lot more cars! I was, and am, selling a lot of your former customers. My bottom line is far better than it was when I was charging a dealer fee. You can do the same!

Why am I writing this letter? I’m not going to tell you that I think of myself as the new Sheriff that has come to “clean up Dodge”. In fact, I am well aware that this letter is to some extent self-serving. Lots of people will read this letter to you and learn why they should buy a car from me, not you. And, I am also aware that most dealers who read this will either get angry and ignore it or not have the courage to follow my lead. But maybe you will be the exception. If you have any interest in following my lead, call me anytime. I don’t have a secretary and I don’t screen any of my phone calls. I would love to chat with you about this.


Earl Stewart

Cc: Pam Bondi
      Warren Buffet
      Ted Smith
      Adam Putnam
      Jeff Atwater
      Rick Scott
      Andy Gardiner
      Steve Crisafulli

Monday, January 05, 2015

The Gap Between Educated and Uneducated Car Buyers

We read a lot about “gaps" in our society. There are wealth/income, achievement, health, education, morality, employment and many more gaps. The current focus seems to be on the widening wealth gap. The very wealthy are getting richer and the middle class net worth is static or declining. I truly believe that most, if not all, of these gaps can be traced back to education. I’m not going to write an article on why education should be given a higher priority than it is; however I do believe that this problem is not being addressed adequately in our country and I do believe it’s one of the most serious problems we face. 

My “thing” is cars and advising you on how to buy, lease, service, and repair your car without being taken advantage of by your local car dealer. I do that with this column/blog, my radio show, “Earl Stewart on Cars” (Every Tuesday and Sunday from 4-6pm on 900 AM The Talk; stream it on I also speak before groups such as Kiwanis, Rotary, public libraries, women and men’s clubs, schools, computer clubs, etc. If you are a member of a group in the South Florida, area, just give me a call. I wrote a book on how to buy and service your car entitled “Confessions of a Recovering Car Dealer.” You can buy it on Amazon and 100% of the proceeds go to charity. 

Because I’m totally accessible to the public (my personal cell phone number is 561 358-1474), I hear all of the stories of how car buyers are taken advantage of by car dealers. I have to say that there are good car dealers out there, more than there were 20 years ago, but there are more car dealers that do business the wrong way than the right way. Listening to these stories by victims of car dealers is one of the main things that motivate me to do what I do. Three of the most frequent complaints I hear are “I paid way too much money for the car, way too high interest on the financing, or got way to little an allowance for my trade-in.” 

There is one thing that sets buying a car apart from almost every other product you buy. That is that everybody pays a different price for the same car, gets a different trade-in allowance for the same car, and pays a different interest rate to finance the same amount of money. That means that if you were to buy a Ford F150 pickup truck today and your next door neighbor bought an identical truck tomorrow from the same dealer, the chances are that your neighbor would pay substantially more or less than you. The price difference could easily be thousands of dollars. 

What determines who gets the lower price and who gets the higher one? It has nothing to do with your race, sex, age, religion, or income; although there are studies that allege this is true, when you drill down in these studies you will learn that the underlying common denominator is “education”.

When you buy or lease a car, you are playing a game for money with the salesman and his manager. Both of them are paid a percentage of the profit they can make on the car they sell you. The higher the price they can convince you to pay, the higher their commissions are. The salesman and manager are professionals and you’re an amateur. They do this many times every day but you buy only one car every 4 or 5 years. They hold most of the good the cards in this game. They know the true cost of their car, the cash incentives to you from the manufacturer, but more importantly the secret cash incentives to the dealer. They are highly skilled negotiators and masters of psychology in winning your trust. Likability is one of the most important attributes of a good car salesman. When he looks you in the eye and says, “This is as good a price as I would give my own mother”, you want to believe him. 

The educated car buyer that has done his homework by reading Consumer Reports,,,, and other very good sources of Internet information on buying cars can win this high stakes game. Those who do not educate themselves, take their time in the car buying process, and get competitive bids from different dealers will end up paying a lot more money. In almost any car dealership the profit on a vehicle can vary from as little as a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. You want to be the savvy buyer that will save thousands of dollars. I’ll leave you with one thought which will save you money in your next car purchase…Time is on your side. The longer you take in the car-buying process, the lower the price of the car will be. Never buy a car on impulse on the first day or even the first week of car shopping. The car salesman will give you a lot of reasons not to do this, but they are untrue.

Monday, December 15, 2014

"Earl Stewart on Cars" is Back on the Radio!

I consider myself pretty good with words, but I cannot fully express how happy Nancy and I are to be back on the air assisting you and all South Floridians with their car buying and servicing issues. We answered all of your questions for seven years from our live, one-hour talk show on Seaview Radio, but had to take a thirteen month hiatus from November 2013. 

You can tune us in any Tuesday afternoon from 4pm to 6pm on JVC Broadcasting’s, “900 The Talk of the Palm Beaches”. That’s 900 on your AM dial. Our first show is Tuesday, December 16 and if you read this blog in time, we encourage you to listen and call the show with your comments and questions. You can stream the show live by following this link Stream Earl & Nancy LIVE.Our show is live, but it will be recorded for replay on Sundays from also from 4 PM to 6 PM. I’m excited to say that our show will also be simulcast live in Long Island, NY on 103.9, LI News Radio. Nancy and I will be off the air for the holidays, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, but back on again Tuesday, January 7. 

Nancy and I would like to thank the new owners of Seaview Radio, John Caracciolo, and Vic Canales for allowing former Seaview and current JVC General Manager, Chet Tart, to reinstate our show and expand the hours and frequency. But wait there’s more! “900: The Talk of the Palm Beaches” has ten times the power of our old Seaview station. The new signal for Earl Stewart on Cars reaches north to Vero Beach, south to Pompano, and west to Ft. Myers. We will reach, literally hundreds of thousands more listeners!

Furthermore, we are adding an entire new dimension to our show with Rick Kearney, a Certified Diagnostic Master Auto Technician. Rick knows “everything” about the mechanics of automobiles. He can answer all of your questions about problems you have with your car or truck, how to be avoid being ripped off by a mechanic or service department, and how best to economically service your vehicle. 

For those of you who have not listened to our radio show in the past, we offer something similar to this blog and newspaper column, but more and “live” so that you can call us and answer all of your questions. You may be in the process of buying a used or new car and need advice on how to find the lowest price, what makes and models are best for you, or which car dealers can you trust the most. You may have already bought a car and would like to share your purchasing experience, good or bad, with Nancy, me, and our radio audience. You might wonder if those “extra services” that the person you take your car to are really needed or if the price they are charging you is fair. 

Someone once said that buying and servicing a car is like having a root canal without the anesthetic. We would like to offer you some advice that will not only act as an anesthetic, but actually turn the buying an servicing of cars into a pleasurable experience. If you listen to Earl Stewart on Cars, you will hear me quote Jim Press, the former CEO for Toyota for all of North America and the first non-Japanese to sit on Toyota’s board of directors, “The way you treat the customer when you do not owe them anything, like how you treat somebody who cannot fight back—that is the ultimate test of character.” This sums up Nancy’s and my ultimate goal which is to ensure that all car dealers and service departments in South Florida understand the truth of this statement.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Dealing With the Dealer Fee - Earl Stewart's User Guide

Hopefully by now, all but my newest readers know about the infamous “Dealer Fee”. If you don’t know, it’s a hidden price increase on the car you purchase disguised to look like a federal, state, or local tax or fee. It’s actually 100% profit to the dealer. “Dealer Fee” is the most common name for this disguised profit, but it goes by many names such as doc fee, dealer prep fee, service fee, administrative fee, electronic filing fee, e-filing fee, tag agency fee, pre-delivery fee, etc. The names are only limited by car dealers’ imaginations. Almost all car dealers in Florida charge a Dealer Fee. The dealer fees range from around $700 to as high as $2,000!

This is the Florida law that is supposed to regulate the Dealer Fee: “The advertised price must include all fees or charges that the customer must pay excluding state and local taxes.” The law also requires that the Dealer Fee must be disclosed to the buyer as follows: “This charge represents costs and profits to the dealer for items such as inspecting, cleaning, and adjusting vehicles and preparing documents related to the sale.”

This law is very weak and almost never enforced. When enforced, it isn’t enforced by the letter of the law; it is done so as to “accommodate” the car dealers. The law is “weak” because it requires only that the dealer fee be included in the “advertised” price. The word “advertised” is narrowly interpreted to mean a specific car shown in a newspaper, TV, radio, or online ad, but, what about when you get a price on the phone, online, or from the salesman? You don’t find out about the Dealer Fee until you’re in the business office signing a bunch of papers. The dealers get around advertisements very easily by including a “number” in the fine print. This number is their stock number that designates one specific car. When you respond to the ad, this car is no longer available (sales people are usually not paid a commission for selling the “ad car). The advertisement might say “many more identical cars are available.” It’s true that identical cars are available for sale, but they are not available for sale at the sale price because they are not the advertised stock number car. If you buy one of those “exact same cars” you will pay from $700 to $2,000 more. 

The reason I’m told that the law is rarely enforced is that the Florida Attorney General’s office is understaffed and too busy enforcing other Florida laws. I’m also told that Florida car buyers don’t file very many complaints against car dealers for violating the Dealer Fee law. I don’t believe that there can be too many other infractions of the law that take more money annually from consumers than dealer fees take from car buyers. Just one car dealer selling 1,000 cars a year and charging a $1,000 dealer fee is taking a $1 million annually from car buyers. Most car dealers in South Florida well a lot more than 1,000 cars annually and many charge more than $1,000 dealer fee. I believe that the reason more complaints aren’t filed on the dealer fee is because most car buyers don’t know that they are being duped. They either don’t notice the fee or assume it’s an official federal or state fee. Dealer often tell their customers that all dealers charge it and that it’s required by law. 

The Attorney General also “accommodates” the dealers by not interpreting the law the way it was intended. For example, the law says that the dealer fee must be included in the advertised price. The Florida Senate has ruled that the law requires that the fee be “included” rather than “specifically delineated.” But the Attorney General allows car dealers to advertise car prices without including their dealer fee in the price if they mention their dealer fee in the fine print. They also allow car dealers to simply state in the fine print that they have a Dealer Fee but not even mention the amount. To me they are simply allowing the car dealers to break the law. 

Lastly, the required disclosure of the Dealer Fee on the vehicle buyer’s order or invoice is confusing, misleading, and incorrect: “This charge represents costs and profits to the dealer for items such as inspecting, cleaning, and adjusting vehicles and preparing documents related to the sale.” It should not say “costs” because any cost that you pass along to the customer in the price of a product is pure profit. A dealer can pass along his utility bills, sales commissions and advertising if he wants to and call it a “dealer fee”. It should not say “inspecting, cleaning, and adjusting vehicles” because all car dealers are reimbursed by the manufacturer for “inspecting, cleaning, and adjusting vehicles”. 

So, what should you do when you are confronted by a car dealer with the “Dealer Fee”? Besides “LEAVE”, here are some suggestions that may help you:

(1) Make it clear from the very beginning that all prices you discuss must be “out-the-door” prices. This way you don’t care if the dealer fee added up front because you will shop and compare their bottom line price with at least 3 competing car dealers. Ideally you should require that they include tax and tag in that price. If you don’t they might try to slip in something they call the “electronic filing fee” or “e filing fee” and trick you into believing it’s part of the license tag and registration. 

(2) The dealer will often tell you that all car dealers charge Dealer Fees and that they are required by law to add the dealer fee on every car they sell. Simply tell them that you know this is not true and you can cite me and other car dealers like Mullinax Ford who do not charge a dealer fee. Print out a copy of this article, show it to them, and tell them that you know that there is no law that says he must charge you a dealer fee. 

(3) As long as you and the dealer understand that the out-the-door price is the price you will shop and compare with his competition, you don’t need to be concerned whether there is a dealer fee showing on the vehicle buyer’s order. To be competitive, the dealer can simply reduce the price by the amount of his Dealer Fee and the bottom line is what you are comparing. 

(4) Be aware that dealers usually do not pay their sales people a commission on the amount of their dealer fee. In fact, dealers often misinform their sales people just like they do their customers. The salesman who tells you that the all dealers charge Dealer Fees and that the law requires everyone pay a dealer fee may actually believe it. Sale people who understand that the Dealer Fee is simply profit to the dealer will be resentful of not being paid their 25% commission on it. A $1,000 dealer fee costs the salesman $250 in commission.

(5) When you respond to an advertisement at a specific price for a specific model car, object when the dealer adds the dealer fee. Unfortunately, the law allows him the loophole of claiming that the ad car is a different stock number, but you might be able to shame him into taking off the dealer fee. If you raise a “big enough stink”, the dealer would be smart to take off the dealer fee than claim that technicality, especially if you were to advise the local TV station or newspaper. 

I hope that these suggestions help you and I hope that you will file a complaint with the Florida Attorney General, Pam Bondi. If enough consumers (who are also voters) let our elected officials know how they feel about the Dealer Fee, it will bring positive results.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Don’t Fall For Nitrogen (What Car Dealers Tell You Is Nonsense)

I’ve been writing articles on why nitrogen in your tires is a waste of money for several years, but It has had very little effect on the number of car dealers that are selling it to their customers. The “Nitrogen Lobby” must be very powerful because we still have no federal or state legislation to curtail this. Selling nitrogen generation equipment and tanks of nitrogen to car dealers is very lucrative and, even more lucrative is the money car dealers make selling nitrogen to their customers. One large volume car dealer charges $398 for nitrogen in the tires of every vehicle he sells. The cost of nitrogen is about “25 cents” per application. If you feel you absolutely must have nitrogen in your tires, Costco will give it to you “free” which is exactly what nitrogen in your tires is worth.

I don’t recommend that you even accept free nitrogen for this reason. It’s widely accepted and recommended that you should have your tire pressure checked in your tires at least monthly. We do this free for our customers and automatically do it at every service visit. When you are sold or even given nitrogen, it comes with a sales pitch that nitrogen will remain in your tires for a much longer time than air which is not true. Click on this link to Consumer Reports article, If you believe the sales pitch, you’re less likely to check your tires inflation every 30 days. You may have a slow leak in one tire from a nail or screw, uneven wear from misalignment, or even a defective tire. Being “over confident” because you paid money for nitrogen may cause these problems to go undetected. Consumer Reports estimates that 1lb of nitrogen will escape from your tires every 3 months vs. 1 month for air. Remember that air is 78% nitrogen. I’ll bet the salesman that sells you nitrogen “forgot” to tell you that.
Be prepared for a great sales pitch on nitrogen. You’ll be told that NASCAR uses nitrogen in the tires of their race cars, NASA used nitrogen in the tires of their space shuttle, and that airlines uses nitrogen in airplane tires. All of this is true, but so what? A race car going 200 mph for hours and hours around an oval track subjects its tires to extremely high temperatures. 100% nitrogen gas does expand less under extreme heat condition than 78% nitrogen gas (air). The space shuttle tires go from zero atmospheric pressure in outer space to regular pressure at sea level. Airliners also have extreme pressure variations from 30,000 feet to the ground.
To be perfectly fair, I must say that some car dealers that are selling nitrogen have “drunk the Kool Ade” from the nitrogen generation equipment industry. Some car dealers actually believe that nitrogen is good for your tires. But those who do know must know how much they’re marking up that 25 cents worth of nitrogen they’re selling you! The argument for nitrogen can be persuasive. In fact, when the concept was first introduced, before the Consumer Reports study, I actually considered adding nitrogen to my customers’ tires. But, in an abundance of caution, I decided to test the claims about nitrogen myself. Over a six month period I used pure nitrogen in 50% of my rental car fleet and regular air (78% nitrogen) in the other half. Guess what! There was no measurable difference between the pure nitrogen and air filled tires in the fuel economy, tire wear, or inflation pressure after 6 months. We did check the tires every 30 days for slow leaks from road hazards, uneven wear from misalignment or other reasons, and we rotated and balanced the tires every 5,000 miles.
Finally, I’ll tell you why I was so careful to be sure there was no advantage to nitrogen. My dealership has a “fee tire program”. Everybody who buys a Toyota from me, new or used, receives free tires (maximum of $700 per set) for as long as they own their car. The one requirement is that they bring their car back to me for the factory recommended service and we replace only tires from normal wear, not road hazards, underinflating or misalignment. I give away over $100,000 worth of tires every month, well over a million dollars per year. BELIEVE ME, if I thought I could get longer wear from a tire for “25 cents” worth of nitrogen, I would! I look at the tires on my customers’ cars as “belonging to me” because I incur the cost of replacing them when they wear out.