Saturday, October 28, 2006

LIST PRICE & MSRP MIGHT NOT BE THE SAME

Just when I thought that I knew all the tricks that some car dealers play, I discovered a new one in Saturday’s Palm Beach Post.

The ad screamed “GET UP TO $12,000 OFF”. The new cars featured in the ad showed many discounts over $3,000 and $4,000. Then I found the gimmick. The discount was off of “List” price, not the manufacturer’s suggested retail, or MSRP. Most people, including me, use the terms list price and MSRP interchangeably. However, MSRP is a legal term deriving from a law sponsored by U.S. Senator Monroney, about 40 years ago. The Monroney label is required by law to be displayed on all new vehicles showing the manufacturer’s retail price, MSRP.

The purpose of this law was to offer the consumer some basis for comparison of prices between different car dealers. Before this law was passed, a car dealer could post any price he wished on the window of a new car. If he posted a price with a markup of $10,000, he could advertise a $5,000 discount and still make a $5,000 profit.

The ad I am referring to in Saturday’s Palm Beach Post shows discounts from “list” price, but defines it in the very fine print at the bottom of the ad as being “MSRP plus installed options”. There it is! The giveaway is “plus installed options”, if your eyes are good enough to read the fine print (I had to use my magnifying glass). By jacking up the MSRP with “installed options”, a car dealer has circumvented the law sponsored by Senator Monroney. This dealer can now advertise huge discounts, limited only by how high a markup he wants to put in his “installed options”. There is no law limiting the markup in an installed option. Dealers commonly install options with very low cost with high perceived value to the too trusting or careless customer. Some examples are undercoating, paint sealant, fabric protector, stripes, theft insurance, and rust proofing.

I came across another surprise in The Stuart News. If you have read my past columns, you know about “dealer fees” aka “dealer prep”, doc fees, and a few other misleading names. This charge is simply additional profit to the dealer disguised as a state or federal fee like sales tax or license and registration. The amounts range from $495 to $895. State law requires that this “fee” be included in all advertised prices and my surprise was that there are some dealers ignoring this law. The prices advertised in The Stuart News in the ads I am referring to disclosed in the very fine print “all prices plus tax tag & dealer fee”. This is a violation of state law. Unfortunately, it is impossible for the Attorney General’s office to police all of the car ads in the state every day.

Dealer fees, dealer prep, doc fees, etc. are bad enough even when they are included in the advertised price. The tactic employed by dealers to get around the law requiring that the dealer fee be included, it to switch the prospective buyer to another car. This is easily done by these means: (1) Pay the salesman no commission or a minimal commission on the advertised car. (2) Make the color and accessories of the advertised car very unattractive. (3) Have only 1 or 2 cars available at that advertised price. (4) Limit the time a buyer can buy that specific car by fine print saying “price good on date of publication only”. (4) Simply telling you that the car has already been sold. How are you to know? Many states like California make dealer fees illegal. In my opinion they should be made illegal in Florida. Please write your legislator on this issue.

Your best defense against this kind of thing is to choose the dealership you buy your car from with great care. Find a dealership that has a good reputation with the Better Business Bureau, Count Office of Consumer Affairs, and the Attorney General’s Office. Preferably choose a dealer who has been in business for a longer time. Ask friends, neighbors or relatives who may be driving a model that you are interested in how their experience was with that dealer.

TELL YOUR CAR DEALER TO BE NICE

About seventeen years ago a car dealer in Dallas, Texas wrote a book entitled Customers for Life. His name is Carl Sewell and the book describes in detail why treating your customers with care, courtesy, respect and dignity is the surest way to success in the retail automobile business. When I first read this book many years ago, I wished that I had written it myself. I learned a lot from Customers for Life and it had a major impact on my business and my life.

If you would like a free copy of this book, just go to my Web site, EarlStewartToyota.com. Click on the link under the picture of the book where it says “complimentary copy click here”. Some of the chapters in the book are “The customer will tell you how to provide good service, if the customer asks, the answer is always yes, there’s no such thing as after hours, under-promise and over-deliver, and you can’t give good service if you sell a lousy product. When you read this book, you should have a pretty good idea of how you should expect to be treated by your car dealer, or any retail business establishment.

Remember that Carl Sewell is not just a “nice guy”, but also a very shrewd businessman. He learned that by treating customer so nicely and fairly that he actually exceeded their expectations, these customer continued to buy from him “for the rest of their lives”; Hence the title, Customers for Life. Back in 1990 he calculated that the average customer for life bought $517,000 in cars and service from him over their lifetime. Adjusted for inflation, that would amount to closer to $1,000,000 today. Furthermore these customers referred their friends, neighbors, and relatives. Also, Carl Sewell did not have to spend any advertising money to persuade them to buy from him. It is no wonder that he is one of the largest volume and most profitable car dealers in the USA.

Carl also believes in treating his employees with the same courtesy, care, and respect that he treats his customers. Have you ever been embarrassed in a retail business when a boss chewed out a subordinate in front of you? Chapter 13 is entitled “Who’s more important? Your customer or your employee? A: Both. When you enter a car dealership where the employees are more like team mates and genuinely care for each other and their supervisors you can practically feel it in the air. You feel more comfortable and trusting and more confident that, if they treat each other like this, you will be treated similarly. This is a direct quote from Customers for Life. “It’s very rare to see a manager who treats his customers one way and his employees another. And it’s awfully hard for employees to treat customers well if the boss treats them badly.”

After you read Customers for Life, why not loan it to your car dealer? Remember that this is not a “do-gooder” kind of a book. The message is that a businessman can be more successful and profitable by employing the recommendations of this book. Loaning your car dealer this book would be doing him a favor. Most car dealers should have heard of Carl Sewell. He is one of the most successful car dealers in the county and his book is considered by manufacturers and dealers to be the “bible” for customer satisfaction. If they haven’t heard about Carl Sewell, feel free to use me as a reference. Reading Customers for Life had a major positive impact on my success and the reputation I enjoy as a car dealer.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

BUY OR LEASE YOUR NEW CAR AT THE RIGHT TIME OF THE YEAR

The total cost of a new car consists of many factors including initial purchase price, maintenance and repairs, and insurance. One of the most often overlooked and biggest costs of owing a car is depreciation. Some makes and models of cars depreciate more than others. By choosing the right make and model you can minimize depreciation. You can also minimize depreciation by properly maintaining your car, protecting it from the elements, and selecting the best color. One important factor in depreciation that is most often overlooked is the time of year that you buy or lease your car.

You should always buy your new car as soon as possible after that year model is introduced. Some would disagree, arguing that you can buy a car for less at the end of the model year. Even if this were so (and I don’t agree with this), the savings would not offset the increased cost of depreciation that you inherit by buying a new car that is a year old. If you follow the advice I have given in my previous columns on the smartest way to buy a new car, you can usually buy a new car for close to the same price at the beginning of the model year as at the end.

There was a time when virtually all makes of cars were introduced in the last quarter of the calendar year preceding the model year. If you bought a new model in September, you could be assured that you got it at the right time to minimize your depreciation. Nowadays, new models are introduced at almost any time and the introductions are nearly unpredictable. It’s not unheard of for a manufacturer to actually skip a model year entirely, selling last year’s model for another year. Or, sometimes a manufacturer will introduce a new model as much as two years before the calendar date of that model year. You should be sure you know exactly when that model year you are contemplating buying was introduced. You don’t want to buy a model year that was introduced 6 or 8 months ago

If you are leasing your car, you should also try to lease it as soon as possible after that year model is introduced. Also, when deciding on the length of the lease, your lease should end when the new model that you will lease or buy next is introduced. You don’t have to lease a car for a full one, two, three, or four years. You can lease a car for 39 months, for example, which may assist you in having your lease terminate at just the right time to buy or lease your next car.

Be sure you know how many more years the make and model you select will remain before it is replaced by a major model change. The life cycle of a particular model varies between manufacturers from as short as 3 years to as long as 6 or 7 years. Your car will retain its value considerably more if it is still within its current product cycle when you trade it in. You need to be especially wary when a specific model is discontinued entirely. Research this carefully and time your purchase or lease as early in the product cycle as possible.

If you are buying a brand new model at the beginning of its product cycle, be sure that you are buying from a manufacturer that has a very good reputation for quality. You can get a pretty good idea of the quality of the new model by researching the reliability of the previous year model. It is true that a brand new model can experience some bugs during the early months of its first year. If you are nervous about this, it might pay to wait for 3 or 4 months after a brand new model is introduced to see if problems in the form of recall campaigns or otherwise do occur.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

EIGHT STEPS TO ENSURE THAT YOU ARE BUYING THE BEST CAR FOR THE BEST PRICE

(1) Consumer Reports Subscribe to Consumer Reports, go to the library and read past issues, or check out Consumer Reports online. There are other objective sources of information on cars, but this is the best. They accept no advertising from anybody and their sole goal is rigorously and objectively testing merchandise that consumers buy. You can very quickly find the best make car for the model and style you want to buy. Consumer Reports rates cars by performance, cost of operation, safety, and frequency of repair.
(2) Test Drive the car you have chosen This step requires that you visit a car dealership. Remember that this doesn’t have to be the dealership you buy it from. You obviously must see, touch, feel, and drive the car that you think you want to buy. A new car is a very personal thing and just because Consumer Reports loved it doesn’t mean that you will. Be sure that you test drive the car at all speeds in all road types that you normally drive. Drive it in the city but also on the expressway.
(3) Carefully choose the accessories you want There are some accessories that enhance the value of your car and some that don’t or may even lower it. Generally speaking you should accessorize a car comparably to its class. If you are buying a lower priced economy car, you should not load it up with leather seats and an expensive sound system. If you do, you won’t recoup much of what you spent on these accessories in its resale value. On the other hand, if you are buying a luxury car, don’t skimp on items people look for in luxury cars like a navigation system or a moon roof.
(4) Carefully choose your car’s color Color is more important in determining a car’s resale value than accessories. If you want to maximize the trade-in value of this car, choose a popular color. White, silver, black, and beige are the 4 most popular colors. Sports cars and convertibles are exceptions and red is often the most popular color. The difference in trade-in value between the right color and the wrong color can be several thousands of dollars.
(5) Arrange your financing Now that you know exactly what kind of a car you are going to buy, you can check with local banks and credit unions to find the best interest rate. Don’t commit until you have chosen the dealer you will buy from. Manufacturers sometimes offer very low special rates and dealers can sometimes offer a lower rate than your bank or credit union.
(6) Shop your trade-in If you are trading in a car, take it to 3 dealerships for the same make and ask them how much they will pay you for your car. A Chevy dealer will pay more for a used Chevy and a Toyota dealer will pay more for a used Toyota. If you live near a CarMax store, get a price from them too. They have a reputation of paying more money for trade-ins than most dealers. Don’t commit to the highest bid, but give the dealer you buy from a chance to beat that price.
(7) Shop for the best price on the Internet Go to the manufacturer’s Web site. The addresses are all very intuitive. Toyota is www.toyota.com and Pontiac is www.pontiac.com. You can type in your zip code and get the Web sites of all of your local dealers. Depending on how far you are will to drive to pick up your new car, request price quotes from as many dealers as you like, but be sure you get at least 3 quotes. When you have chosen the lowest price, verify that this price is “out-the-door” with only tax and tag added.
(8) Offer your favorite, or nearest, dealer the right to meet this price. If you have been dealing with one dealership for a long time and have had good experiences with their service department, you should give them a chance to meet your lowest Internet price. Of course, you can take your new car to them for service even if you don’t buy it from them.

You will notice that there were no steps listed above which suggested that you look in your local newspaper’s auto classified section, watch car dealer’s TV ads, or believe their direct mail “too good to be true” offers. When you fall for this, the dealer is in control. When you follow my eight steps, you are in total control.