If you are a reader of my columns, you know all about the “dealer fee” scam perpetrated on car buyers in Florida and other states where it is still legal. This fee ranges from $495 to $995 and even higher. It is profit to the dealer but is printed on the buyer’s order, disguised as a “fee” meant to be confused with legitimate state, local, and federal fees, like sales tax and license fees.
Virtually every dealer in Florida adds a dealer fee to the price he quotes you on the car. In fact, when questioned, many dealers’ justification is that “all dealers in Florida charge a dealer fee”. Strange as it may seem, Florida law prohibits a dealer from removing the dealer fee from the price he gives a customer. If he charges one person a dealer fee, he must charge all people. This is also the rationale you might hear if you object which, is “Florida law will not allow me to remove the fee”. The way to counter this objection, when haggling about the dealer fee, is to tell the salesman to reduce the overall price by the amount of the dealer fee and leave the dealer fee alone.
The only control placed on dealer fees by Florida law is for advertised prices. This law says that an advertised price must include the dealer fee. Dealers get around this by advertising just one vehicle at an advertised price with “many more at similar savings”. If the one car that is advertised is already sold, the dealer can sell you one just like it and add back the dealer fee.
Unfortunately, I recently discovered that there is a loophole to this sole law to protect the car buyer from dealer fees. The loophole is that lease payments and prices advertised by multiple dealers in the same ad do not have to include the dealer fee. This means that if a manufacturer advertises a price on a new car listing several dealers, the dealer fee can be excluded. When I inquired about this, I was told that this is to permit manufacturers and distributors to advertise the same car priced from multiple dealerships. I was told that they cannot include the dealer fee because each dealer fee is usually different. That doesn’t sound like a very good excuse to me. Ads including multiple dealerships usually include the names, phone numbers, addresses, and Web site URL’s of each dealer. Why not list each dealer’s “dealer fee”? You know the answer as well as I…they don’t want you to know there is a dealer fee, much less the amount of the dealer fee.
The reason for the law requiring that advertised prices include the dealer fee is very clear. It is to prevent the consumer from being fooled into coming in on a low price and then charged a higher one. If that principle applies to one dealer’s ad, why doesn’t it apply to multiple dealers advertising in one ad? To comply with the same law applying to one dealer, all multiple dealer ads would have to say is “price plus tax, tag, and dealer fee” and beside each dealer’s name list his particular dealer fee. This would also encourage dealers to lower their dealer fees and even eliminate them entirely.
Because I don’t charge a dealer fee, when my dealership is included in an ad with seven other South Florida dealerships, I have the lowest price but the reader of the ad cannot know that. The ad says “plus tax, tag, and dealer fees” in the fine print at the bottom of the ad, but does not disclose the amount of the dealer fees for each dealer. The uninformed prospective car buyer can pay up to $995 more for that advertised car than he would pay at my dealership because the dealer fee amounts are not disclosed. Does that sound right to you?