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Friday, February 23, 2007

Don’t Pay for Nitrogen In Your Tires



It’s bad enough that gas stations now make you pay to inflate your own tires with air. But at least you are getting what you paid for…air which does what it’s supposed to do and that is to keep your tires inflated.

Many car dealers are now charging customers to fill their tires with “pure” nitrogen. They tell you that nitrogen does not leak from your tires as quickly as air and this means that your tires will stay properly inflated longer before you have to add more nitrogen (and pay the dealer for this). What the dealers don’t tell you is that the air that is already in your tires is mostly nitrogen anyway. In fact, 78% of the air you breathe is nitrogen. Oxygen represents only 12% of the air. The rest of air includes carbon dioxide and other inert gases. I’m not sure what the purity of the nitrogen is that they pump into your tires for $199 (this is not a typo…one hundred and ninety-nine dollars for filling four tires full of mainly air). But, you can be assured that the purity of the nitrogen is not 100% and is probably closer to the 78% that regular air consists of.

Even knowing all of the above, I have to admit that I was curious about whether or not nitrogen could prolong tire live and improve fuel economy because I knew that NASCAR drivers used nitrogen filled tires and I heard that Volvo’s came from the factory with nitrogen in their tires. I have a BS in Physics from the University of Florida and a Master of Science from Purdue and these kinds of things interest me. So, to find out for myself, my dealership conducted an experiment. We have a fleet of rental cars and we filled two tires of each car with pure nitrogen and 2 tires with regular air. Over the course of many weeks, we measured the pounds of inflation in the nitrogen and air filled tires. There was no difference in the inflations of the nitrogen v. s. the air filled tires. If there is no difference in the inflation, there can be no benefit from nitrogen of better gas mileage or fuel economy.

You may have read my column last week, “Beware the Phony Monroney”. In that column I warned you about car dealers that add a window sticker designed to look exactly like the federally mandated Monroney sticker. This is where you should look for dealer installed accessories and additional dealer markups over MSRP. Often these accessories have a high price but a very low cost. In the case of nitrogen in four tires selling for $199, this is exactly the case. Since air is already 78% nitrogen, it costs virtually nothing to extract nitrogen from the air. To be generous, let’s say the dealer’s cost is $10 including labor. That is a 2000% markup when he charges $199.

Just when I thought I’d seen it all, I actually saw window stickers on a car today from another dealer who had actually modified the Monroney label to show nitrogen filled tires. To do this, the dealer actually had to remove the real Monroney label, make the modification showing the nitrogen tires, and re-paste the Monroney label to the window. Federal law requires that a Monroney label not be removed until the vehicle is delivered to the customer. It also requires that it not be modified. This new vehicle was one we had traded for from another dealer and still had the counterfeit Monroney and the modified real Monroney attached to the window. The modified Monroney looked so authentic, that one of my technicians and my service manager inquired of Toyota about the necessity of our carrying nitrogen tanks so that we could refill these tires with Nitrogen. If this could fool a Toyota dealer’s technicians and service manager, it might fool you too.

This particular dealer also had another charge added to the counterfeit Monroney sticker, a $4,995.00 “Market Value Adjustment”. Most prospective customers think that this is part of the manufacturer’s recommended retail price. They either end up paying too much money for the vehicle or think they are getting more for their trade-in or a bigger discount than they really are. It’s easy to allow someone an extra $5,000 on their trade-in when you have already marked the car up an extra $5,000 over sticker price.










Friday, February 16, 2007

BUYERS ARE LIARS!

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

This attitude is actually 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 and newspaper ads 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 have 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 warfare. 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 have to 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 40+ 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 am 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-weighted by the other 999 who respond positively to my trusting them and treating them with respect.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Beware the Phony Monroney

“Phony Monroney” should not be confused with “Boney Maroney” (I got a gal named Boney Maroney. She’s as skinny as a stick of macaroni). That song was first recorded by Larry Williams during my high school years, 1956-1958. You will appreciate this lame attempt at humor only if you are about my age, 66.

The Monroney label is the window sticker that is mandated by federal law to be affixed to every new vehicle sold in the United States up until the time the new owner takes delivery. The name, Monroney, derives from Senator Michael Monroney’s law passed by Congress in 1958. Prior to the proposal of this bill, there was often a large discrepancybetween the showroom price and the actual price of a new vehicle. The fact was that existing price tags did not tell the full story. Most customer-quoted prices were for "stripped-down" models and did not include additions for preparation charges, freight charges, federal, state, and local taxes, or optional factory-installed equipment requested by the purchaser. These hidden charges were used by some dealers to increase the selling price while giving the new vehicle buyer an inflated idea of their trade-in allowance. This price confusion led to a slump in auto sales during the early 1950's. Senator Monroney's bill was designed to prevent the abuse of the new vehicle list prices, but would not, however, prevent dealers and buyers from bargaining over vehicle prices.

Well, as you might expect, car dealers have figured out a way to evade this very good law. An alarmingly large number of Florida dealers use a label that is designed to look almost identical to the official Monroney label. It has the same coloring, fonts, type size and layout. This “phony Monroney” is affixed right next to the genuine article. Unless you really look close and read all of the fine print, you will have no idea that you are looking at a counterfeit Monroney label. This phony Monroney includes extra charges to artificially inflate the manufacturer’s suggested list price, MSRP.

One of the most egregious of these charges is an addition of pure markup just for profit which has a variety of names. Some of these are “Market Adjustment”, “Additional Dealer Markup”, “Adjusted Market Value”, “ADM”, “Market Adjustment Addendum” and “Market Value Adjustment”. This is simply an amount that the dealer adds to the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. It is virtually always used in high-demand, low supply cars. I have seen these labels with charges as much as $10,000 added to the MSRP. Additions of $1,500 to $3,995 are common. Dealers also use the counterfeit labels to price dealer-installed accessories, which are OK, as long as the accessories are not marked up higher than the manufacturer marks them up.

When customers confuse the phony Monroney with the real one, this distorts their point of reference for comparing prices between different dealerships. One manufacturer’s Monroney labels are consistent. A 2007 Honda Accord with the same factory accessories will have the same MSRP at every Honda dealership you visit. But if dealers fool you into thinking their label is part of the Monroney, you are not comparing “apples and apples”. This can adversely affect a good buying decision in a number of ways. Some buyers focus mainly on how big a trade-in allowance they can get for their old car. If one dealer has the same car marked up $3,000 more than another dealer, he can offer you $3,000 more for your trade and still make the same profit as the other dealer. Some buyers focus on how big a discount they get from “sticker”. It’s easy to give a higher discount if you have artificially inflated the MSRP by thousands of dollars.

My advice to you is carefully inspect the sticker on the new car you are contemplating buying. Read it completely and especially the fine print. If there is a second label on the car, it is possible that it is fair. This would be for purposes of adding an item, installed by the dealer like floor mats or stripes, priced the same as the manufacturer charges. If that second label includes a markup over MSRP for no reason other than profit for the dealer, make sure that you adjust for that number in your comparisons for discounts and trade-in allowance. Some dealers also add a second markup to these labels and that is the infamous “dealer fee” also sometimes called “doc fee” and “dealer prep”. Some dealers do not put this on the phony Monroney but print it on their buyer’s orders and program it into their computers.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Should I Buy a Car or Have a Colonoscopy?

If you are over 55, you should have had a colonoscopy. If you haven’t, call your doctor because this could save your life. It did mine, but that’s another story. I had another colonoscopy yesterday and I have to tell you that it’s a very unpleasant experience, mainly from the mental anguish anticipation and the discomfort of the preparation the previous day. I had a lot of time to think about my procedure and I started thinking about how this experience parallels that of buying a car. It’s something you must do and has a very good benefit, but you dread the process.

This column, my 39th for Hometown News, has consisted mainly of suggestions and inside information that can make your new or used car buying experience less of a fearful occasion. If this is the first column of mine you have read, you can read all of them on my Blog, www.EarlStewartOnCars.com. Some of the titles/subjects are “Always Get an Out the Door Price”, “Bait and Switch Advertising”, “Beware of Deceptive Internet Car Pricing”, “Beware of Direct Mail Car Advertising”, “Buying a Car When You Have a Credit Problem”, “Eight Steps to Ensure You Are Buying the Best Car for the Best Price”, “List Price and MSRP Might Not Be the Same”, “Negotiating to Buy a Car”, “Open Letter to Florida Car Dealers” (I, II, III, and IV), “Shop Your Financing and Trade”, “Should I Buy My Car at the End of the Lease?”, “Should I Lease or Buy my Next Car?”, “Should I Pay Cash or Finance My Next Car?”, “Should I Trade in My Old Car or Sell it Myself”, “Tell Your Car Dealer to be Nice”, “The Right Used Car is a Better Buy than a New Car”, “Translating Misleading Car Ads”, “What is the True Cost of that New Car?”, “What to do if You Are Treated Badly by a Car Dealer”, “When is a Car Sale Not a Car Sale?”, and “The Internet Price is the Lowest Price for a New Car”.

Almost every one of these articles originated from my customers’ and others’ experiences when buying cars from other car dealers. I get a lot of calls from people who have never bought a car from me. They call to tell me of their bad experience with another dealer and, when I get several calls on the same subject, I write a column on it. People often call me asking for advice or assistance after they have already bought, which is “closing the barn door after the horse is gone.” On more than one occasion I have called car dealers asking them to consider undoing a wrong they have caused one of their customers. I have to confess that I am “batting zero” on this effort. I won’t give up, however. I just made another call this afternoon on behalf of a customer whose installment sales contract, signed by her and the dealership had a higher interest rate than a second contract that the dealer sent to the lender. The customer told me she signed only one contract, the one she took home a copy of.

One thing that amazes me about these weekly columns that I have been writing for almost a year is that no car dealer has ever called me to complain or for any other reason. I have not been sued either. I think that says something about the truth of my articles. I’m not a lawyer, but I do know that you can’t successfully sue somebody for libel or slander if they write or say the truth. I know of one car dealer who threatened to cancel her advertising in the PB Post because she thought it owned the Hometown News. I am puzzled why not one single dealer would call me just out of curiosity. I don’t have a secretary and I don’t screen any of my calls…nor do any of my employees. They do know how successful my dealership is and how fast my sales are growing. They know that I am selling a lot of their former customers. Many of these new customers tell me how they told the other dealers why they chose to take their business elsewhere. I believe that before too much longer we will see some changes in the way other car dealers do business even if they refuse to call me, as I have repeatedly invited them to do. Sooner or later they will understand that treating your customers with courtesy and integrity is just plain good business.

BEWARE OF DECEPTIVE INTERNET CAR PRICING

Last September, I wrote a column for this newspaper entitled “The Internet Price is the Lowest Price for a New Car”. If you missed that, you can read all of my columns at www.EarlStewartOnCars.com. Although, I still believe you can find your best price on the Internet, I thought that I should write another column to stress how careful you must be in determining whether or not you have a real, bottom line, out-the-door price.

The reason that a dealer always tries to post his lowest new car price on the Internet is simple. If he doesn’t the Internet shopper will simply ignore the price quote and buy from another dealer who has a lower price. A car dealer gets “just one chance” to sell you a car when he puts his price out on the Internet. The Internet is theoretically the purest and best form of a competitive marketplace, favoring the buyer. Think about it…if you wanted to take the time you could get a price quote from every Honda, Toyota, or Ford dealer in the USA! There are about 1,300 Toyota dealers in the USA. It might take you a while (about 8 days if you worked 8 hours a day and spent 3 minutes per email), but you sure would know who was selling your selected model Toyota for the lowest price.

Whether you are reading newspaper ads, watching TV ads, reading direct mail advertising, or surfing car a dealer’s Web site you have to be careful of deception. Internet advertising on car dealer’s Web sites and their Internet price quotes can be more deceptive than other media. This is because the Internet is the “new frontier”. Legislation has not caught up with the Internet like it has newspaper, TV, and radio advertising. A dealer can get away with a lot more on his Web site and price quotes than he can in a newspaper ad. Electronic media and newspaper advertising are also a lot more visible to the regulators than the Internet.

I’ll give you an example of the type of violation you must be wary of. There’s a car dealer in West Palm Beach who quotes prices to his customers over the Internet excluding $879.90 which are dealer fees. He also calls them doc fees, but they are simply profit for him. Furthermore, he excludes any “dealer installed option”. This means that he can charge you anything he wants for stripes, glass etching, floor mats, undercoating, etc. that he has pre-installed on the car. He does disclose in fine print the fact that he does charge doc fees and dealer installed options, but does not tell the amount of the charge. This is your “surprise” when you come into his dealership to take delivery.

Your defense against this sort of thing is to call those dealers who have given you the lowest price quotes on the vehicle you want to buy. Start with the lowest price and simply ask, “Is there anything else added to my price other than Florida sales tax and a state fee for a license tag or tag transfer?” If they do add something, find out specifically what they do add so that you know you have an “out-the-door”, bottom line price when you come in to take delivery. If they won’t give you a clear answer or are ambiguous, hang up and call the next dealer.

Dealers who advertise deceptively have the philosophy that all that counts with their advertising is to “get them in the door”. Another slang dealers use for this is “driving floor traffic”. They calculate that if they can trick enough people to come through the door, they will be able to fool a certain percentage of them. It’s like Abraham Lincoln said, “You may fool all the people some of the time, you can even fool some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” Well these dealers don’t have to fool all of the people to make lots of money. All they have to do is fool some of the people all of the time and that’s exactly what their advertising is designed to do. Don’t be one of those who are fooled.