Followers of this column know that I’ve been trying for several weeks to discuss the dealer fee issue with Senator Jeff Atwater, the next President of the Florida Senate. I was successful and I met with the Senator for nearly two hours on Saturday, January 26. Not only that, but he agreed to call in to my radio show [Seaview AM 960, WSVU airing Saturday mornings between 9 and 10] this Saturday, February 9].
Regular readers please excuse a little recap to bring those up to date who aren’t aware of the dealer fee and the pending legislation. The dealer fee is a “license to steal”, made legal by a bad Florida law. A dealer fee goes by at least 22 different names, according to the State Senate Investigating Committee. Dealer fee, documentary fee, dealer prep fee, and administrative are just a few. The highest dealer fee I know of is $999 charged by a dealer in Coconut Creek (west of Ft. Lauderdale). The lowest I know of is $389 and the average is around $700. This “fee” is just dealer profit disguised to make people believe they are paying an official fee to state, local, or federal government. Lots of dealers omit this from their advertised price (which is illegal) and surprise those customers who happen to notice it in the paperwork when they take delivery. Most customers never notice the dealer fee at all. Those who advertise legally and do include the dealer fee in the price, generally advertise just one vehicle at that price. Unfortunately this specific car has always “just been sold” when you come in on the ad. But, they tell you, we have lots more just like it. The other cars might be just like it, but not the price. Now, the law allows the dealer to add the dealer fee to the price. Enough people have complained about this that Ken Pruitt, the current Senate President, formed a committee to investigate making the dealer fee illegal or capping it. This recommendation was sent to the legislature several months ago. You can read this report by clicking on http://www.earlstewart.com/.
In my meeting with Jeff Atwater I was quite surprised to learn that he knew virtually nothing about the dealer fee or the Senate Investigating Committee’s report. There are many, many issues that state senators must deal with and this is just one. Jeff Atwater has been spending a large amount of his time on insurance and property tax issues. I furnished him with lots of information including a copy of the Senate Investigating Committee’s report, copies of every auto classified ad in the PB Post on Saturday [with my annotations] , January 26, copies of dealer’s vehicle buyers’ orders disclosing their dealer fees, and copies of articles I had written on this subject for my Blog and Hometown News. With all modesty, I must say that I did a very good job of educating Jeff Atwater on why this dealer fee is so bad for Florida car buyers.
The Senator expressed surprise and disappointment with the lack of thoroughness of the Senate committee’s report. The committee worked hand in hand with the Florida Automobile Dealers Association (FADA) who is heavily lobbying the Florida legislature for the preservation of the dealer fee. I told Jeff Atwater that this was like “sending a rabbit after lettuce”. Furthermore, no one in the senate committee ever talked to a single consumer, a car buyer. How can a committee possible make an intelligent recommendation that will protect the rights of the consumer when they hear only the car dealer’s side of the story?
I showed Jeff Atwater quotes from the FADA magazine, Velocity, “Senator Atwater- to support his campaign for Senate because he has promised to help us again this year-goal is $50,000.” Dealers have already contributed $24,500. The FADA has listed the preservation of the Dealer Fee as their #1 agenda item…”The Senate’s threat to cap your dealership service fees could reduce your gross profit on each new and used vehicle”. And FADA is hiring new lobbyist. Quoting from Velocity, “HELP US HIRE A LOBBYING TEAM. The attack on your dealer service fee will require a TEAM of new lobbyists-those funds cannot come from our political action committee (CAR-PAC). Every dealer who charges a service fee should cut a healthy check payable to “FADA” for our legislative action fund. We will hire top-notch lobbyists with your contributions.”
It’s clear that the car dealers of Florida will fight tooth, nail, and wallet to preserve their Florida State “license to steal” aka the Dealer Fee. But the good news is that we have a huge opportunity to prevail with the help of Senator Jeff Atwater. What can you, the readers of this column and my Blog, do? Let Jeff Atwater know how you feel. Relate your experience with the dealer fee when you bought your last car. Most car buyers don’t even realize they paid a dealer fee but the chances are 99.9% that if you bought a car in Florida you paid one. You can email Jeff Atwater at Jeff@SenatorJeff.com and you can call him at 561 625-5102. If you email him, please cc me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have a question you would like me to ask the Senator when he calls into my radio show this February 9 between 9:05 AM and 9:20 AM, please email it to email@example.com or you can call me on my cell phone at 561 358-1474.