Regular readers of this column/blog know that I’ve been “fighting the good fight” against car dealers’ deceptive sales practices and advertising many years. Besides this column, I also warn and advise my radio listeners every Saturday morning and every weekday how not to be “ripped off” by car dealers’ deception. Many of you have seen my TV advertisements calling for making the dealer fee illegal. I even took the fight to our Florida legislature when I testified against the dealer fee in front of the Senate Commerce commission.
I’ve made some progress but it’s been an uphill battle. The auto dealers have powerful lobbying groups that make it almost impossible to get any car consumer protection legislation passed. Our state regulators are sadly deficient in regulating our current laws and responding to consumer complaints. I see illegal advertisement running consistently on TV and radio and in our newspapers. The media is reluctant to expose the illegal and unethical advertising and sales practices because car dealers are among their largest advertisers.
I believe the only way to get the attention of our politicians, regulators and the media is by organizing the car owners of Florida and having their voices heard. Therefore I recently announced on my radio show that I would like to form an organization tentatively named C.O.A.D.D., Car Owners Against Deceptive Dealers. The response from my radio audience has been very positive and many listeners have already volunteered to become a part of COADD. Below, I’ll describe my vision of this car owner activist consumer group. If you have an interest of being a member or even on our board of directors, please contact me.
COADD would include members from Palm Beach County north through the Treasure Coast, including Martin and St. Lucie Counties. Eventually I envision growing south through Broward and Counties and eventually becoming statewide. COADD will be a nonprofit corporation controlled and operated by Florida car owners. No car dealers could be members and certainly not on the board of directors, but honest, ethical car dealers would be allowed in an honorary capacity as consultants. I would be the first of these dealers to serve.
I’ve been approached by one of Palm Beach County’s most prestigious law firms that is seriously considering helping COADD get formed as a nonprofit. A member of this firm would also sit on our board of directors. Once we are formed and have a bank account, I will contribute $10,000 to help us begin operations.
The first task of COADD should be to develop a car dealer code of ethics regarding their advertising and sales practices. All car dealers in Palm Beach, Martin, and St. Lucie Counties would be asked to sign a covenant stating that they would abide by these ethical rules. Those dealers who agree would become honorary members of COADD and could use this in their advertising. Of course, their advertising and sales practices would be regularly monitored to ensure compliance.
The next task of COADD would be enforce the code of ethics with all car dealers in our area, including those who refuse to sign the covenant. I suspect that there will be many car dealers that, at first, will refuse to sign, but I also suspect that growing pressure will force most to join. Those dealers that violate the code will be sent a certified warning for the first offense and given a reasonable time to comply. If they don’t comply, COADD will advise our regulatory agencies, of the violation(s). Which agencies will be notified will depend on the seriousness of the violation and can include the County Office of Consumer Affairs, Department of Motor Vehicles, and the Attorney General’s Office. Honorary dealer members that violate the code will be suspended and banned if they refuse to comply.
Raising funds is always a challenge for nonprofits. Once we begin to make an impact and are able to recruit more car dealers as associate/honorary members, COADD will charge them an annual fee for membership. This should be a significant source of revenue. Another task of COADD will be to help car owners who have been taken advantage of in buying or servicing their cars. This could also be a source of revenue because many victims would be willing to make a contribution if COADD successfully resolve their problems and saved them money. Nonprofit fund raising is not my field of expertise but there must be other sources of local, state, and federal funds for nonprofits that provide a valuable service to their communities. For membership in COAD, there would be a reasonable annual fee. Members would be give educational materials on how buy a car and service a car without getting ripped off and would be able to identify themselves to dealers with their membership card or even a pin. If a dealer attempted to take advantage of a member, she would have the full force of COADD’s support to defend her.
Equally important to funding is getting started with a good, strong, involved board of directors. Among South Florida’s greatest resources are highly qualified retires...Men and women who formerly owned or operated large and small companies, occupied high government and military posts, college presidents, and well known celebrities. High energy, high intelligent people like this love to lend their expertise to worthwhile nonprofit organizations and most of them have several horror stories to share about being mistreated by car dealers.
After I help fund and organize COADD I see my continuing role an advisor and publicist. I will use my radio show, blog, newspaper column, and local “celebrity status” to continually endorse and promote our organization. What I ask from you is to join our group as a member or, if qualified and willing to donate your time, as a board member. If you know somebody who would make a good board member, please let me know. I cannot overemphasize how important having the right mix of people on the organizing board of directors is.