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Monday, December 31, 2012

Nobody Knows What Your Used Car Is Worth

A lot of people think that all used cars have a specific value and they can learn this by looking it up in the “Blue Book” or some other used car wholesale book. Nothing could be further from the truth. The wholesale books that dealers use and those that are available online to consumers have varying degrees of accuracy, but you can’t rely on a book tell you the best price at which you can sell or trade in your car. The most accurate book is the Manheim Auto Guide because it’s based on the latest wholesale auctions nationwide and it’s updated weekly and daily online. The least accurate book is the NADA guide which relies solely on surveys sent to dealers. The dealers exaggerate the wholesale value of their make to make it easier to take in trades.

All of the wholesale books, except NADA, are based on prices of cars sold at auction. However, you must understand that those prices don’t give you an accurate price that you should expect for your trade. A car sells at an auction for the price offered by the highest bidder if the seller chooses to accept that bid. I often don’t sell my used cars to the highest bidder that week because I might get a much higher price the next week. Lots of things affect the level of prices at a car auction…the weather, holidays, bribing the auctioneer and bribing the buyers. On a cold, rainy day when few dealers show up to buy or sell cars, prices are lower as well as shortly before and after holidays. Sometimes it happens that a buyer “greases the palm“ of the auctioneer so that he “doesn’t hear” (fast gavel) the higher bid from another dealer who bids higher than the dealer who has let the auctioneer know the price at which he wants to buy the car. Sometimes the sellers pay the buyers cash under the table to bid an unrealistically high price for their car. A car doesn’t even have to go through the auction block for the owner to believe it was “sold at the auction”. Buyers and sellers can make a deal before it goes “through the block”…very cozy, only one bidder. Why would they do that? Often the buyers and sellers are employed by the dealer who actually owns the car. The used car manager or wholesale buyer employed by the dealer might pay $2,000 too much for a car if he can earn $500 cash in his pocket from the seller. His boss, the dealer, is never the wiser. Let me hasten to add that the Manheim auctions are very careful to police these kinds of shenanigans and never encourage them. However, as in every large organization (Manheim is the auto auction in the world), there are a few rotten apples.

OK, then if the books are wrong and the auctions are wrong, then surely the car dealer must know the value of my trade-in….WRONG AGAIN. I have a little “test” on used car appraisal knowledge that I administer to my sales managers from time to time. By the way, my managers are among the most knowledgeable and competent anywhere. This isn’t just my opinion but that of all of their peers in this market. My test goes like this. Without prior notice I randomly select a car from among the 100 or so that come into my service department each day. I ask each of my 8 mangers individually to appraise this car for what they think the current wholesale market value is. They keep their appraisal secret from the others and write it down on a piece of paper and hand it to me. I’ve been doing this for 30 or more years and I’ve never had a variance in appraisals of less than $3,000. Some have been greater than $10,000! The reason I do this is to remind all of my mangers of exactly what I’m explaining in this article….Nobody knows the exact value of a used car. That’s important to my managers because under appraising a used car can cost us a sale. Over appraising a used car can cost us a wholesale loss at the auto auction. Therefore we always check and recheck our appraisals and go so far as to call other dealers and even put cars on Ebay. Another good reason not to accept only one dealer’s appraisal is that dealers will often knowingly undervalue your trade-ink, especially if you’ve negotiated a very low price for your new car. The dealer vernacular for his is “stealing the trade”.

Now that we’ve established that nobody has any idea what your trade-in is worth, what does that mean to you? It means you should stop worrying about getting an accurate appraisal because there’s no such thing. However, what you should positively insist on is getting the highest appraisal. In fact, you should hope that the guy who gave you the highest appraisal was very inaccurate and made a huge mistake that will cost his dealership a large wholesale loss at the auction. You accomplish this by never accepting only the appraisal by the car dealer from whom you’re buying your next car. Before you allow him to appraise your car, you should get at least two other bids from dealers of the make of car you are buying. For example, a Ford dealer will usually appraise a Ford for more than a Honda dealer because more people wanting to buy a used Ford will shop the larger selection at a Ford dealer. Deal directly with the used car department at these other dealerships. Tell the used car manager that you need to sell your car for cash and that you’re getting two more bids from two other dealers. If you have the time to get more than two more bids it’s even better. Another good place to get a bid on your used car is from CarMax, the largest retailer of used cars in the world. They buy lots of cars directly from owners even when they don’t buy a car from CarMax. Their prices are sometimes higher than dealers will offer you.

After you determine the highest bidder, if it’s not the dealer from whom you’re buying, give him the right of last refusal. If he can match the price from his competitor, you save the sales tax on the price of your trade.



Tuesday, December 18, 2012

I WRECKED MY CAR…NOW WHAT?


 The article below was written by Alan Napier, the manager of my body shop. It was written for my Toyota customers but the advice Alan gives applies to any make of car.

This Is Supposed To Be Easy  

Dealing with your insurance company has never been as difficult as it is right now. 2012 was a disaster for most insurance companies. Falling revenues, catastrophic disasters, poor investments and last years financial meltdown led to losses for most major carriers. Why should you care? Because now that the horse is out, they've slammed the barn door. This means that they are utilizing more aftermarket, re-manufactured and junk yard parts to repair your vehicle. It means that insurance companies are applying discounts to their estimates that were not there prior to the collapse of Wall Street. It means that they are not negotiating in good faith with your repair facility to bring your vehicle back to its pre-accident condition.

What Can I Do? 
                  
Most importantly, insist that your damaged parts be replaced with new genuine Toyota replacement parts. Toyota only provides warranties on new OEM parts. If necessary, involve your agent. Remember, your agent works for you and should be your advocate when dealing with claims staff. 

Second, insist that the insurance appraiser explain the estimate they are providing to you. Many times the estimate will not come close to paying for all of the vehicle damages. It’s not a mistake when this occurs, but a calculated tactic. Many people don’t repair their vehicles and have no idea that their insurance company did not provide enough funds to repair the car properly. Point out any damage that the appraiser doesn’t acknowledge on the estimate and insist that it be added to the appraisal right away. Often the appraiser will tell you he has already written the check, so he cannot change the estimate until the vehicle is at a repair facility. This is not true. The appraiser is obligated to pay for all of the visible damage regardless of how many estimates and checks he has to write. As with any negotiation, be polite, but firm.

I Don’t Have Time for This!! Somebody Help Me!!

If you just really don’t want to deal with all of that, that’s where we come in. Your insurance company will advise you to repair at a shop that “works with us”. Translation: “They do what we tell them.” Earl Stewart Toyota will insist that your insurance company pay to repair your vehicle properly, per the manufacturers’ recommendations, to its pre-accident condition. Bring in your car, show us the related damages, sign a repair authorization, hand us the keys and you are done. It’s that easy. We take care of everything from that point. All we ask is that you support our efforts to negotiate with your insurance company. They will do everything from using scare tactics to telling outright falsehoods to save a few bucks. You trusted us to sell you a Toyota and maintain it to manufacturers’ standards, now trust us to repair your collision damaged vehicle to its pre-accident condition.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Car Salesmen Don’t Look or talk Like Car Salesmen Anymore



Many of my readers know that I send mystery shoppers weekly to car dealerships around South Florida so that I can learn how they are selling, leasing and servicing cars. I do this for two reasons. The first is that this is a common practice for all businesses to learn how their competition operates and to have the competitive edge you really need to know how your competitors do business. The second reason is that I feature a mystery shopping report on my weekly radio show, Earl Stewart on Cars that airs between 9 and 10 every Saturday morning. I've done hundreds of these mystery shops and I've noticed an interesting trend over the years.
Back in the day, car salesmen looked and sounded like what many people consider the stereotype for a car salesman. You know what I mean, gold chains, diamond pinkie ring, sunglasses, loud shirt, and white shoes. As car buyers became more educated, sophisticated, and demanding, it didn't take car dealers long to realize that they had to dress their car salesmen in a nicer fashion, “lipstick on a pig”, But even though they looked nicer, they sounded and acted pretty much the same.
With the advent of the Internet, Google in particular, today’s consumer has made a quantum leap in knowledge, education and sophistication. Today’s buyer of virtually everything is far more demanding and far less tolerant of deceptive advertising and sales tactics.
The most recent shift I've seen in car dealers’ efforts to make their salesmen seem less threatening is in who they hire and how they train their salesmen to behave. More and more car dealers are hiring younger sales people, and fewer older, experienced salesmen. These dealers want their sales people to treat their customers with courtesy and respect and gain their confidenceWe've all heard the terms con man and con-artist. We also know the verb, to con. To con somebody means to steal from them as in Bernie Madoff. Did you know that “con” is short for confidence? A successful con man is good at gaining the confidence of his victim. The con man’s appearance and how he sounds play a critical role in this. I often hear people who were taken advantage of and stolen from say, “He looked and sounded like such a nice person”. Think about that for a minute. How successful could a crook be who looked and sounded like one?
The important thing to remember is that it’s usually not the car salesman who is responsible for the deception. Certainly he cannot be held accountable for the deceptive and often illegal advertising. In fact, many car sales people hate the advertising that brings prospective customers into the car dealership by false and misleading promises.  Especially in today’s economy, many people work in car dealerships because they can’t find a job anywhere else. Imagine how embarrassing it must be to salesman, new to the car business, when he must try to explain away a bait and switch advertisement. How can you tell a prospective customer that the “sale car” on the showroom floor costs several thousands of dollars more than the one advertised on TV? In my mystery shops, it’s becoming more and more common for the salesman to “nicely” tell my shopper when she asks to see the advertised car that they can’t really buy the car for that price and to apologize for the deceptive ad! These sales people will say right up front that the ad is just to get you to come in so that they can try to sell you a car at higher price.
Also, the salesman is often an innocent victim when it comes to the deceptive sales practices. Many car dealers use attractive, friendly sounding sales people to lure the fly into the web. It’s been proven in studies that customers put more stock in the individual they deal with at a store than the store itself. If that salesman can capture your trust and especially if he can make you like him, the car dealership is 90% closer to closing the sale.
Today’s sales people are really more “greeters” than sales people.  Many car sales people today are not privy to the cost or even the selling price of the cars they “sell”. The true cost of the car is known only by the sales managers who are also known as closers and team leaders. These managers are also the only ones authorized to quote a price. They also appraise your trade-in. The interest rates you pay and the warranties, maintenance plans, GAP insurance, etc. that you buy are all handled by mangers.
The bottom line is that it’s not the rude, aggressive car salesman you need to be afraid of. There are very few of those around anymore. The car dealers have wised up and you will be dealing with young, attractive, non-threatening, and polite sales people today. In many cases, they know very little about the unfair and deceptive sales and advertising. What little they do know makes them feel bad but they need the job and want to put food on the table for their family. As much as you like this salesman or saleslady, don’t give him or her your trust when it comes getting a fair price, trade-in allowance, lease payment, or interest rate. That nice, smiling sales person is the dealer’s pawn and is “just following orders”. Verify all of the numbers your new friend gives you by competitively shopping and comparing at least two other car dealers.