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Monday, October 27, 2014

10 EARLY NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS FOR FLORIDA CAR DEALERS

With just two months left in 2014, I’m suggesting these New Year’s resolutions for Florida's car dealers; I want them to have enough time to get their acts together ;)

1. Stop charging your dealer fee (a. k. a. delivery fee and doc fee). This fee is really profit for the dealer disguised as an official fee charged by the state or federal government. When you quote a customer a price, it should include all charges except for sales tax and license fees. State law in Florida does not prohibit this or even put a cap on this fee as many other states now do, but it’s just the wrong thing to do.

2. When you advertise a car at a price, clearly disclose to the reader how many cars are available at that price. Dealers get around the law by listing a stock number next to the car, as if this is will explain to the reader of the ad that there is only one available at this price.

3. Don’t advertise a large discount on a car unless the discount is from MSRP. Dealers advertise huge discounts from prices that are artificially inflated. What good is a $15,000 discount if the dealer has a $15,000 markup above MSRP on that car?

4. Don’t pander to folks with bad credit and give them false hope. Tell those with bad credit that if their credit is too bad, you cannot obtain financing for them. When you advertise…”No credit or Bad Credit is No Problem” you aren’t telling the truth. When you advertise that “no credit application is refused”, you are misleading the customers to think that no loan is refused because of bad credit. You are not telling them the truth.

5. Don’t advertise that you can sell used cars as low as $99. There is no such thing as used car that can be profitably sold for $99. The scrap metal or the parts on a car that cannot run or is totaled in an accident is worth $150 or more.

6. Have a heart! I received a call this morning from the son of an 81 year old man who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and committed to a mental health institution under the Baker Act. The day before he was committed, his father bought a brand new car for $32,000+ from a well-known South Florida dealer. The son read my column instructing those with a problem with a car dealer to call the owner or the general manager before taking legal action or notifying the press. When he tried this, he was stonewalled by both the general manager and the president of the dealership. His father had bought the car the day before he was committed to an institution under the Baker Act. This is not only heartless but just plain stupid. What do you think this will do for that dealer’s reputation when their customer’s son contacts the local TV stations and newspaper?

7.  Be accessible to your customers. You might think that you own and operate a pristine business that never offends or takes advantage of anyone, but you can’t be sure about that if you insulate yourself from your customers. You might be amazed at what you find out when you speak directly to your customers and even to those who wanted to be your customer but changed their mind for some reason.

8. Don’t surprise your service customers with a “miscellaneous supplies fee”. Sometimes this is called an “environmental fee”. The price you quote your service customers should be the price they pay…not that price plus 10% which is pure profit to the dealer.

9. Don’t mark up your “hot models” over MSRP. The manufacturer’s suggest retail price affords the dealer very generous profit margin. Don’t exploit the temporary situation where demand for that hot model exceeds supply. This is no different than some gas station operators do during fuel shortages before and after hurricanes. 

10. Do away with the fine print. If there is something important that is worth reading in your ad, print it in a font size that can be read without a magnifying glass. If it’ not important, don’t put it in the ad. The only reason for fine print in a car ad is to hide something that you don’t want the reader to find.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Why Your Car Dealership Won’t Tell You the Price

I’m sure that you noticed that the last time you went car shopping you were unable to get a firm price on the car, unless you were willing to sign on the dotted line and put down a deposit. It’s impossible to get a firm price on a car over the telephone, and very difficult to get one via email. If on the off chance you’ve never bought a car, or haven’t bought one in a long time, try this. Call any car dealership and ask for a price on a specific year, make, and model. I can almost guarantee that you won’t be able to get a firm price.

Have you ever wondered why you can get a firm price on just about any other product except an automobile? You can call a jewelry store and get a price on a diamond ring that costs as much or more than a car. You can go on Amazon.com, get a firm price, and buy virtually anything. Walk in or call any department store and they give you a firm, out-the-door price.

Car dealers don’t want to give you a firm price because they want to deprive you of your rights in our American free-market economy. One of our important American freedoms is to be able to shop and compare prices so that you can choose the best one. There are some countries where the prices are dictated by the government or giant cartels. We have anti-trust laws in America that prohibit price fixing, monopolies, or collusion between companies which keep prices artificially high.

In fact, there’s even a federal law that says auto manufacturers must put a sticker on all vehicles that discloses the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price, MSRP. This law was written by Senator Mike Monroney back in 1958. Senator Monroney felt there was a need for this law because, before then, car dealers could ask any price they wanted for car. They could put their own price sticker on their cars and mark their cost up any amount they chose. A car-buyer, pre 1958, had absolutely no basis for comparing prices between competing car dealers. The MSRP gave every car shopper a common basis for comparing discounts from MSRP. All dealers pay their manufacturers the same price for a car and all MSRP’s for a specific year-make-model have the same percentage markup. The Monroney label was a great idea and it worked fairly well for a while, but it wasn’t too long before the car dealers figured out ways around this “handicap” to their profit margins.

The easiest way around an MSRP is simply to refuse to give the customer a firm discount unless they agree to buy the car, and this is why you can’t get a price from a car dealer until then. Another way is to give you a firm discount but add hidden charges like dealer fees, doc fees, electronic filing fees, or dealer installed accessories after you agree on the discount from MSRP. “Bait and switch” is a popular tactic which simply brings you in to buy a specific car only to find out that its “just been sold”…but here’s another one almost like it. Another popular tactic is to advertise discounts from “list price”, “dealer list price”, or “sticker price”. Dealers even have counterfeit Monroney labels printed that they display alongside of the real Monroney label. These counterfeit price stickers I’ve named “Phony Monroney’s”. I’ve seen advertisements from Napleton Chrysle-Jeep-Dodge in North Palm Beach last Saturday, advertising “$10,500 Discounts on Every Vehicle in Stock”. The discounts aren’t from the MSRP but from “dealer list” which is clearly thousands of dollars above MSRP.

The best defense against all of this is to insist on an out-the-door price. Explain the following to the sales manager at the car dealership. “If you give me an honest out-the-door price, I will compare it with the two prices I already have from two other car dealerships. I will buy from the dealer with the lowest price. If you agree to give me your best price, you have a 33% chance of selling me a car. If you refuse to give me a price right now, you have 0% chance of selling me a car, because I will walk out that front door and you will never see me or hear from me again.” You can accomplish the same thing over the telephone or via email.

I also recommend that you try www.TrueCar.com in addition to the tactic I just described. By way of full disclosure, I’m a TrueCar dealer, I own stock in TrueCar, and I’m a member of the TrueCar national dealer council. If you give TrueCar a try, be sure to navigate to the page on their website that gives you the final price certificate. Do not rely on the estimated TrueCar prices on the previous page. To get the TrueCar certificate you must enter a name, email address, and phone number. If you would rather not be contacted by a car salesman, enter a different phone number and name. You can even get a different free email address from Yahoo, Microsoft, or Google. The TrueCar dealers are required to give you an out-the-door price on their price certificate (plus only government fees like license, sales tax, and registration). This means they should disclose all dealer fees and dealer-installed options. If they do not do this, you can call TrueCar on a toll free number:

"Total Transparency Pledge: As a TrueCar Certified Dealer, this car dealer is committed to total price transparency. This means that this car dealer discloses its dealer fees and commonly installed dealer accessories in its pricing estimates. Call 1-888-TRUECAR if you have questions or concerns.”







Monday, October 13, 2014

Leasing a Car Can be Hazardous to your (Financial) Health

I recently received an email from a very smart man and a reader of this column who was recently victimized by a car dealer when he leased a Mazda. The dealer had added a second dealer fee, calling it an “electronic filing fee” into the capitalized cost of the lease. He found this particular dealer through TrueCar, a vehicle purchasing referral service that I’ve recommended in this column. In full disclosure, I’m a member of TrueCar’s national dealer council and a stockholder.

This man’s experience reminded me of the fact that leasing is far more complicated than buying a car. It also reminded me of the old saying, “If you sit down at a high stakes poker game, look around the table and can’t find the ‘sucker’, then you’re it.” When you walk into a car dealership (high stakes poker game) you can be sure that the salesman, sales manager, and F&I manager all know far more about leasing than you do. I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t lease a car because sometimes leasing can be better than buying; but buying is easier to understand and therefore you’re less likely to be taken advantage of.

I’m going to assume that you understand how to buy a car. I recommend that you determine the exact year-make-model vehicle you want and determine the exact MSRP, manufacturer’s recommended retail price. Once you’ve done this, get at least 3 bid from three dealers. This is best and most easily accomplished using the Internet. I also recommend that you use www.TrueCar.com. Unfortunately, TrueCar currently gives only an estimated lease payment but will shortly be making available a firm one. When using TrueCar for a purchase price, be sure that you go beyond the TrueCar lowest price estimate page and view the True Car Buying Certificate. The estimate page does not disclose additional dealer fees, dealer installed accessories, or anything else the dealer will be adding to his “TrueCar price”. You can see these extras when you go on to the page that shows you the TrueCar buying Certificate. But even then, you must be careful when you visit the dealer who appears to have the lowest price or payment. This is how the “very smart man” that I mentioned in the first paragraph was tricked. He did get the final price including dealer fees, but the dealer lied to him and added another fee disguised as an official fee. The dealer called this an “electronic filing fee”, yet it was just another dealer fee in disguise.

It’s important to mention here that I fear that some buyers hesitate to navigate to the TrueCar page with the price certificate because doing so requires revealing one’s identity and contact information to the dealer. However, if you want to maintain your anonymity, you can always use an alias, make up a phone number, and create a different email address.

Now, back to leasing. When you have received your bids from three dealers, make sure you have information about the three most important variables in leasing for you to compare. The first is “capitalized cost”. This is the selling price of the car. Next you have to compare the “money factor” which is similar to the annual percentage rate on a purchase contract. The final factor in determining the lowest lease payment is the residual value of the car you’re leasing. The residual value is what the lender forecasts the vehicle to be worth at the end of the lease. While the capitalized cost and money factor should be low, the residual value should be high. You want to lease from the dealer that offers you the lowest capitalized cost, money factor, but the highest residual. This sounds like a lot of time and work and it is. A quicker way would be to competitively shop the lease payment with at least 3 dealers just like you did the price. If you do this, just be sure you are using the same length of lease e.g. 24 months, 36 months, or whatever. Also be very sure you are getting the lease payment quote on the exact same car (same MSRP and identical options) from each dealer.

It’s probably obvious by now why you can so easily be taken advantage of when leasing. Dealers and manufacturers will strongly encourage you to lease rather than buy. Lease advertising far outweighs purchase advertising. There are two important reasons for this. First, car dealers can make a lot more profit on a least than a purchase. Secondly, when you lease a car you must return the car to the dealer after the lease period is over. This gives the dealer and the leasing company total control (you don’t own the car; the leasing company does) and a better chance of leasing or selling you another car. Even when prospective customers come into a dealership to buy, they will be “strongly encouraged” to lease. I’m called by customers of other dealerships who thought they’d bought a car only to find out they’d signed a lease contract instead!

Nevertheless, a lease when negotiated skillfully can be just as good a deal as a purchase and sometimes better. A lease special by the manufacturer is almost always a very good deal if you do your homework on the capitalized cost. The rate and the residual are set by the manufacturer, but the dealer can inflate the capitalized cost. Please remember to be sure the low price you negotiated is the same as the capitalized cost on the lease contract.

Finally, if you are not treated honestly by a TrueCar dealer, call their toll free number. My experience with TrueCar assures me that they will “make right” any failure on the part of a dealer not being honest with you, including refunding unwarranted charges. Please just refer to the TrueCar Total Transparency Pledge:

"Total Transparency Pledge: As a TrueCar Certified Dealer, “Dealer’s Name” is committed to total price transparency. This means “Dealer’s Name” discloses its dealer fees and commonly installed dealer accessories in its pricing estimates. Call 1-888-TRUECAR if you have questions or concerns.

Monday, October 06, 2014

MINIMIZING THE PAIN OF HAVING YOUR CAR SERVICED

The pain of buying a used or new car may be greater than the pain of having it serviced, but you need to have it serviced far more often than you have to buy a car. Below, I am listing eight suggestions to make your visit to your car dealer’s service department as pleasant as possible.

  • Choose the dealer with the best service department. Remember that you don’t have to have the same dealership service your car that sold you your car. You probably bought your car from the dealer who gave you the best price. You should have your car serviced at the dealer who can best maintain and repair your car. The price of service is important, but secondary to the quality of the service and repairs. Do a little research and “Google” the name of the business and read the online reviews on their Google+ page, on Yelp, Edmunds.com, etc… Choose a service center with a large number of positive reviews. Check with the BBB and the County Office of Consumer Affairs. Ask the service manager at the dealership to show you his factory score on CSI (customer satisfaction index). Every manufacturer surveys dealers’ service customers and ranks that dealer by how well he treats his customers.
  • Establish a personal relationship with your service advisor. The person in the service drive who writes up your repair order is very important. Be sure you get a good one. He should be knowledgeable, attentive to your needs, promptly return phone calls, and recommend only necessary services. You might not find this person on your first visit, but if you aren’t comfortable with the person you are dealing with, ask for one with whom you are. When you make an appointment to have your car serviced, always ask for that service advisor. 
  • Don’t pay the “gotcha”, miscellaneous supplies fee. Almost all car dealers tack on a phony fee when you pay your bill which is simply more profit to the dealer, but is disguised by various labels. It is also sometimes called “environmental impact fee”, “sundry shop supplies” and many others. The cashier just adds a percentage ranging from 5% to 10% to your bill. This is no different than the “dealer fee” that the sales department tacked on to the price they quoted you on the price of the car. Most dealers will waive this fee if you complain about it, especially if you threaten to call the BBB, their manufacturer, or the Florida Attorney General’s office. You can contact the Attorney General of Florida, Pam Bondi, at www.MyFloridaLegal.com
  • Always road test your car, preferably with the technician. If you brought your car in for a drivability problem such as a noise, vibration, or pulling to the right or left, don’t accept the car back until you ride in the car with the technician or service advisor and confirm that the problem has been remedied. I also recommend that you drive the car with the service advisor to demonstrate the problem when you bring it in. Experiencing what you experience always communicates your problem more accurately than listening to your description of the problem.
  • Ask for a written estimate of the total cost of repairs and maintenance. Florida law requires that the dealer give you a written estimate. By law, they may not exceed this by more than 10%.
  • Make an appointment ahead of time. You should insist on making an appointment and you should try to make that appointment at a time when the dealer’s service department will be least busy…typically the middle of the afternoon on weekdays or Saturday and Sunday. Avoid the 7:30-8:00 morning rush. When your service advisor has written up your repair order, ask him how long it will take. After he tells you, ask him to let you know ahead of time if, for any unforeseen reason, your car will not be ready in the promised time. Often times when you call a service department they will tell you to “bring the car in anytime” or “come right over”. Service advisors will tell you this because they are either too busy or too lazy to take the time to make a proper appointment. When they tell you this, tell them that your time is very valuable and that you insist on an appointment at a time when they can get you in and out quickly. Always write down the name of the person that gave you the appointment.
  • Shop and compare high cost repair prices. Most service departments are competitive on maintenance items like oil changes, wheel alignments, and tire rotations. However, the costs of major repairs can vary considerably. If you are looking at an air-conditioner, transmission, or engine repair that can cost several thousands of dollars, get bids from more than one service department. Often just suggesting that you will do this will keep the cost down from the dealership you prefer.
  • Introduce yourself to the service manager. This falls along the same philosophy as developing a good personal relationship with your service advisor. It can’t hurt to know the “boss”. If you are on first name basis with the service manager, it just might earn you a slightly higher level of treatment from those that work for him.