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Monday, July 27, 2015

It's War! Car Dealers VS TRUECar


This is the second time that the car dealers have declared war on the online company, www.TrueCar.com. The last time was in 2011 when thousands of car dealers boycotted TrueCar to force them out of business. The U.S. Justice Department investigated this for being an “Illegal Boycott” and, as far as I know, it’s still under investigation. The car dealers were joined by their state dealer associations (well financed political lobbying groups). These lobbyists pressured legislators and state attorneys general to find legal reasons to stop TrueCar from doing business in their states.
The car dealers almost won the last war by depriving TrueCar of millions of dollars in revenue (TrueCar earns $299 for every new car sold through their referrals). TrueCar was losing money and almost went bankrupt, but Scott Painter, the founder and CEO, was able to negotiate a truce with the car dealers and their political lobbying groups. TrueCar began to grow very rapidly again. They signed up dealers very quickly because they were attracting millions of car buyers. They grew to about 10,000 car dealers and are selling about 5% of all the cars sold in the USA.
 You, the car buyers, love TrueCar when you experience their service. Why? Simply because they offer an honest, low price and a fast, pleasant car-buying experience. Car dealers make their money by negotiating (haggle and hassle) the highest price that they can on each customer that walks into their showrooms. You and your next door neighbor might buy the exact same car but your neighbor might pay thousands of dollars less because he was a better negotiator. In most dealerships no two people pay the same price for a car. Typically the disadvantaged in our society end up paying the highest prices which is most unfortunate because they can least afford it.
You might be wondering “If the car dealers hate TrueCar so much, why do they have 10,000 dealer members?” That’s a good question and the answer is that car dealers “see the handwriting on the wall” and know that TrueCar is the wave of the future. Only a limited number of car dealers will be signed by TrueCar and they are getting close to that limit right now. TrueCar will never sign up all of the dealers. They will sign only enough to have representation in all markets. Dealers have rushed to join TrueCar for fear they will be left out in the cold when most car buyers find out that the only sure way to get an honest, low price is through a TrueCar dealer. Most TrueCar dealers joined up because they feel they have no choice…they have too!
But, there is a hardcore group of dealers that HATE TrueCar intensely. These dealers are usually owners of a large number of dealerships or publicly held dealer groups like AutoNation. AutoNation was recently “fired” by TrueCar when they were caught cheating on the fees owned to TrueCar. AutoNation was not only cheating on payments but they were not providing the transparency in pricing promised by TrueCar. They were using TrueCar to attract customers expecting an honest, low price and then charging them more than the TrueCar price. When confronted with this, AutoNation refused to turn over their sales transaction data which would have proven TrueCar’s charges. AutoNation claimed this data was proprietary even though all other TrueCar dealers (including me) gladly provide it to TrueCar.
Car dealers that own a large number of dealerships are very wealthy; many have nets worth exceeding a HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS. Dealership groups like AutoNation are also very flush with cash. There’s nothing plaintiffs lawyers like better than rich men and companies that are angry with, and/or feel threatened by, a competitor! Lawyers in New York and California leaped at this opportunity. Most lawyers don’t care whether their clients are right or wrong; they do care about how much money they can make. Smart plaintiffs’ lawyers ALWAYS structure their fees so that they get paid handsomely even when their client loses.
Lawyers in New York and California where TrueCar has the most dealer-partners knew a great opportunity when they saw one. Most of them were already lawyers for car dealers and knew how much their dealer clients hated TrueCar. Even though these lawyers, and likely the car dealers, knew that TrueCar was in the right and lawsuits would be judged without merit or even frivolous by the courts, they proceeded for two reasons. First, collectively, they have more cash than TrueCar and might be able to force them to settle favorably for the car dealers. Secondly, they might be able to drive down the TrueCar stock price. If they can accomplish that, other plaintiffs’ lawyers would join in the fray and file class action suits on behalf of TRUE stockholders. Their hope was that, by joining forces with the stockholder class action lawsuits, they could put TrueCar out of business.  TrueCar stock plummeted and they were sued in class action suits representing the stock holders. TRUE stock has plummeted from a high of 25 to $5.99  as I write this article. The further the stock price drops, the more incentive for more shareholder suits.
This is truly a “David vs. Goliath” battle similar to what Uber is fighting against the entrenched taxi and limo companies of the world. Uber and TrueCar both provide far better, less expensive, honest services for their customers, but they are outnumbered and out financed by entrenched old ways of doing business. Change is a very difficult thing to bring about. I believe that truth, justice, and transparency will prevail for TrueCar as well as Uber.

I urge you to join the fight on the side of TrueCar the next time you buy a car. Click on www.TrueCar.com. You will be offered a platform to specify the exact car you want. You will be shown the prices for that car in your market, not just your price but the lowest prices, the highest prices and the average price. You will then be given three certified TrueCar dealers in your market and three low prices. You will be shown all extra fees that they might charge like doc fees, dealer fees and dealer installed accessories. You select the dealer of your choice and before you even visit that dealer you have an “out-the-door” price plus government fees (sales tax and tag) only. If you encounter any problem with that car dealer, you can contact TrueCar directly at 1-888-TRUECAR and they will make it right. You can also call me on my personal cell phone, 561-358-1474.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Nobody Knows What Your Trade-in Is Really 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.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

$100 for Information About Your Car Purchase

If you purchased your vehicle from an Autonation dealership through TrueCar in last six years, I want to hear from you!

I need to know:

  1. Which Autonation dealership you purchased your vehicle
  2. The date of the purchase
  3. The make and model you purchased
  4. The VIN of your vehicle
  5. Your name
  6. The sale price on your buyer's order
I will need to see copies of your deal paperwork - I promise to keep your name and information private. I will only furnish it to TrueCar so they can verify the transaction with Autonation. I will not use your information for any other purpose.

If you're not sure if your dealership was an Autonation dealership, you can check here

To say ""thanks for helping out with this, I'll pay you $100. I'm limiting this to the first 100 respondents, so hurry :)

Just email me at earl@earloncars.com to get the ball rolling!

Thanks!

Earl Stewart

Monday, July 13, 2015

Negotiating to Buy a Car

Buying a new or used car is one of the last bastions of the negotiated price. In some countries, negotiation is fairly commonplace in retail stores, but in America virtually all products are sold at a fixed price. Some of us are simply not comfortable negotiating and most of us are not very good at it.

As I have said in previous columns, the best way to buy a new or used car in on the Internet. You can do your research on which car is the best to suit your needs, get guidance on what kind of price you can expect to pay, and finally get quotes from several dealerships on that specific car. However, everybody is not “Internet savvy” and if you are not, you may find it necessary to walk into a car dealership and negotiate for the lowest price.

If you are not comfortable with negotiation, the best advice I can give you is to bring someone along with you who is. Car sales people and sales managers are trained experts in negotiation. This is how they make their living. Here are some tips for you if you decide that you want to negotiate the best price on a car.

(1) If you have a trade-in, keep that separate from the negotiation. Negotiate the best price on the car you are buying and then negotiate the best price you can get for your trade-in. Don’t fall for the old “over allowance” on your trade-in ruse. This is where the dealer makes up the price of car you are buying higher so that he can make you think you are getting more for your trade-in.

(2) Never buy a car on payments alone. Always negotiate the best price you can for the car you are buying and then calculate your best payment when you have negotiated for the best interest rate.

(3) Be sure you understand how the dealer arrived at his retail price. Federal law dictates that a Monroney label be affixed to every vehicle with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price. Many dealers mark that up with another label, often referred to as a “Market Adjustment Addendum”. This markup can be several thousands of dollars.

(4) Expect the first price you are given to be substantially higher than what you can buy the car for. Sales people and sales managers are trained to “start high because you can always come down”. Don’t be afraid to offer substantially less than the initial asking price. You should look at just like the car salesman does, but the reverse…”start low because you can always go higher”. If the salesman accepts your first offer, you probably offered too much. In fact, shrewd car sales people are trained to always ask for more money, even if the offer is good one. This is because they don’t want to “scare off the customer” by telegraphing to the customer that he “left some money on the table”.

(5) If the sales person asks you for a deposit before he will begin negotiating, determine whether the deposit is refundable. Florida law requires a nonrefundable deposit be disclosed in writing on the receipt. If this is printed on your receipt, insist that this be waived in writing on your buyer’s order. If the dealer will not agree to this, be warned that he may be able to keep your deposit if you change your mind about buying the car.

(6) Be prepared for a lot of “back and forth” when the salesman takes your offer back to the manager. When you get close to finding a mutually acceptable price, the manager himself will often come to talk to you. Don’t be intimidated stick to your guns even when they tell you this is “positively, absolutely the lowest price”. Even if you think you do have the lowest price, a great strategy is to get up, walk out of the showroom, and get into your car to drive away. This will often precipitate an even better price. When you try this, the worst case scenario is that you really do drive home, but you can always return and buy the car the next day for the last price they quoted you. They may tell you that you have to buy today, but nine times out of ten that is a bluff. The only exception is when there are factory rebates and incentive expiring.

(7) The last day of the month really is a good time to buy a car. The salesman’s bonus money is maximized, the factory incentives are in effect, the managers are desperate to make their quotas, and it is the one time of the month when the buyer has the best edge in negotiation.

Caveat emptor “let the buyer beware” could have been written specifically for what you can expect when you walk into a car dealership to negotiate the best price. You are up against experts who negotiate for living. But, if you will follow my advice above, you should be able to hold your own and maybe even get a great deal.

Monday, July 06, 2015

What is the True Cost of that New Car?


It is almost impossible for you to determine the true cost of a new car. This might sound crazy, but many dealers don’t know the true cost of their cars. The manufacturers and distributors invoice their dealers for an amount when they ship them a car that is almost always several hundreds of dollars more than the true cost. It’s fair to say that in virtually every case the “invoice” for a new car is much higher than the true cost. By true cost, I am referring to cost as defined by GAAP, generally accepted accounting principles.

You probably have heard about “holdback”. That is an amount of money added into the invoice of a car ranging from 1% to 3% of the MSRP which is returned to the dealer after he has paid the invoice. Some manufacturers include the cost of regional advertising in the invoice which offsets the dealer’s advertising costs. Another fairly common charge included in invoices is “floor plan assistance”. This goes to offset the dealer’s cost of financing the new cars in his inventory. Another is “PDI” or pre-delivery expense which reimbursed the dealer for preparing the car for delivery to you. I could name several more, depending on the manufacturer or distributor. Some of these monies that are returned to the dealer are not shown as profit on his financial statement and some are. Technically a dealer could say that the cost he showed you reflected all of the profit (by definition of his financial statement), but the fact would remain that more money would come to back to him after he sold you the car. To me, that’s called profit.

Besides holdbacks and reimbursements for expenses, you must contend with customer and dealer incentives when trying to figure out the cost of that new car. You will probably be aware of the customer incentives, but not the dealer incentives. Most dealers prefer and lobby the manufacturers for dealer rather than customer incentives just for that reason. Also, performance incentives are paid to dealers for selling a certain number of cars during a given time frame. These usually expire at the end of a month and are one reason why it really is smart to buy a new car on the last day of the month.

Last but not least, remember the “dealer fee”, “dealer prep fee”, “doc fee”, “dealer inspection fee”, etc. which is added to the price you were quoted by the salesman.. It is printed on the buyer’s order and is lumped into the real fees such as Florida sales tax and tag and registration fees. Most dealers in Florida (it is illegal in many states) charge this fee which ranges from $500 to $1,000. If you are making your buying decision on your perceived cost of the car, even if you were right, here is up to $1,000 more in profit to the dealer.

Hopefully you can now understand why it is virtually impossible to precisely know the cost of the new car you are contemplating buying. Most often the salesman and sales manager is not completely versed on the cost either. Checking the cost on a good Internet site like www.kbb.com or www.edmunds.com is about the best you can do. Consumer Reports is another good source. One reason that Internet sites don’t always have the right invoice price is that different distributors for cars invoice their dealers at different prices.

Do not make a decision to buy a car because the dealer has agreed to sell it to you for “X dollars above his cost/invoice”. This statement is virtually meaningless. As I have advised you in an earlier column, you can only be assured of getting the best price by shopping several dealers for the exact same car and getting an “out the door” price plus tax and tag only.