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Monday, December 12, 2016

How Much Is That Auto in the Window?

The title to this article and the illustration above was taken from an article in the Wall Street Journal. Please don’t accuse me of plagiarizing because I’m giving credit to the Wall Street Journal and the reporter, Charles Passy who wrote the article. You can read the article by clicking on www.HowMuchIsThatAutoInTheWindow.com 
The Wall Street Journal reporter interviewed the article. I sent him copies of invoices, buyer’s orders, dealer addendum labels, and names of people I knew around the US who were experts on unfair and deceptive advertising by car dealers. It was important to me because having what I’ve fought against for so many years written about by a national publication adds credibility. Not only does the Wall Street Journal have the largest circulation of any newspaper in America, but it’s also arguably the most respected daily publication. 
One might ask, why don’t local newspapers write stories about car dealers’ unfair and deceptive sales and advertising? The answer, like so many, is “follow the money”. Every local newspaper has an auto advertising section with most of, if not all of the dealers in that market. Newspapers seem to be the advertising choice of many dealers, although TV and online have definitely cut into their revenue in large metro markets. TV ads are so expensive that most dealers have no choice but to use the newspaper and online. Car dealers are the single largest source of ad revenue in many newspaper markets. 
Now I know that journalistic ethics require a separation between the news, editorial, and advertising departments. But that’s the way it used to be. Today local newspapers and even some national ones are struggling for survival. Ethics go out the window when it comes to survival. Would you steal food for your child if you believed you had no other recourse?
Another reason that I’m encouraged by this Wall Street Journal article is that every auto manufacturing executive reads this newspaper every day, especially articles about automobiles. Also, most car dealers also read the Wall Street Journal. Reading a negative report about deceptive car dealer sales practices in a highly respected national newspaper has got to get their attention. Many manufacturers and most car dealers seem to be in denial about how they endeavor to trick their customers with misleading, false ads and sales practices.
I have to believe the auto industry will awaken one day and realize that almost all other retailers in the 21st century have left car dealers in the dust. Most car dealers are still employing the “get ‘em in the door any way you can and make as big a profit as you can get away with” shabby tactics that were common practice fifty years ago. Most manufacturers and some dealers are beginning to realize that car dealers are held in the lowest esteem of any other retailer. Car sales and service complaints top the list and car dealers rank dead last or close to it in the annual Gallup poll, HONESTY AND ETHICS IN PROFESSIONS, along with Congressmen, lobbyists, and lawyers. 
I tell manufacturers and my fellow dealers that if we don’t regulate ourselves, you can bet the government will step in and do it for us. Federal Trade Commission is conducting hearings all around America asking for input about unfair and deceptive trade practices by car dealers. If the government steps in like they did with our nation’s banks, car dealers and manufacturers can expect to be up to their eyeballs in expensive regulations, red tape, and bureaucracy.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Car Dealer Victim Profiles

I receive a lot of emails, calls, and letters every week from victims of car dealers who were taken advantage of in buying, leasing, and servicing their cars. They mostly call to ask what they can do to get all or some of their money back. These “victims” fall into different categories:
  1. The elderly, often widows.
  2. The very young, usually buying their first car. 
  3. Those who don’t speak or understand English well, not born in this country. 
  4. The uneducated.
  5. People with bad credit. 
  6. Everybody else
1. The elderly, especially widows, are the most victimized. The reasons for this are that Florida, especially South Florida, is a “retirement” state. Baby boomers and pre-baby boomers make up a disproportionately large percentage of Florida’s population. Not only that, but life expectancies have soared in recent years…81 for a woman and 76 for a man. Men usually predecease their wives. Women’s role in the American culture is a great deal different than in the 1930’s and 1940’s. More often than not, the husband was not only the breadwinner, but the decision maker in the household. Widows of that era are often buying or leasing their first car today. Men and women in their seventies, eighties, and nineties (Yes, I have a lot of customers in their nineties) aren’t as sharp as they once were. I’m 76 and I’ll be the first to admit this. In my opinion, men and women of my age, and older, are more trusting. We can’t forget the terrible disease, Alzheimer’s. Unless a court declares a person incompetent, a person with dementia can legally buy a car in Florida, and it happens all too often. This is one of the most despicable acts that some car dealers commit.

2.  What chance does a teenager or kid in his twenties have when negotiating with a car salesman and his manager to buy a car? Usually it’s the parents who call me to tell me how their son or daughter was taken advantage of. I don’t tell them this, but what I’m thinking is “Why didn’t they accompany them to the car dealership to advise them?”

3.  South Florida is not only a retirement area, but it’s a haven for immigrants from Cuba, Haiti, and South and Central America. Many of these are first generation Americans who have a difficult time with English or can’t speak, read, or write English at all. These people are easy prey for unscrupulous car dealers. Can you imagine how difficult it would be for you to get a fair price on a car you were buying in a foreign country where you did not speak or understand the language?

4.  Let’s face it; there are too many Americans who never had the benefit of a proper education. We have too many high school dropouts and too many high school graduates who still can’t read or write as well as they must to function in our society. Lack of a good education is one of America’s most serious problems and we’re seeing other countries like China, Japan, Germany and India pass us by in educating their children. It’s almost criminal how the educated are exploited by car dealers’ advertising and sales tactics. How many car dealers’ TV advertisements have you seen that you laugh at, knowing that they are totally untrue, “bait and switch” to lure you into the dealership. You wonder who would believe that kind of nonsense. The reason that car dealers keep running those ads is because they work.

5.  There are always people with bad, marginal or no credit who have to buy a car. In Florida, without an effective mass transit system, a car is virtually a necessity to get to your job or find a job, not to mention the doctor, school, or the pharmacy. People with bad credit are at the mercy of the car dealer. The main thing on these peoples’ minds is NOT how good a price or a car can I buy or how low an interest rate, but can they be financed? Knowing this, car dealers will charge whatever price and interest rate the lender will let them get away with. People with bad credit almost always pay dealers a higher profit than those with good credit.

6.  Who should be held responsible for car dealers ripping off customers? For categories one through five, the answer is our regulators and our lawmakers. But for the last category, “Everybody else”, it’s themselves. Of course, it goes without saying that the car dealers who do this are responsible too. But who doesn’t know that most car dealers do business this way? Who doesn’t know that car dealers perennially rank LAST on the annual Gallup “Honesty and Ethics in Professions” poll? I recently received an email from a woman who fell in none of the first 5 categories above. She was terribly victimized by a very unethical car dealer from whom she bought two used cars on the same night. Her email asked me for advice on what she should do. Of course the “horse was out of the barn” and this makes things more difficult. This woman did not ask for or receive a CarFax report on either used car. Nor did she take either car to her mechanic for approval. She clearly didn’t investigate the dealer for reputation. She didn’t check any sources like Consumer Reports for recommended used cars. She did not shop and compare prices for similar cars and the list of “did not’s” goes on. If you don’t do your due diligence when you buy a car you are equally culpable with the car dealer who took advantage of you.

At this point, I will shamelessly plug my book, Confessions of a Recovering Car Dealer. I say “shamelessly” because 100% of the proceeds from my book go to charity, www.BigDogRanchRescue.com. You can buy this book at www.Amazon.com. It will tell you everything you need to know about how not to be ripped off by a car dealer. Or, you can read my blog articles at www.EarlOnCars.com.