Monday, August 14, 2017

Open Letter to Governor Rick Scott



A letter addressing the critical issues associated with the sale of used vehicles equipped with recalled Takata airbags was written just over one year ago, and I’ve received no reply; It was also published as a full page ad in Governor Scott’s hometown newspaper, the Tallahassee Democrat. In the last several weeks, TWO MORE FLORIDIANS were killed by exploding, defective Takata airbags, and it is inevitable that the toll of deaths and serious injuries will continue to rise as long as the sale of used cars equipped with defective Takata airbags continue. While I argued last year for laws specifically requiring dealers to disclose outstanding safety recalls, it is now clear that the only effective way to address this problem is to extend the ban that already applies to the sale of new cars subject to safety recalls to include used cars as well. Indeed, the nature of the Takata defect is such that the older the car is, the more likely it is that the airbag inflator will explode. So I am writing once again with a renewed sense of urgency, and I not only call for action by the Governor, but I also ask every car dealer in this State to consider the dire consequences of continuing to sell used cars with defects that can kill and maim their customers and every other passenger in the car they are putting on the road. Governor, please read my letter and call me at 561 358-1474. 



Dear Rick, 


Please excuse this public form of communication, but I chose it because my message is urgent and I believe it will get your attention faster than going through the normal, bureaucratic channels. 


Florida law not only fails to expressly ban the sale of used cars with unremediated safety recalls, there is no Florida law that even specifically requires a car dealer to disclose national safety recalls on used cars sold to their customers. This has always been bad, but considering the unprecedented Takata air-bag inflator recall (currently affecting 75 million vehicles in the U.S. and rising), this legal loophole presents a problem of critical magnitude. And efforts to address the problem with disclosure requirements, while certainly better than nothing, do not go nearly far enough in safeguarding consumers from the lethal timebombs  hidden in their steering wheels. 


I communicated my position directly to the Florida Automobile Dealers Association over a year ago, and they are aware of this serious omission in Florida’s laws. Unfortunately, legislative action, as you well know, is always a slow process if it ever happens at all. What is required in this case is an emergency executive action by you, the governor of the state of Florida. 


I can assure you that very few Florida automobile dealers are voluntarily disclosing safety recalls affecting the used cars they sell, and even when some form of disclosure is made, it is never adequate to properly alert purchasers to the danger posed by exploding airbags. As I write this letter, there are Floridians unknowingly buying cars with defective Takata airbag inflators that could possibly explode on impact, firing metal shrapnel into their bodies. There have already been several deaths across the country attributed to these faulty inflators. 


It is a certainty that nearly all car dealers in our state have vehicles in their current inventories with these defective airbags and other safety recalls. I have identified sixteen in my used vehicle inventory that are affected. It’s a simple matter to identify these vehicles by entering the VIN online at the NHTSA website, http://www.nhtsa.gov/Vehicle+Safety/Recalls+&+Defects


The sad fact is that most dealers don’t check these vehicles for recalls because it takes time to have the recalls performed and “time is money”. Recalls can only be performed by franchised new car dealers of the make that is recalled. Franchised car dealers prioritize recalls for their inventory cars and for their customers’ cars. They are also dealing with long waiting lists of these cars awaiting the requisite parts. With the Takata airbag inflator recall, the wait time is about about a year because of the lack of availability of parts. Letting  a used car sit on a dealer's lot for a year is a cost that few dealers will be willing to incur unless the law expressly requires it!


Sadly, another reason safety recalls are not being disclosed to customers is fear of loss of profit. As it should, telling a customer that they are buying a used car with a potentially deadly defective airbag reduces the value of that vehicle - especially when the customer learns he or she must drive that car for a year before a safe airbag can be installed. 


Because disclosure negatively impacts the affected vehicles' values, car dealers are caught between a rock and a hard place. If they attempt to retail the cars to fully informed customers, they have to slash the selling price and if they sell them at the wholesale auction they have the same problem. Florida consumers will also be adversely affected, as car dealers will not be able to offer as much money for trade-ins under this recall since the dealer knows he or she can’t resell it for as much as they could with a safe airbag. 


This presents an entirely new and different problem…an economic liability question. Everyone agrees that Takata is largely responsible for the reduction in value of the 75,000,000 vehicles with dangerous airbags. However, Takata is on the verge escaping responsibility through bankruptcy and/or selling out. This leaves the auto manufacturers with, potentially, all of the liability. The only parties that clearly have no responsibility in this are the owners of these affected cars and the dealers who  either do not sell Takata airbag equipped vehicles at all or who properly disclose the defective airbags, the full extent of the danger they present, and the difficulty involved in correcting the defect when replacement parts are unavailable. Unfortunately, honest dealers and uninformed purchasers are the only two parties that currently bear all of the economic loss.


Adding to the urgency of this crisis is the fact that the failure rate of Takata airbags is higher in Florida than most other states because of our high humidity which increases the risk of the airbag accelerant, ammonium nitrate, exploding. Furthermore, many of the cars recalled are older models, dating back to 2004 that have been on the highways for many years, and age is also a contributing factor to risk. 


Rick, if you have any questions or comments about this letter, please call me on my personal cell phone, 561-358-1474. If you would like to meet with me, I will fly to Tallahassee on a moment's notice. 


Best, 




Earl

Monday, August 07, 2017

Minimize the Pain and Inconvenience Having your Car Serviced and Repaired

Before I get into the pitfalls, it is important for you to understand how important it is to have your car serviced per the manufacturer’s recommendations. The pitfalls and consequences of not doing so can be equal to or greater than those you might experience at the hands of an incompetent or unethical service department.

I strongly recommend that you have your car serviced and repaired by a franchised dealer of the make of your vehicle. I know that this statement, coming from a franchised car dealer, may be met with some skepticism. Listen to my reasons before passing judgment. Modern vehicles are highly complex computerized machines requiring very sophisticated diagnostic equipment and highly trained technicians. The evolution of new, expensive diagnostic equipment requires constant updating. The evolution of car technology requires continuing education of dealers’ factory trained technicians who attend many weeks of schools every year. Forty years ago, it was possible for a good mechanic to fix anybody’s car. Those days are gone and your car needs a highly-trained specialist with the very latest diagnostic equipment. It is impossible for an independent service company to be competent in servicing and repairing all makes of automobiles.

Carefully choose the dealership that will service your car. You don’t have to take your car to the dealership that sold you the car for warranty repairs, as many believe. Every dealership of your make car will welcome your warranty and non-warranty work. Do your homework on which dealer has the best service department. Every dealer is graded in customer satisfaction by the manufacturer. Ask to see a copy of his CSI (customer satisfaction index) scores. Be forewarned that service satisfaction surveys can and are manipulated by car dealers (offering a free tank of gas to let the dealer fill out your survey). Many auto manufacturers have begun measuring their dealers’ service competence by the percentage of service customer that return for more service. It’s usually called SERVICE RETENTION. If a high percentage of service customers keep coming back, that dealer must be doing a good job. Check with the BBB and the County Office of Consumer Affairs.

When you take your car in for maintenance or repairs, always ask for an estimate. State law requires that a service department not exceed a written estimate by more than 10%. When paying your bill, scrutinize the detail to be sure that you know exactly what each charge means. Most service departments add a fee on top of everything else with various labels like “miscellaneous supplies”, “sundry supplies”, “environmental handling”, etc. This fee is simply a 5% or 10% charge tacked onto the total bill. If you object to this fee, which you certainly should, dealers will often waive it.

You will find that prices for maintenance like oil changes, alignments, tire rotation and balancing, etc. are usually priced competitively. On many new cars manufacturers are offering free maintenance for 2 or 3 years. Where you have to be careful is in the pricing of major repair items like transmission, engines, and air-conditioners. When quoted a price on a big repair, don’t be afraid to negotiate. If you let it be known that you are willing to take your car elsewhere (even if you’re bluffing), you can often negotiate the price down significantly.

You should always make an appointment before bringing your car in. Appointments should be scheduled at relative slow times and days. Avoid bringing your car in early on a Monday morning and other very busy times. You want the service advisor to spend as much time with you as is necessary. This will allow you to drive the car with the service advisor if necessary to identify a specific problem like a squeak, rattle or vibration. Pick your car up at a time when the service advisor or technician has time to road test the car with you again to be sure that the problem was fixed.

Don’t be shy about asking for a loaner car when you have to take your car back a 2nd or 3rd time for a repair that was not done properly. It’s the dealership’s fault and you should not be inconvenienced. On a comeback, always talk with the service manager directly. Be very careful that you really speak to the real service manager. Service salesmen are not managers. They are commissioned salesmen but they often identify themselves as service managers or assistant service managers. Also ask that they assign their best technician to the job. The technician that works on your car should have a few years’ experience and be ASE (American Association for Automotive Excellence) certified in the area of the car he’s working on…transmission, air conditioner, engine, etc.



Most car dealership and independent service departments will recommend “extra” maintenance not found in your car’s owner’s manual. You should be very skeptical of anything that your car’s manufacturer does not recommend. “Flushes” of the radiator and transmission are popular and expensive extras that are often recommended. A good rule of thumb is to “just say no”.

As I have said in earlier columns, there is nothing more important than choosing the right dealership to do business with. No service department is perfect and never makes a mistake. What you want to find is that service department that, in addition to being competent, will fess up to their occasional mistakes, sincerely apologize and make them right.

Monday, July 31, 2017

How Can I Learn the Dealer’s Cost on a Car?


It’s 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 thousands 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 principals.

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 kicked back to the dealer after he has paid the invoice. In some cases there are two holdbacks…one from the manufacturer and one from a distributor. Some manufacturers include the cost of regional advertising in the invoice which offsets the dealer’s advertising costs. Another 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 inspection expense which reimburses 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 dealers’ financial statement and some are. Technically a dealer could say that the cost he showed you reflected all 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 (and the IRS) that’s called profit.

Besides holdbacks and reimbursements for expenses, you must contend with customer and dealer incentives (usually referred to as customer cash or dealer cash) 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”, electronic filing fee, tag agency 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 $3,000. If you are making your buying decision on your perceived cost of the car, even if you were right, here is up to $3,000 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 decide 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. You are playing into the dealer’s hands when you offer to buy or he offers to sell his car at a certain amount above his cost. 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.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Caveat Emptor (Buyer Beware)


Car Dealers Can Fool all the People Some of the Time

Almost everyone has read Abraham Lincoln’s popular saying, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” I think Abe meant this to be a positive assertion that government may get away with deceiving us for a while, but in the long run, truth justice and the American way will prevail…and I think he was right.

However, it doesn’t work that way with unethical car dealers and car buyers. It always has been “caveat emptor”, or “buyer beware when it comes to buying or servicing a car. Unfortunately for a buyer to “beware” he must be “aware” …that is to say educated, mature, sophisticated and experienced. This excludes a very large segment of our population including the very young, the very old, the uneducated, those with low I.Q.’s and those not proficient in the English language. Is this one reason why our regulators and elected politicians don’t seem to care or act with respect to the rampant unfair and deceptive sales practices of a large number of Florida car dealers? Most elected officials and regulators are lawyers and are highly educated and sophisticated. They don’t have a problem buying or servicing a car. In fact, the car dealer that tries to take advantage of a lawyer, regulator, or politician is asking for trouble.

I’ve been writing this column/blog and broadcasting my radio show, Earl Stewart on Cars, for over seven years. I sometimes feel that I’m “preaching to the choir” when it comes to advising people how to avoid getting ripped off by a car dealer. You, my readers and listeners, largely fall into the category of the educated and sophisticated, aware buyer. Most of you aren’t taken advantage of when you buy or service your car because you won’t allow it. Unfortunately, there are enough uneducated, naive, and otherwise vulnerable consumers to feed those unethical car dealers who prey on the defenseless among us. All you must do is read some of the online or TV car advertisements. To the educated, sophisticated buyer, these ads are actually funny if you can forget the fact that so many fall prey to them and are taken advantage of by the dealers. For example, it’s hard for you or me to believe that anybody would respond to an advertisement without reading the fine print. Many dealers today are advertising prices that, when you read the fine print, are understated by many thousands of dollars. When you or I see a dealer stating that the car price is plus “freight”, we are educated enough to understand that the law requires that the freight cost be already included in the price. A shrewd buyer knows that “dealer list” is not the same thing as MSRP and that a large discount from “dealer list” means absolutely nothing. We know that the “lowest price guarantee” is worthless if the dealer reserves the right to buy the car from the other dealer that offers a lower price.

There are those who argue that all buyers have the responsibility to guard against unethical sellers, to take care of themselves. In fact, that’s the literal translation of the Latin legal term “caveat emptor” …let the buyer beware. That’s sounds good, but what about the elderly widow whose husband recently died and who never had to make the decision on a major purchase in her entire life? What about the young person just out of school with no experience in the real world? How about the first generation immigrant who struggles with English? Should we be concerned about our underprivileged classes who often drop out of school because they must go to work to support themselves or their family? You and I know lots of good people who, for one reason or another, simply can’t cope with a slick car or service salesman.


My bottom line is this, since we can’t rely on our regulators and politicians to protect those who “can be fooled all the time”, maybe we owe it to society to protect these folks. If you know someone who is thinking about buying a car or has a service problem with her car and you feel she may not have the ability to fend for herself with the car dealer, offer your support. If you’re one of the people who needs support, ask someone who can go “toe to toe” with a car dealer to come with you when you are car shopping. By the way, nobody, sophisticated or not, should car shop alone. Two heads are always better than one and it’s always a good idea to have a witness to what was said during a negotiation. And, of course, if you don’t have the time to help a person or you’re that person, you can always call me…I’m always here for you.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Ten Tips on Buying the Right Used Car

I sell new and used cars, but if I was not a car dealer and I needed to buy a car, I would buy a used one instead of a new. This is because a used car is a better value. You get more for your money due to avoiding the initial rapid depreciation of a new car. I use the term “used car” in this article because I despise mumbo jumbo euphemisms like “pre-owned”. A used car is a used car is a used car.

(1) Never buy a used car without a CarFax report. The dealer should provide you with one at no charge because any dealer worth his salt runs a CarFax report on every used car he trades in or buys to protect him. Simply don’t buy a used car from anybody that does not give you this report. CarFax reports now have, not only the information about collision damage, floods damage, previous odometer reading, and title issues, (all obtained from insurance records) but also the mechanical repair history (obtained from dealer records). The CarFax report also shows outstanding safety recalls, but I also recommend that you double check this with the NHTSA, National Highway Traffic Safety Association at www.SaferCar.org. In my experience, CarFax misses safety recalls about 30% of the time. Unfortunately, there is no law requiring car dealers to even disclose an unfixed safety recall and most dealers are willingly selling their customers cars with dangerous safety recall like Takata airbags.

(2) Have your car inspected by an independent mechanic. Insist on having the used car you are thinking about buying inspected by your mechanic, not affiliated with the dealer. This should cost you no more than $150 and will be money well spent. The mechanic should look, not only for mechanical issues, but body and flood damage. If the mechanic finds some minor things that need fixing, insist that the dealer take care of these and include it in the price he already quoted you. If the dealer won’t allow this, don’t buy from him.

(3) Consult Consumer Reports, www.KBB.com, and www.Edmunds.com. These sources have complete information on the safety, reliability, maintenance cost, and even what a fair price is to pay for any used car. Consumer Reports lists the “Best and Worst Used Cars”. This is great guide and don’t ever buy a used car that’s on the “worst list”.

(4) A Certified Used Car is only as good as the dealer who sold it to you. Most manufacturers don’t even require that the dealer fix open safety recalls to call the car “Certified”. All manufacturers sponsor “certified” used cars of their make. The main reason for this is that they like to sell the dealer warranties that the dealer then marks up and sells to you. A secondary reason the manufacturers do this is to enhance the resale value of their make car. This helps them sell more new cars because of the higher trade in value and the higher residual values on cars they lease enhance their profits. You can buy a warranty for used car even if it’s not certified, but in a certified used car it’s usually included in the price (which makes the price higher). One good thing about manufacturers’ certified programs is that sometimes the manufacturer will offer you lower financing rates. Certified used cars require that the dealer inspect all critical parts of the car and fill out a checklist that is anywhere from 75 to 150 items. That’s all well and good but how carefully is this inspection being done and by whom? You should ask to see a copy of the check list and ask about the qualification of the mechanic who performed and signed the inspection. All too often, the dealer assigns the lowest priced mechanic he has to perform these checks. It’s questionable whether he even performs all of them. A red flag is if you notice a straight line drawn through all of the check boxes instead of them being checked off individually.

(5) Money Back Guarantee. A lot of dealers advertise that if you change your mind about the car you bought you can bring it back and exchange it for another. This is a worthless guarantee. You can be sure that they will pick the car and the price of the car they will exchange it for and will end up making an additional profit. CarMax has a reasonable guarantee which refunds all your money within five days with restriction that the car is returned in the same condition that it was sold. CarMax is a good place to buy a used car.

(6) Contact the previous owner of the car. The previous owner of the used car should be happy to talk to you. Insist that the seller provide you with his telephone number. If the dealer sold the car to that owner as a new or used car and serviced it, ask if you can see the service file.

(7) Test drive the car just as you will be driving it later. Simply taking the car for a spin around the block with the salesman is not enough. I recommend that you drive the car in the manner and places that you will be driving it when you own it. Take it out on the expressway if you do a lot of higher speed driving. You should drive the car for at least a few hours at all the same speeds, conditions, and on the same roads that you normally experience. Park the car, back it up, and take a friend for ride to get their opinion. You don’t want to have any surprises when you bring it home for keeps.

(8) The Internet is the best place to shop for your used car. Most dealers today display all their used car inventory right on their website along with the prices. These prices are close to the real price you will pay. The dealer knows that he won’t get many responses if he overprices his used cars. Shopping on the Internet give you ample opportunity to compare the same or similar used cars with lots of different dealers. As always, call the dealer before you come in to confirm the Internet price is an out-the-door price without a dealer fee, doc fee, dealer prep, etc. www.TrueCar.com and www.CostcoAuto.com are good choices to buy a used car.

(9) Commit all of the dealer’s promises to writing. Take notes of everything the salesman and sales manager promises you such as “we’ll fix that CD player if you’ll bring your car in next week” or “if you ever have a problem with the car we’ll give you a free loaner when you come in for service”. Make those notes part of the buyer’s order and be sure that a manager signs it. It’s also a good idea to always shop with a friend. In a “He said she said” situation, two people trump one.

(10) Get at least three bids on financing. Know what your lowest interest rate is for the year, make, and model car you’re buying. Get quotes from your bank or credit union and at least one other bank in addition to the rate your dealer offers you. If you do use your dealer’s financing, be sure you know and understand everything that’s included in your finance contract. You will be offered products like warranties, GAP insurance, maintenance, road hazard insurance, etc. It’s illegal for a dealer to tie your acceptance for financing or interest rate to your buying a warranty or any other product.

Monday, July 03, 2017

THE LOWEST PRICED CAR CAN END UP BEING THE MOST EXPENSIVE

Too often car buyers focus on buying the car that fulfills their preferences of styling, size, and accessories that they can buy for the lowest price. There are other important cost considerations you should look at before buying the cheapest alternative.

Resale value is the number one consideration that is most often overlooked by car buyers. All cars depreciate, but some hold their value a lot better than others. You might save a thousand dollars by choosing to buy one used or new car over another more expensive make and model. But if the make and model that cost $1,000 more, held its value by $2,000 more over the 3 years you owned the car before trading it back in, the “lowest priced car” was really $1,000 more expensive.

There are several ways you can check on how much cars will depreciate. A good one is to check the resale value of that same make of car that is 3 or 4 years old. You can also find this information on the Internet. Kelly Blue Book, for example is www.KBB.com. If you are thinking about buying a new 2017 car of a particular model and make, find out what a 2014 model sells for today. Compare other makes and models.

Maintenance and repair cost are the second biggest factors in measuring the true cost of a car. When a car has a relatively higher depreciation, one of the biggest reasons is probably because it is more prone to break down. Check Consumer Reports or surf the Web to find the projected repair histories of the cars you are comparing. Saving $1,000 on a make and model is not very significant when you are facing the cost of a blown transmission or engine. Does the manufacturer provide complimentary maintenance? This should be a factor to consider as well.

Big cash rebates and big discounts are not necessarily a good thing. First you must ask yourself, why is it necessary for this manufacturer to giving me such a big cash rebate (I have seen them advertised as high as $11,000) to sell his car? You will generally find that the manufacturers of higher quality, higher demand cars offer fewer rebates and discounts. These are also the manufacturers of cars that depreciate less and cost less in terms of repairs. Big rebates and discounts also negatively affect a cars resale value. It’s what you could call “vicious cycle”. A car is hard to sell because of its high repair costs and high depreciation so the manufacturer pays a big cash rebate to sell it. The rebate lowers the value of the used car of that make and model because the price of a used car directly tied to the cost of that same new car.

You will be surprised how much the color of the car you buy can affect the resale value. Think about it. The color was very important to you when you bought your last car. It is just as important to the person who will be buying the car you trade in. The most popular colors are white, silver, beige, and black. If you have a “thing” for green, blue, orange, or another unusual color, it can negatively affect the resale value of that car by over $2,000. I’m not suggesting that you always buy a white car, but if you like white, silver, beige, and black you are going to get more money for that trade-in than if you like blue and green. Bright colors can be good for certain models. Red is a popular convertible color for example.

Be sure to check your cost of insurance before you make a final decision. Cars with side air-bags, highly rated in collision and rollover tests, relatively low cost of repair especially for bumpers, and non-high-performance cars have much lower insurance rates.

Cars are no different than any product that you buy when it comes to the principal of “the cheapest product is usually not the best value”. You buy a quality pair of shoes, paying more than you would for a cheap, poorly made pair because they will look good and wear many times longer. Shopping for the lowest price is a very good idea, but only after you have chosen a car that has low depreciation, operating costs, and cost of repair.

Monday, June 26, 2017

EARL STEWART QUOTED IN CURRENT FORBES MAGAZINE



You can also access the article below by going to: www.ForbesOnDangerousAutoCrashParts.com


Widespread Use Of Uncertified "Grey Market" Parts For Car Repairs May Undermine Crash Safety

by Diana Hembree

Aftermath of a crash
After a car crash, car repair and body shops often install “aftermarket” or “knock-off” replacement parts that are cheaper than the original parts, saving consumers lots of money. The Insurance Information Institute reports that aftermarket parts have saved consumers more than $2.2 billion in repair costs since 2010. The bad news: The bulk of these parts are not certified for quality and safety.

Knock-off parts purchased on the so-called “grey market” aren’t really an issue when it comes to fenders, grills and other cosmetic features that don’t affect safety. But structural parts like hoods and bumpers are another matter, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. If those parts aren’t up to standard, the cheap car repair could come at a very high price.

“I refuse to use aftermarket parts,” says Florida car dealer Earl Stewart, a consumer advocate based in North Palm Beach who has worked in body shops for the last 47 years. A poorly made part, he says, “can make the difference between airbag deployment and someone’s head going through the windshield.”

Controversy over aftermarket parts safety
Unless you've been hanging around repair shops lately, you may not have heard of aftermarket parts and OEMS. Here's a quick review: Some replacement parts come from Original Equipment Manufacturers, or OEMS, which use carmaker specifications to create a blueprint so their copy will be identical to the "genuine" parts from the carmaker. Aftermarket auto parts are copies of an original part. Some are certified for quality by a non-profit organization, and others aren’t.

The safety of aftermarket parts became a hot issue in 2010, when Consumer Reports reported computer-simulated crash tests from Ford showing that knock-off bumpers and radiator parts could cause the airbag system to malfunction.

Here’s how it’s supposed to work: An impact on the bumper sends vibrations through the vehicle body to the airbag sensors, which then trigger the airbag to deploy if necessary. In one Ford Mustang test, the magazine noted, the original Ford bumper was one piece made from “ultra-high-strength steel.” The aftermarket copy, in contrast, was created from two pieces of weak steel that were spot-welded together. The weaker bumper sent a different signal to the sensors, a potentially dangerous scenario.

Amid growing concerns about the safety of aftermarket replacement parts, an independent non-profit called the Certified Automotive Parts Association (CAPA) stepped forward to certify the structural auto parts.

CAPA’s goal is to provide high-quality alternatives to both shoddy knockoffs and expensive car company brand parts. “What’s different about us is that we don’t have any vested interest in the sale of these parts,” says CAPA executive director Jack Gillis. “The heart of our program is the public interest.”

Proven parts
CAPA puts the parts through a rigorous testing process, including crash-testing for car bumpers. A video on CAPA’s website shows an uncertified bumper exploding in a crash while a CAPA-tested bumper survives unscathed:

Gillis says the exploding bumper underscores the need for certification. “Some of these replacement parts look really great, and even an industry professional can’t tell the difference by looking at them,” he says. “Only testing will reveal whether they’re as safe and durable as the original and perform the way they’re supposed to.”

CAPA, which also tests cosmetic auto parts, has certified about 20 percent – or 85 million certified parts -- of all the replacement parts on the market.

To receive the certification, a manufacturer first has to pass a detailed inspection of its factory and manufacturing process. If that happens, the manufacturer can submit replacement parts to CAPA for a battery of different tests, all of which are available to the public. The nonprofit's tests have found everything from corrosion problems and substandard metal to missing hood reinforcement plates.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Your Car Insurance Company Hates Earl Stewart Toyota's Body Shop

This article was written by Alan Nappier, my Body Shop manager. I’ve owned and operated body shops for over four decades…at one time I owned five! I’ve never had a body shop manager as qualified as Alan and never had one that put the customer first 100% of the time the way Alan does. By putting the customer first, I mean considering the customers’ needs above those of the insurance company that pays us for repairing the customer’s car. Please read what Alan has to say carefully:


So, you had an accident and called your insurance company to report it and things seemed to be going pretty smoothly….. Then you told them you were taking your car to Earl Stewart and everything started getting weird…. The claims adjusters’ demeanor inexplicably just changed…. And NOT for the better!! Suddenly they’re telling you they that have a perfect shop in mind for you that will get your car in and out in a hurry and the whole process will be effortless for you. Yep, it’ll be such a great experience, you’ll be GLAD you had an accident. You thank them politely and tell them you’re just more comfortable repairing your vehicle at Earl Stewart, where you bought the car and know and trust the people.

Now it seems like the adjuster is downright angry with you and the real pressure tactics start!! They start making vague yet ominous sounding statements about Earl Stewart Toyota, almost as if they’re letting you in on a dirty little secret….. “We can’t guarantee their work….” “We’ve had problems with that shop….” “They charge more than we allow for repairs and you will have to pay out of pocket…” “If you take it to our shop, you won’t have to wait for an adjuster…” “They ignore our estimates…” The list goes on and on, but, they’re planting their seeds of doubt…. And now you’re concerned and thinking “Earl Stewart Toyota must have done something to cause this hostility by my insurance company…”, after all, your insurance company only has your best interest in mind…..

Well, you’re right, we DID do something to cause your insurance company to hate us and I’d like to tell you what….. We actually had the audacity to tell your insurance company something that they’re not used to hearing…. “NO!!” and they reacted like any spoiled 3 year old would who’s never heard the word before.

But wait, you’re still “in good hands” right? Wrong!! Your insurance company will instruct “their” repair facility to install untested aftermarket crash parts on your vehicle, even knowing that these parts can absorb crash energy differently and affect the timing of your air bag deployment, resulting in possible death and serious injury.

Here’s the really crazy thing…. The insurance company’s “approved” repair shop will do it!! Do you see what’s going on here? Everybody’s making out like Jesse James!! The insurance company is saving money, the body shop is making money, and you? You’re getting scammed!! Your insurance company has been provided with countless documents, provided by the vehicle manufacturers that state that these “cosmetic crash parts” are actually “designed and tested as part of the overall vehicle and may help send impact energy to the SRS sensors. In addition, some of these parts may help GM, Chrysler, Ford, Toyota, for Nissan vehicles comply with several Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) including hood intrusion in the passenger cabin, preservation of proper door operation following a collision and proper airbag function.

You may be thinking “Well, if these parts are that bad, surely there’s a law against using them without my permission…” You’re right again!! Florida statute 626.9743 states “An insurer may not require the use of replacement parts in the repair of a motor vehicle which are not at least equivalent in kind and quality to the damaged parts prior to the loss in terms of fit, appearance, and performance.” Sounds like an open and shut case, eh? The law doesn’t say “if the insurance company believes they’re the equivalent”. It doesn’t say anything about “if the insurance company hopes they’re the equivalent”. The insurance companies need to prove these cheap parts are the exact equivalent to the original factory parts to be in compliance with the law or stop mandating their use. Right? I thought so too….

So, I wrote a letter to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation!! Went right to the top, straight to Commissioner Kevin McCarty (well, his office anyway…. he’s got “people” for that…). After much arm twisting via the Florida CFO’s office, the FL OIR begrudging agreed to “investigate” our concerns. After a couple of months, we received their response “We have concluded our investigation and found no violation of the Florida Insurance Code.”, and my favorite part….“Generally speaking, the burden of proof that an aftermarket part is not of like kind and quality or as safe as an OEM part rests with the one making that assertion, as opposed to one having to prove that the aftermarket part is of like kind and quality and as safe as OEM.” Huh?? That one left me scratching my head. Why have a consumer protection law at all then? Your insurance company can mandate the usage of any part they desire, so long as it looks the same. Nobody really complains though because, as they say, “dead men tell no tales…”The jury’s still out on this one, but rest assured WE WILL NOT USE AFTERMARKET PARTS TO REPAIR YOUR VEHICLE.! (p.s. Also check out Title 49, Chapter 301 Subchapter II Sec. 30122 "Making Safety Devices and Elements Inoperative" in the Federal Code-you can Google it).

How about used crash parts then?? Your insurance estimator will tell you “they’re factory original parts taken off of a car that’s just like yours”. Really? Was your car damaged so severely that it was deemed a total loss and ended up in a junk yard? The car they want to cannibalize to get your replacement parts was. We won’t even know if the donor car was damaged in an accident, a flood or even a fire and quite frankly, we don’t care-WE’RE NOT GOING TO USE THESE PARTS EITHER!!

Well, what about Earl Stewart overcharging for labor??? THAT sounds pretty shady….. let’s talk about it…. I recently had my lawn mower repaired and it cost me $65 per hour and having an electrician fix my air conditioning at home cost me $75 per hour (plus gas & travel time), plumbers and a/c repairmen are $100+ per hour. If you have mechanical work on your car, it’s liable to cost you anywhere from $100 to $200+ per hour, depending on the repair shop and type of car.

The insurance companies feel that $42 an hour is more than fair to have your collision damaged vehicle repaired and they won’t pay a dime more. If you want to repair your vehicle here, they will tell you that you’ll have to pay the difference out of pocket OR, well….. they know a guy…… Ironically, back in the early 70’s, when Allstate and Sears were all part of the same company, Sears wouldn’t repair your toaster for less than $12 an hour while at the same time Allstate wouldn’t pay more than $7 an hour to have your vehicle repaired. Hilarious, ain’t it? Back in the 60’s, the insurance industry running roughshod over the repair industry was so pervasive and blatant that the Kennedy Administration tackled them before they even got started on the Mafia!!! (see 1963 Consent Decree-Google is your friend) What the insurance industry is doing to the repair industry is a clear violation of antitrust laws and we are part of a class action lawsuit to try to put a stop to it. WE WILL NOT MAKE YOU PAY THE DIFFERENCE IN LABOR RATES!!

Then we get to “charging for supplies and labor operations not customarily charged for in the market area”. This basically means that because they’ve been able to badger, coerce and intimidate some repair shops into not charging for certain supplies and labor operations necessary to return your car to pre-accident condition, they should not have to pay it to anybody whether they ask for it or not. Your insurance company won’t dispute that the materials are being used or the labor operations performed, nor will they dispute the necessity. Their only problem is having to pay for it because at some point, long ago, somebody “cut a deal” to get more business sent their way and it then became the “new norm” for every shop. We will never charge for a labor operation or supplies that cannot be verified. WE WILL NOT MAKE YOU PAY THE DIFFERENCE.

Now you’re probably saying “I never get into accidents so I can’t believe I’m still reading this. Can this guy just get to the point??” and the answer is “YES! Yes I can!!” Please don’t fall victim to your insurance companies scare tactics! The top 5 insurance companies spent over $4,000,000,000 (yep, that’s $4 BILLION) last year to convince you that they’re good guys so that you will buy their product (GEICO alone spent over $1 Billion if that tells you anything). Sometimes, there’s not enough perfume to cover up a smell and not enough lipstick to pretty up a pig and this is one of those times.

Please go to some consumer websites and check out how these insurance companies perform once you’ve had to turn in a claim (a.k.a. became an expense to them). Also keep in mind, the shops that enter into these unholy alliances with the insurance companies see them as their #1 priority and best customer and they will do whatever they are told to stay in their good graces. The insurance company feeds the shop lots of work and the shop does what they’re told to keep the repair cheap. It’s a marriage made in Hell. The repair shops that participate in this fraud are just as, or maybe even guiltier than the insurance companies. They should know better, but, it’s all about the money (insert photo of pigs at trough HERE) ;)

If you have already had your vehicle repaired at one of these direct repair shops and you’re not exactly sure how your car was repaired, bring it by with the invoice and the final estimate and we’ll be glad to take a look at it for you. If the vehicle has not been repaired properly, we’ll point out the deficiencies so that you can return to the shop for corrective repairs. If they repaired your car with aftermarket or junkyard parts, you may be entitled to higher than normal diminished value compensation. WHAT?? Your insurance company didn’t tell you that your car is worth less now and you’re entitled to additional compensation?? You might want to contact Gordon and Doner, they have a division that can handle that for you. If your insurance company has pressured you to not have your car repaired at Earl Stewart Toyota, please email me the details at alann@estoyota.com or Mr. Stewart at earl@estoyota.com and share the gory details.

Earl Stewart Toyota will repair your vehicle properly, per the manufacturers’ recommendations and only with new OEM crash parts. We will guarantee our paint, our workmanship AND the OEM replacement crash parts, for as long as you own your car. That’s right, I said AND THE PARTS!! The manufacturers’ warranty for replacement parts is 12 months or 12K miles. Earl Stewart Toyota will pick up the warranty after Toyota’s warranty expires, this includes parts, materials and any necessary labor to paint and install the failed part. Everything!! If we are unable to convince your insurance company to pay in full for the properly repaired property damage, with your written permission we will initiate action on your behalf to recover the funds. Ultimately, it is YOU who are responsible for ensuring your vehicle is repaired properly. You already had an accident; don’t let your insurance company force you into making a mistake.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

EIGHT CAR BUYING STEPS

Buy the Best Car for the Best Price

  1. Consumer Reports Subscribe to Consumer Reports, go to the library and read past issues, or check out Consumer Reports online. There are other objective sources of information on cars, but this is the best. They accept no advertising from anybody and their sole goal is rigorously and objectively testing merchandise that consumers buy. You can very quickly find the best make car for the model and style you want to buy. Consumer Reports rates cars by performance, cost of operation, safety, and frequency of repair.                                                         
  2. Test Drive the car you have chosen This step requires that you visit a car dealership. Remember that this doesn’t have to be the dealership you buy it from. You obviously must see, touch, feel, and drive the car that you think you want to buy. A new car is a very personal thing and just because Consumer Reports loved it doesn’t mean that you will. Be sure that you test drive the car at all speeds in all road types that you normally drive. Drive it in the city but also on the expressway.
  3. Carefully choose the accessories you want There are some accessories that enhance the value of your car and some that don’t or may even lower it. Generally speaking you should accessorize a car comparably to its class. If you are buying a lower priced economy car, you should not load it up with leather seats and an expensive sound system. If you do, you won’t recoup much of what you spent on these accessories in its resale value. On the other hand, if you are buying a luxury car, don’t skimp on items people look for in luxury cars like a navigation system or a moon roof.
  4. Carefully choose your car’s color Color is more important in determining a car’s resale value than accessories. If you want to maximize the trade-in value of this car, choose a popular color. White, silver, black, and beige are the 4 most popular colors. Sports cars and convertibles are exceptions and red is often the most popular color. The difference in trade-in value between the right color and the wrong color can be several thousands of dollars.
  5. Arrange your financing Now that you know exactly what kind of a car you are going to buy, you can check with local banks and credit unions to find the best interest rate. Don’t commit until you have chosen the dealer you will buy from. Manufacturers sometimes offer very low special rates and dealers can sometimes offer a lower rate than your bank or credit union.
  6. Shop your trade-in If you are trading in a car, take it to 3 dealerships for the same make and ask them how much they will pay you for your car. A Chevy dealer will pay more for a used Chevy and a Toyota dealer will pay more for a used Toyota. If you live near a CarMax store, get a price from them too. They have a reputation of paying more money for trade-ins than most dealers. Don’t commit to the highest bid, but give the dealer you buy from a chance to beat that price.
  7. Shop for the best price on the Internet Go to the manufacturer’s Web site. The addresses are all very intuitive. Toyota is www.toyota.com and Pontiac is www.pontiac.com. You can type in your zip code and get the Web sites of all your local dealers. Depending on how far you are will to drive to pick up your new car, request price quotes from as many dealers as you like, but be sure you get at least 3 quotes. When you have chosen the lowest price, verify that this price is “out-the-door” with only tax and tag added. There are two third-party sources for getting a low, transparent price from a dealer in your market area, https://www.costcoauto.com/, and www.TrueCar.com.
  8. Offer your favorite, or nearest, dealer the right to meet this price. If you have been dealing with one dealership for a long time and have had good experiences with their service department, you should give them a chance to meet your lowest Internet price. Of course, you can take your new car to them for service even if you don’t buy it from them.
You will notice that there were no steps listed above which suggested that you look in your local newspaper’s auto classified section or online ads, watch car dealer’s TV ads, or believe their direct mail “too good to be true” offers. When you fall for this, the dealer is in control. When you follow my eight steps, you are in total control.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Dealing with the Dealer Fee: Earl Stewart’s User’s Guide


Hopefully by now, all but my newest readers know about the infamous “Dealer Fee”. If you don’t know, it’s a hidden price increase on the car you purchase disguised to look like a federal, state, or local tax or fee. It’s 100% profit to the dealer. “Dealer Fee” is the most common name for this disguised profit, but it goes by many names such as doc fee, dealer prep fee, service fee, administrative fee, electronic filing fee, e-filing fee, tag agency fee, pre-delivery fee, etc. The names are only limited by car dealers’ imaginations. Almost all car dealers in Florida charge a Dealer Fee. The dealer fees range from around $700 to as high as $2,000!

This is the Florida law that is supposed to regulate the Dealer Fee: “The advertised price must include all fees or charges that the customer must pay excluding state and local taxes.” The law also requires that the Dealer Fee must be disclosed to the buyer as follows: “This charge represents costs and profits to the dealer for items such as inspecting, cleaning, and adjusting vehicles and preparing documents related to the sale.”

This law is very weak and almost never enforced. When enforced, it isn’t enforced by the letter of the law; it is done so as to “accommodate” the car dealers. The law is “weak” because it requires only that the dealer fee be included in the “advertised” price. The word “advertised” is narrowly interpreted to mean a specific car shown in a newspaper, TV, radio, or online ad, but, what about when you get a price on the phone, online, or from the salesman? You don’t find out about the Dealer Fee until you’re in the business office signing a bunch of papers. The dealers get around advertisements very easily by including a “number” in the fine print. This number is their stocknumber that designates one specific car. When you respond to the ad, this car is no longer available (sales people are usually not paid a commission for selling the “ad car). The advertisement might say “many more identical cars are available.” It’s true that identical cars are available for sale, but they are not available for sale at the sale price because they are not the advertised stock number car. If you buy one of those “exact same cars” you will pay from $700 to $2,000 more.

The reason I’m told that the law is rarely enforced is that the Florida Attorney General’s office is understaffed and too busy enforcing other Florida laws. I’m also told that Florida car buyers don’t file very many complaints against car dealers for violating the Dealer Fee law. I don’t believe that there can be too many other infractions of the law that take more money annually from consumers than dealer fees take from car buyers. Just one car dealer selling 1,000 cars a year and charging a $1,000 dealer fee is taking a $1 million annually from car buyers. Most car dealers in South Florida well a lot more than 1,000 cars annually and many charge more than $1,000 dealer fee. I believe that the reason more complaints aren’t filed on the dealer fee is because most car buyers don’t know that they are being duped. They either don’t notice the fee or assume it’s an official federal or state fee. Dealer often tell their customers that all dealers charge it and that it’s required by law.

The Attorney General also “accommodates” the dealers by not interpreting the law the way it was intended. For example, the law says that the dealer fee must be included in the advertised price. The Florida Senate has ruled that the law requires that the fee be “included” rather than “specifically delineated.” But the Attorney General allows car dealers to advertise car prices without including their dealer fee in the price if they mention their dealer fee in the fine print. They also allow car dealers to simply state in the fine print that they have a Dealer Fee but not even mention the amount. To me they are simply allowing the car dealers to break the law.

Lastly, the required disclosure of the Dealer Fee on the vehicle buyer’s order or invoice is confusing, misleading, and incorrect: “This charge represents costs and profits to the dealer for items such as inspecting, cleaning, and adjusting vehicles and preparing documents related to the sale.” It should not say “costs” because any cost that you pass along to the customer in the price of a product is pure profit. A dealer can pass along his utility bills, sales commissions and advertising if he wants to and call it a “dealer fee”. It should not say “inspecting, cleaning, and adjusting vehicles” because all car dealers are reimbursed by the manufacturer for “inspecting, cleaning, and adjusting vehicles”.

So, what should you do when you are confronted by a car dealer with the “Dealer Fee”? Besides “LEAVE”, here are some suggestions that may help you:

  • Make it clear from the very beginning that all prices you discuss must be “out-the-door” prices. This way you don’t care if the dealer fee added up front because you will shop and compare their bottom line price with at least 3 competing car dealers. Ideally you should require that they include tax and tag in that price. If you don’t they might try to slip in something they call the “electronic filing fee” or “e filing fee” and trick you into believing that it’s part of the license tag and registration.
  • The dealer will often tell you that all car dealers charge Dealer Fees and that they are required by law to add the dealer fee on every car they sell. Simply tell them that you know this is not true and you can cite me and other car dealers like Mullinax Ford, OffLeaseOnly.com and Earl Stewart Toyota that do not charge a dealer fee. Print out a copy of this article, show it to them, and tell them that you know that there is no law that says he must charge you a dealer fee.
  • If you and the dealer understand that the out-the-door price is the price you will shop and compare with his competition, you don’t need to be concerned whether there is a dealer fee showing on the vehicle buyer’s order. To be competitive, the dealer can simply reduce the price by the amount of his Dealer Fee and the bottom line is what you are comparing.
  • Be aware that dealers usually do not pay their sales people a commission on the amount of their dealer fee. In fact, dealers often misinform their sales people just like they do their customers. The salesman who tells you that the all dealers charge Dealer Fees and that the law requires everyone pay a dealer fee may believe it. Sale people who understand that the Dealer Fee is simply profit to the dealer will be resentful of not being paid their 25% commission on it. A $1,000 dealer fee costs the salesman $250 in commission.
  • When you respond to an advertisement at a specific price for a specific model car, object when the dealer adds the dealer fee. Unfortunately, the law allows him the loophole of claiming that the ad car is a different stock number, but you might be able to shame him into taking off the dealer fee. If you raise a “big enough stink”, the dealer would be smart to take off the dealer fee than claim that technicality, especially if you were to advise the local TV station or newspaper.

I hope that these suggestions help you and I hope that you will file a complaint with the Florida Attorney General, Pam Bondi. If enough consumers (who are also voters) let our elected officials know how they feel about the Dealer Fee, it will bring positive results.

Monday, May 15, 2017

10 Costs Comprising the TOTAL PRICE of a Car

Understanding and calculating the TOTAL PRICE of a car is very complicated and time consuming. The average price of a new car is about $40,000, but when you add all the other costs associated with the car and multiply this by all the cars you will buy in your lifetime, you’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars. This means that you should make the effort and take the time to fully understand the Total Price of the next car you buy.

Car dealers and car manufacturers advertise car prices that are only a small fraction of the true cost of the car. When you’re comparing advertised prices from different dealers and different makes and models of cars, you have virtually no valid information on making the right purchase decision. Dealers almost always advertise a price that is substantially lower than you can buy their car. If they don’t do this, their competitor will, and they will lose the sale.

Manufacturers almost never advertise the other costs associated with their cars, unless the car happens to have a low cost in that category. For example, Subaru has a low cost of depreciation, but you’ll never see a Chrysler ad about depreciation cost. The fine print in every manufacturer’s ad stipulates that the dealers can add dealer installed accessories and dealer fees.

Below I’ve listed all the costs totaling the TRUE TOTAL COST of the cars you buy.

(1) Selling price of car

(2) Trade-in allowance

(3) Interest cost of financing

(4) Finance “products”.

(5) Depreciation

(6) Insurance

(7) Maintenance

(8) Repairs

(9) Dealer Installed Accessories

(10) Dealer Fees

Selling Price of Car. Determine the lowest selling price of the car you want to buy as follows: Check with these two 3rd party car buying services, www.TrueCar.com and https://www.costcoauto.com. Then take the lowest price of the two and shop it with at least three dealers on the exact same make, model, accessories and MSRP as the car you priced with TrueCar and Costco.

Trade-in Allowance. Keep the sale of your trade-in separate from your purchase transaction. The dealer you buy your car from will try to pay you less for your trade-in than it’s worth; or he will delude you into believing he’s giving you a good price by overcharging you on the car you’re buying. Get purchase offers on your trade-in from the used car departments at three dealers who sell the make of car you are driving. Make an appointment with the used car manager and simply explain that you want to sell your car, but make it clear you aren’t buying another. Also, tell him you are getting competing bids from two other dealers. When you make the final decision on the dealer you will purchase your car from, offer him the right to match or beat your best price offer. Remember that Florida and other states offer you sales tax exemption on the amount of your trade-in allowance.

Interest Cost of Financing. Car dealers make more money financing cars and selling warranties and other “finance products” than they do on the actual sale of the car. Check with your bank and credit union. Credit unions offer lower rates than most banks. You can join some credit unions for a relatively modest annual fee. Also, consider the dealer’s interest rate if it is a subsidized low rate offered by the manufacturer of the car.

Finance Products. There’s pressure by the federal agency, the CFPB, Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, on car dealers about charging exorbitant interest rates to minorities. Many dealers have resorted to shifting their finance profits to products and services added into the retail installment sales contract. Oftentimes these products and services aren’t properly disclosed to the buyer. Carefully read your installment sales contract before you sign it to be sure that there are no warranties, prepaid maintenance agreements, road hazard insurance, roadside assistance, LoJack, or anything else added to the finance cost of your car that you haven’t agreed to buy.

Depreciation. All different makes and models of cars depreciate at different rates. The differences are substantial and can amount to thousands of dollars. The selling price of a Subaru and a Chrysler can be the same, but the Chrysler will depreciate thousands more than the Subaru. You can research depreciation online at www.ConsumerReports.com, www.Kbb.com, www.Edmunds.com, and www.ALG.com.

Maintenance. The cost of maintenance for cars has dropped precipitously in the past ten years. Cars are built better and require far less maintenance, like oil changes, than ever before. The cost is so low that most manufacturers are offering free maintenance in first 2 or 3 years of ownership. However, if you keep your car longer, the cost of maintenance naturally increases. Consumer Reports is, by far, your best source of information on maintenance and repairs of all makes of used and new cars.

Repairs. Repairs are usually mentioned together with maintenance, but I separate them because, even though repairs are required less frequently like maintenance, the actual cost of repairs are very high. This is because today’s cars consist of very high tech and complex computer systems which are often manufactured in modules. Repairs often involve the replacement of an entire computer module (not just a few parts), costing thousands of dollars. One again, I refer you to Consumer Reports for detailed information on repair costs. Their annual April Auto Issue is “worth its weight in gold” as source of buying information.

Dealer Installed Accessories. JUST SAY NO! With rare exceptions, all accessories installed by dealers on their cars before they are sold are vastly overpriced and have very little value or utility. Dealer installed accessories exist so that the dealer can add profit to the sale of the car above the advertised price. Examples of these overpriced accessories are Nitrogen in tires, LoJack, pinstripes, roadside assistance, and paint sealant.

Dealer Fees. Last, but certainly not least, are car dealers’ dirtiest little secret. Dealer fee is a generic name for all the bogus fees that dealers add to the advertised price of their cars. The thing they have in common is the word “fee” because it resonates as an “official” local, state, or federal fee. A few of the “creative” names for dealer fees are Electronic Filing Fee, Tag Agency Fee, Notary Fee, Handling Fee, Administrative Fee, Dealer Prep Fee, and Dealer Service Fee. The way to spot a real fee from a bogus fee is by determining if the dealer charged you sales tax on that amount. THERE IS NO STATE SALES TAX CHARGED ON GOVERNMENT FEES.

Monday, May 01, 2017

FREE LIFETIME ENGINE/POWER-TRAIN WARRANTIES ARE PHONEY-BALONEY, WORTHLESS COME-ONS

Car dealers will do almost anything to “get you in-the-door” to sell you a car, and one of their favorite tricks is a “free lifetime warranty” with every car they sell. I haven’t written about this before because I didn’t think anybody would believe a car dealer would give then anything of value free, but I was wrong!

I was recently shown a survey of South Florida car owners. The survey asked which features and benefits associated with the purchase of a car they considered to be the most valuable. To my amazement and disbelief, the number one and two items were free, lifetime engine and power-train warranties!

For clarification, the engine is part of the powertrain. the main components that generate power and deliver it to the road surface. This includes the engine, transmission, drive shaft, differentials, and the final drive (drive wheels). Essentially, these are all thelubricated parts of your vehicle. These parts are very important, and they are also very reliable and not likely to fail if properly maintained.

All engine/powertrain warranties, free or otherwise, have requirements that they be maintained, at least per the manufacturers’ recommendations. Many free warranties also have conditions that they be maintained even more frequently than the manufacturer requires. Most non-manufacturer engine and powertrain warranties (and all free nonmanufacturer) EXCLUDE SEALS AND GASKETS* which are the only parts that might wear out during any reasonable length of time. Some of these phony warranties have requirements that all maintenance and repairs be made at the dealership you bought the car from; some have requirements that you use a specific brand of oil. All of them require that you have detailed, written evidence of every single required maintenance that the fine print in the warranty requires. There are also other exclusions (“CYA” for the warranty seller) regarding how you use your car…do you tow a trailer, drive commercially, etc. A good tip for you regarding warranties, free or not, is to read the fine print which tells you what the warranty DOES NOT COVER. This is usually on the last page in fine print but what it does cover is on the front page in large, bold print.

Because there is virtually no warranty cost to auto manufacturers from repairing engine and powertrains that have been properly maintained, they offer much longer, higher mileage coverage on the engine/powertrain than the rest of the car. Hyundai and Mitsubishi warrantee their engine/powertrains for 10 years or 100,000 miles. Acura warrantees theirs for 7 years or 70,000 and most other manufacturers for 4 or 5 years and 50,000 miles. Remember that the manufacturers do cover gaskets and seals on their warranties, but the car dealers offering the free warranties do not. The only things that can fail on a well-maintained engine or powertrain are the seals and gaskets. If the manufacturer did not cover these, they would offer a lifetime warranty too.

When you see one of these car dealer advertisements offering you a FREE engine or powertrain warranty, ask him how much of adiscount from the advertised price he will give you if you decline the warranty; and/or ask him to show you proof of any warranty repairs his dealership has ever made on an engine or powertrain covered by their free warranty. I think we both know the answer to these questions…you won’t get a dime’s discount on the car and they’ve never spent a nickel on warranty repairs. The bottom line is that a free engine/powertrain warranty is just like free advice…it’s not worth anything.

*CORRECTION: It has come to my attention that not all of these warranties exclude seals and gaskets. In particular, Bev Smith Toyota and West Palm Beach Nissan both offer free lifetime powertrain warranties that do cover seals and gaskets.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Open Letter to Florida Car Dealers

I wrote this letter to Florida car dealers almost a decade ago and, so far, I’ve received no replies…at least from car dealers. But I’ve received thousands of replies from car buyers thanking me for taking a stand against the Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practice of dealer fees. I thought that I’d give it another try.

FRIDAY, AUGUST 24, 2007

SUBJECT: ELIMINATE THE DEALER FEE

Dear fellow Florida car dealer, I started in the retail auto business in 1968, about 39 years ago, and I have seen a lot of changes in the way we dealers sell cars and the expectations of our customers. My remarks in this column are made sincerely and with a positive intent toward you and your customers. I am not trying to tell you how to run your business; I am suggesting a change that will reward both you and your customers.

Virtually every car dealer in Florida adds a charge to the price of the cars he sells, variously referred to as a “dealer fee”, “documentary fee”, “dealer prep fee”, electronic filing fee etc. This extra charge is printed on your buyer’s orders and is programmed into your computers. It is regulated in many states including California. You charge this fee to every customer and it ranges from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. Florida law requires that you disclose in writing on the buyer’s order that this charge represents profit to the dealer. Florida law also requires that you include this fee in all advertised prices. You don’t always do this and you get around the law by limiting the number of advertised vehicles (as few as one).

The argument that I hear from most car dealers when I raise this issue is that the dealer fee is fully disclosed to the buyer on his buyer’s order. But, most car buyers are totally unaware that they are paying this. Who reads all the voluminous paperwork associated with buying a car? The few who notice it assume it is an “official” fee like state sales tax or license and registration fee. Those few astute buyers who do question the fee are told that your dealership must charge this fee on very car which is not true. These astute buyers are also told that all other car dealers charge similar fees. This is almost true, but, as you know, my dealership does not.

The reason you charge this fee is simply to increase the cost of the car and your profit in such a manner that it is not noticed by your customer. This is just plain wrong. Dealers will admit this to me in private conversations and some will admit that they have considered eliminating the fee as I have, but are afraid of the drastic effect to their bottom line. By being able to count on an extra $999 in profit that the customer is not aware of or believes is an “official fee”, you can actually quote a price below cost and end up making a profit. Or, if the price you quote the customer does pay you a nice profit, you can increase that by several hundred dollars.

This “extra, unseen” profit is even better for you because you don’t pay your salesmen a commission on it. That’s being unfair to your employees as well as your customers. When the rare, astute buyer objects to the dealer fee, the right thing to do would be to decrease the quoted price of the car by the amount of the dealer fee. This would have the same net effect of removing it. The salesman won’t permit this because he will lose his commission (typically 25%) on the decrease in his commissionable gross profit.

If you don’t know me, I should tell you that I don’t profess to be some “holier than thou” car dealer who was always perfect. Although, I never did anything illegal, when I look at some of my advertising and sales tactics 20+ years ago and more, I am not always proud. But, I have evolved as my customers have evolved. My customers’ expectations, level of education, and sophistication are much higher today. Your customers are no different. As I began treating my customers, and employees, better I discovered that they began treating me better. Yes, I used to charge a dealer fee ($495), and when I stopped charging it a few years ago, it was scary. But I did it because I could no longer, in good conscious, mislead my customers. Just because everybody else was doing the same thing did not make it right.

Now here is the good news. My profit per car did drop by about the amount of the dealer fee when I stopped charging it. But, when my customers realized that I was now giving them a fair shake and quoting the complete out-the-door price with no “surprises” the word spread. My volume began to rise rapidly. Sure, I was making a few hundred dollars less per car, but I was selling a lot more cars! I was, and am, selling a lot of your former customers. My bottom line is far better than it was when I was charging a dealer fee. You can do the same!

Why am I writing this letter? I’m not going to tell you that I think of myself as the new Marshall that has come to “clean up Dodge”. In fact, I’m aware that this letter is to some extent self-serving. Lots of people will read this letter to you and learn why they should buy a car from me and not you. And, I am also aware that most dealers who read this will either get angry and ignore it or not have the courage to follow my lead. But maybe you will be the exception. If you have any interest in following my lead, call me anytime. I don’t have a secretary and I don’t screen any of my phone calls. I would love to chat with you about this. My cell phone number is 561 358-1474.

Sincerely,

Earl Stewart

Monday, April 10, 2017

Red Flags to Watch for When Buying or Leasing a Car

The “Big Sale Event"
If you go online or turn on the TV, you will find that most car dealers in your area are having a “sale” of some kind. It may be because of a current holiday, “too large an inventory” of cars, to “reduce their taxes”, “the manager is out of town”, or some other nefarious lure. “Advertising 101” says that you should give the prospective buyer a “motive to act”. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter whether the motive is real or not. The fact is that most car dealers do not sell their cars for less during “sales events” than they do at any other time. I point this out so that you don’t rush your buying decision. If you don’t buy a car during the tight time constraints of a phony sales event, you can negotiate just as good a price, if not better, the next day. The exceptions to this are legitimate rebates offered by the manufacturer. These often expire at the end of the month which is one reason why the “last day of the month” really can be the best time to buy a car”.

“The Price I’m giving you is only good for today."
If a salesman or sales manager tells you that, it is only a tactic to push you into buying the car. The only exception would be the expiration of a factory rebate. Once again, this is simply a tactic to push you into buying before you have a chance to do your comparative price shopping.

“Take the car home today and see how you like it."
Test-driving the car you are considering buying home can be a good thing. It will give you a lot better idea about how the car performs, etc. However, there are two reasons the car salesman offers this. One is that you must leave the vehicle you might be trading in with the car dealer. This means that you cannot shop prices with other dealers. The second reason is the psychological impact of parking that new car in your driveway where your family and neighbors can see it. The slang expression for this is “the puppy dog”. If you were to take home a little puppy from the pet store, you and your children would fall in love with her and could not return her the next day.

“You must give me a deposit before I can give you a price."
This must be one of the most insulting ways that some car salesmen have of intimidating a prospective buyer. It’s amazing how many people actually succumb to this which allows the salesman an element of control…. you can’t leave until they give you your money back. If confronted with this ultimatum, simply walk away.

“Are you ready to buy a car today?" 
Often, if you say no to this question, the salesman will tell you to come back when you are ready to buy. He will tell you to shop around and come back with your best price so that he can beat it. The salesman is afraid that, if he does give you his best price, you will go somewhere else and that salesman will beat it. Of course, that is the whole idea of competition and that is exactly what you should do. If the salesman is afraid to give you a price because his competitor will beat it, it must not be the best price!

“Make me an offer and I will take it to my manager for approval."
This is a very common tactic which you may have already encountered. It’s not unethical. It’s simply part of negotiating. I point this out so that you are fully aware that this is part of the negotiating game. Be aware, that no matter what price you offer, the manager will ask you for more money. Even if you mistakenly offered a high price that would be a very large profit for the dealer, the manager would ask you for more money. The psychology behind this is that if you suddenly accepted the offer, you may frighten the customer by thinking he had offered too much (which he would have). When you negotiate, you must be well versed on what is a good price for that car. Start out below the best price you think you can buy it for. If you cannot negotiate a price close to your best price, get up and leave. Continue this process with another car dealer.

The “really big” discount”
The other day a friend showed me direct mail advertising piece from a new car dealer with a coupon good for $2,000 discount on any car in his inventory. This is very common for online and TV ads too. Federal law requires new cars to have a price sticker on the window named the Monroney label. A discount from this suggested retail price gives you a fair basis for comparison. Unfortunately, most car dealers today, increase the suggested retail price substantially with the use of an addendum to the Monroney sticker often referred to as a “Market Adjustment Addendum”. This “adjustment” can be several thousands of dollars. Be sure you know what the true MSRP is for the car when you have been offered a “big discount”.

The best protection from all of the above is to find a car dealer that you can trust. Ask your friends about their experiences with dealers and call the Better Business Bureau and the County Office of Consumer Affairs. I have a list of dealers that I recommend and a list to beware of that you can access online at www.GoodDealerBadDealerList.com. All things being equal choose the dealership that has been in business a long time and an owner or general manager who will make himself accessible to you and all his customers.