Monday, July 16, 2018

Abe Was Right! You Can Fool Some of the People All of the Time



Almost everyone has read Abraham Lincoln’s popular saying, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all 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. This is 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 about eleven 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, listen to or watch some of the car ads. To the educated, sophisticated buyer, these ads are funny; that is until you remember that so many fall prey to them, and are taken advantage of by the car 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 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 09, 2018

Open Letter to all Florida Law Enforcement Officers Ticket all vehicles with open safety recalls:


Dear Florida law enforcement officer,


If you’re with the Florida Highway Patrol, County Sheriff’s Department, or local city police, you’re empowered by Florida law to issue citations and warnings to unsafe vehicles on Florida’s roads. You typically exercise this duty by citing drivers of vehicles with faulty tail, brake, and head lights, unsafe tires, or even a noncompliant license plate frame.

My suggestion to you is to prioritize citing drivers of vehicles with dangerous safety recalls, especially Takata airbags. There are more deaths and injuries from defective Takata airbags in Florida than all the other 49 states. This is because of Florida’s above average heat and humidity which causes the airbag inflator to EXLODE, sending shrapnel throughout the inside of the vehicle, killing and maiming passengers. Furthermore, SEVENTY-FIVE PERCENT of the cars on the roads with safety recalls have never been repaired. Most of these dangerous cars are older and are being driven by a 2nd, 3rd, 4th or later owners. The manufacturers of these cars are unable to contact most of these endangered drivers because of old, inaccurate addresses. There’s also the apathy of many drivers to take the time to bring their car in for repair. Lastly, thousands of vehicles on the road, especially those with defective Takata airbags, have NO FIX AVAILABLE. The huge Takata airbag recall demand has exceeded the manufacturers’ capacity to build the airbag inflators. Some vehicle owners are waiting over a year for a replacement airbag.

Your squad cars are equipped with sophisticated computers which can cross-reference the license plate number of any vehicle on the roads and display the VIN, vehicle identification number, aka serial number. You have direct access to the National Highway Traffic Association’s (NHTSA) database (www.SaferCar.gov) This source, with the VIN, tells you if the car you’re driving behind has an unfixed Takata air bag or any other dangerous safety recall. The NHTSA data base will also tell you IF there is a fix available for this recall.

I suggest that you first issue a warning to all drivers of vehicles with unfixed safety recalls, giving them 7 days to have the vehicle repaired; if they fail to comply, issue a suspension of their driver’s license. If the NHTSA database tells you that the safety recall has no fix available, you should require the driver to drive immediately to the nearest dealership of his vehicle’s make and rent a car or receive a free loaner.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I’m going directly to you, our Florida law enforcement officers, because our governor, legislators, and regulators have all let us down. Clearly, it should be illegal to sell a car with a dangerous safety recall, but our governor and lawmakers will not act. At the very least, it should be required that the buyer of a car with a dangerous safety recall be advised prior to sale, this has not been done either. Therefore, thousands of used cars with dangerous safety recalls are being sold to unsuspecting Floridians daily.

I believe you have the authority and the responsibility to take dangerous vehicles off the road and you can exercise this authority under our existing laws without waiting any longer for the politicians and regulators to act. Furthermore, I believe your action will put the pressure on the politicians, regulators, auto manufacturers and car dealers to do the right thing. The legislators and regulators have “sat on their hands” because of the huge lobbying efforts by auto manufacturers, car dealers, and their associations.Once the drivers of Florida, most of whom are also VOTERS, begin to be pulled over by law enforcement and warned or have their license suspended, you will see our politicians and regulators suddenly begin to do the right thing.



Thanks very much for considering my suggestion,



Earl Stewart

Cell Phone 561 358-1474

Monday, July 02, 2018

Don't Get "Flipped" to a Lease!

One of the most popular weapons in car dealers’ arsenals is the infamous “lease flip”. This is car dealer jargon for switching a customer who originally intended to buy a car to leasing the car.

Of course, the motivation to do this is more profit for the dealer and a bigger commission to the salesman. That’s not to say that leasing a car is always costlier than buying one, but it can be if you’re not careful. And not being careful is exactly what happens when a purchase intender becomes a lessee.

Here’s how it happens. You come into the dealership to buy a car. You may have seen the dealer’s advertisement in the newspaper or TV for a model you love. More than likely, you’re prepared to make a down payment and/or trade in your old vehicle. You have a monthly payment in mind because almost everybody has a budget and we usually translate most purchases into if we can fit them into our monthly budgets. You negotiate the best price you can to buy the car, or maybe the sale price is good enough.

Now the salesman, or more often the F&I manager/business manager, tells you what your monthly payment will be. Let’s say that you have a trade-in worth $15,000 and aren’t going to put any cash down. The F&I [Finance and Insurance] aka business manager, tells you your monthly payment will be $427 per month. But that’s way more than you can afford and you tell him you can’t buy the car because you can’t afford that big a payment. He asks you how much you can afford and you tell him it must be under $350 per month. Now he has you set up perfectly for the “lease flip”.

“Mrs. Smith, I think I have just the right thing for you. What would you say if I told you that you can drive that new car home today for just $349 per month?” You say, with glee, “We have a deal!” Guess what? You’ve just been flipped. If you had bought the car at the advertised price or negotiated a very good price, the dealer probably would have made about $1,000 profit. and the salesman would have made about a $200 commission. Not that you’ve let yourself be flipped to lease, the dealer could be making $15,000 and the salesman could be making a $3,000 commission!

I’m not exaggerating. I get calls weekly from victims of lease flips. Many of the callers are elderly and many of them are widows who never bought a car before, but had relied on their husbands. There’s no law that limits the profit that a dealer can make when he sells or leases a car. $10,000, $15,000, and even $20,000 profits are made and usually on leases. The dealers can do this by using the trade-in as a capital cost reduction on the lease but allowing less for the trade than it is worth. In the example above, your trade-in may be worth $15,000 but you were allowed only $5,000 to reduce the capitalized costs of the lease. Also, the dealer could have raised the price of the car you negotiated or the sale price to MSRP or even 110% of MSRP which is allowable by the leasing companies.

By manipulating the number of months of the lease and the down payment [capitalized cost reduction], a dealer can give you as low a payment as you ask for and still make an exorbitant profit. Most buyers are so focused on monthly payments that they don’t carefully analyze what they are agreeing to and signing. The shorter the number of months of a lease, the greater impact the down payment has on the monthly payment. A $5,000 down payment reduces the monthly payment on a 36-month lease by $139 per month, $208 on a 24 month lease, and $417 on 12 month lease.

Incredibly many victims of the lease flip, never thought about the fact that after the 24, or 36, or 48-month term of the lease, they own nothing after the end of the lease. A car with a good resale value should be worth about half of what you paid for it. Many people who have never leased before think they can bring their lease car back early if they want. Leasing is not renting, and you can bring your car back early only if you make all of the remaining lease payments. If you had bought the car for $30,000 and financed it for 36 months, you would have about $15,000 in equity at the end of 36 months and no monthly payments. You were building equity with every monthly payment in the purchase but you were building zero equity with your 36 lease payments.

As I said before, don’t let this frighten you from ever leasing a car. Leasing can be a good choice and sometimes the best choice. You can find six blog articles I’ve written: “Lease a New Car before You Buy It”, “Car Leasing Booby Traps”, “Be Very Careful When Leasing a Car”, “The Lease Acquisition Fee…the Bank’s Gotcha”, “Buy or Lease Your Car at the Right Time of Year”, and “Should I Buy or Lease My Next Car?”

Monday, June 25, 2018

What to do if You’re Treated Badly by a Car Dealer

Hopefully the sales or service experience with your car dealer went well but, all too often, they don’t. 
(See https://news.gallup.com/poll/1654/honesty-ethics-professions.aspx) Now what? The advice I give you applies to all business transactions, not just car dealerships. 

Your first step should be to communicate your complaint ASAP to the General Manager or, preferably, the owner. Be sure that you are talking to the REAL owner or the general manger. A General Manager is over all employees in the entire company. A general “sales” manager is not a General Manager. If you can’t reach the owner (Many car dealerships are either publicly owned or owned by absentee owners), ask to see the General Manager. Often the owner or General Manager is not aware of everything that goes on with all of their customers and employees. They might have new employee that should not have been hired or received inadequate training. Or, they may simply have a “rotten apple” that should not be working there. The ease and speed with which you can meet and speak to a General Manager or an owner is a pretty good measure of the integrity of the company as whole. If the owner or General Manager cares enough about her customers to allow total access, it is probably a very good place to do business. In fact, it is a good idea to find this out before you do business.

If you cannot reach the owner or General Manager, contact the manufacturer who franchises the dealership. Car dealers have a contract with the manufacturer called a franchise agreement and this contractual agreement requires that they treat their customers with courtesy, efficiency and integrity. Most manufacturers have a customer hotline, 800 number, that allows you to call and register a complaint directly. The owner or General Manager of the dealership will be made aware of your complaint. As you might guess, the manufacturer has quite of bit of clout with their dealer. If a dealer does not live up to his side of the contract, his franchise could be canceled or not renewed.

The third step I recommend, if numbers one and two don’t work, is to contact a consumer agency like The Better Business Bureau or the County Office of Consumer Affairs. These agencies will send your complaint to the dealership and request a written reply. No car dealership or business wants an unanswered complaint in the file of a governmental or private consumer agency.

The 4th step is to call the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles, DMV, and/or the Florida Attorney General’s office. These are extreme steps to be used for serious, even illegal, activities. The DMV has the power to suspend or cancel a dealer’s motor vehicle retail license, putting him out of business. The Attorney General’s Office can file criminal charges and assess large fines, even jail terms. The DMV phone number is (850) 617-2000 and the Attorney General’s phone number is 866-966-7226. You can access complaint forms at this website, www.FloridaCarDealerComplaints.com.

Your last resort is to contact an attorney. I list this last because hiring an attorney just about eliminates the possibility that you can quickly, amicably and inexpensively resolve your differences with the car dealer. Be very careful which attorney you choose. Try to choose one that is primarily interested in helping you and not in generating large fees for himself. Under the Florida Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act, an attorney is entitled to his fees and costs from the defendant in a lawsuit if he wins. These fees can be much larger than the amount of your claim, motivating an unethical attorney to spend more time than is needed and dragging out a case to generate more fees than are necessary. This can be very dangerous for you because the car dealer’s attorney’s fees run roughly parallel to your lawyer’s and you can be held liable for those if you lose the case.

Hopefully you never have to resort to the final step of hiring a lawyer. In trying steps one, two, three and four try to present your complaint as concisely and politely as possible. You have every right to be angry when you are taken advantage of, but try to let your anger subside before you speak to or write to someone about your problem. We all react negatively to someone who is profane, raises his voice, or is sarcastic. Your goal of communicating and resolving your complaint is best reached by communicating clearly, politely and concisely.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Car Dealers Have Blocked Your Right to Sue

Did you know that when you bought your last car that you agreed to waive your constitutional right to sue the car dealer who sold you the car and have your complaint heard in a court of law by a jury of your peers?

You probably did not, because an “arbitration clause” was hidden in the fine print of your contract that you signed. Even worse, you also are prohibited from even taking that car dealer to arbitration unless you write a “demand letter” first!

What is “arbitration” anyway?

The average person does not understand what arbitration is, much less know that they agreed to substitute this process for their right to sue when they bought their last car. Arbitration allows individuals that are employed by an arbitration company to decide who is right in a dispute, you or the car dealer. Professional arbiters can be retired judges or anyone that the arbitration company decides is qualified. Because car dealers use the arbitration company often and because car dealers determine the compensation to these companies, there is a good chance that the arbitrators are inclined to side with “the hand that feeds it”.

You can’t even file for arbitration unless you write a “demand letter” to the dealer which must contain specific information as prescribed by Florida statute 501.98. This is a summary of that law:

“Florida Statutes require that, at least 30 days before bringing any claim against a motor vehicle dealer for an unfair or deceptive trade practice, a consumer must provide the dealer with a written demand letter detailing the name, address, and telephone number of the consumer, the name and address of the dealer; a description of the facts that serve as the basis for the claim; the amount of damages; and copies of any documents in the possession of the consumer which relate to the claim. Such notice must be delivered by the United States Postal Service or by a nationally recognized carrier, return receipt requested, to the address where the subject vehicle was purchased or leased or where the subject transaction occurred, or an address at which the dealer regularly conducts business.” If you would like to read the detail of this law, you can access it online at https://www.flsenate.gov/Laws/Statutes/2013/501.98.

If you hire a lawyer because you believe a car dealer has taken advantage of you, you’re not eligible for reimbursement of any legal fees unless you have sent the demand letter exactly as described above. Therefore most lawyers are reluctant to assist you because they know that the fees they would normally be entitled to are at risk…both because of the arbitration requirement and the demand letter.


What I’ve described is just one more reason why you should be extremely careful when you buy or lease a car. In the back of our minds most of us believe that when we are doing business with a car dealer, or anybody else, if we are taken advantage of we have the right to sue to force the company to make things right. This is not true with 99.9% of car dealers. You should realize this and be even more careful when you purchase a car. Access my blog for articles on every facet of doing business with a car dealer. There are hundreds of articles accessible in the archives of www.EarlStewartOnCars.com. You will learn never to go car shopping alone, get all promises by the salesman in writing, spend at least two weeks researching the purchase of car, and always get at least 3 competitive bids on the car you’re buying, your trade-in, and your financing.

Monday, June 11, 2018

CAR DEALERS’ DIRTY LITTLE SECRET (not so “little” anymore)

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 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 tall stack of papers spit out by the computer. The dealers get around including their dealer fees in advertisements very easily by including a “number” in the fine print. This number is their “stock number” 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’re 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 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 just mention that there is a dealer fee in the fine print; but they don’t state 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 OffLeaseOnly.com and Earl Stewart Toyota (my dealership) 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.
  • There are many auto-buying services available. These third-party companies claim to get you a better price than the dealer will charge you. Some of these are quite good and I personally recommend the following: Consumer Reports, American Express, GEICO, Allstate, AAA, Sam’s Club, AARP, and USAA. Those that I just mentioned are all partnered with TrueCar and use www.TrueCar.com for their member pricing. You can also go directly through TrueCar. True Car is unique among third-party auto buying services because once they show you your TrueCar member price online, THEY DO NOT ALLOW CAR DEALERS TO ADD DEALER FEES TO THE MEMBER PRICE. They also don’t allowed DEALER INSTALLED OPTIONS to be added either. TrueCar and their partner companies allow ONLY GOVERNMENT FEES to be added to the member price…sales tax and license/registration. BEFORE USING ANY THIRD PARTY AUTO BUYING SERVICE NOT LISTED ABOVE, VERIFY THAT THEIR MEMBER PRICES ARE THE OUT-THE-DOOR PRICE PLUS GOVERNMENT FEES ONLY.
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 21, 2018

Eight Steps to Selecting and Buying the Right New Car for You

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 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. 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 

This 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. Ford is www.Ford.com, Honda iswww.Honda.com, and Toyota is is wwwToyota.com. You can type in your zip code and get the Web sites of all your local dealers. Depending on how far you are willing 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, GOVERNMENT FEES ONLY, added. You can also check with third party sources like www.TrueCar.com. TrueCar is preferred because they prohibit their dealers from adding any dealer fees or dealer installed accessories to the TrueCar price.


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, look at car dealers’ TV or online 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 07, 2018


OPEN LETTER TO AUTO MANUFACTURERS:

FROM: EARL STEWART

Dear Auto Manufacturer,

I’ve owned and operated a Toyota dealership in Lake Park (near North Palm Beach), Florida since 1975. If you wonder who I am and why I’m writing you, Google “Earl Stewart” and “dealer fee”, click on www.EarlOnCars.com, and buy a copy of Confessions of a Recovering Car Dealeron Amazon.

I have a solution to the image problem the car buying public has with most of your dealers. As you know, the way your dealers retail the vehicles you manufacture has caused them to be distrusted and disliked by most of their customers. The Gallup Company has polled U.S. vehicle buyers every year since 1977 in a survey entitled Honesty and Ethics in Professions. For all 41 of those years, car salespeople have ranked last, or near last, among all the professions. Click onhttp://news.gallup.com/poll/1654/honesty-ethics-professions.aspx.

I understand why you’ve been unable improve the honesty and ethics in the way your dealers retail your vehicles. Over many years car dealers, the National Auto Dealers Association (NADA) and their state organizations have lobbied “franchise protection” laws in all 50 states into effect that protect car dealers from their manufacturers. These state franchise laws make it difficult or impossible to terminate a franchise agreement or add another franchised dealer near an established dealer, despite “bad behavior” by the established dealer. The franchise laws require you to treat each of your dealers as an “independent businessmen” that can make their own decisions with respect to advertising and sales practices.

I’ve been a car dealer since 1968 and I know that many car dealers would rather sell cars in an honest, ethical, and transparent way; however, they hesitate for fear of losing sales to those among their competitors that employ dishonest advertising and deceptive sales practices. They see that bait and switch advertising and deceptive sales practices “work” (especially on the less educated and vulnerable members of our society). I, too, was one of those dealers I've been criticizing now for many years. However, I changed. I changed for many reasons but the best reason for me and for why other dealers might also change is this: The knowledge and sophistication of the American consumers, especially millennials, has soared since the beginning of the 21st century. Car buyers are much smarter, more demanding, and have access via the Internet, Google, and the social media to the knowledge explosion.

My proposition to you is to employ the Earl Stewart brand and way of retailing cars to the vehicles you manufacture. Check out my dealership, www.EarlStewartToyota.com. I outsell all your dealers between Orlando and Cocoanut Creek (near Ft. Lauderdale) on the East coast of Florida while maintaining extremely high customer satisfaction. I do this by posting and advertising my lowest price on every new and used car. I offer a 100% unconditional money back guarantee on every car sold. Every customer has my personal cell phone number (561 358-1474) and the cell phone numbers of all of my managers. Every department in my dealership has a red hotline phone hardwired to my cellphone which reaches me 7 days a week. I employ a rigid code of behavior for all my employees. You can read the Earl Stewart Code by clicking on www.EarlStewartCode.com. When I sell or service a car my customers return to me at a higher percentage than virtually every Toyota dealer in the Southeast and the USA... you know this as "customer retention."

Mr. Auto Manufacturer, verify my claims, call me, visit my dealership and if I speak the truth, let me do what I do for your brand of vehicle. Putting the Earl Stewart brand on your make will result in an immediate and significant increase in sales, customer satisfaction and your dealer’s image, especially in the South Florida market.

Sincerely,

Earl Stewart

561 358-1474

Monday, April 30, 2018

If You Can’t Find an Honest Service Department, Find an Honest Service Person

Servicing your car might be just as scary as it was buying it. However, buying a car is something you only do every few years. During the time between buying cars you will bring it in for service maybe a dozen times (and that doesn’t even count repairs).

Car dealers make more money servicing your car than they do selling you one. The more service they sell you, the more money they make. Today's automobiles are of far better quality than they used to be and are much less likely to need repairs. Increasingly, basic maintenance is all you really need to do for your car. Also, many manufacturers are providing free maintenance for the first two or three years. This new dynamic is a threat to the car dealers’ most profitable departments…service and parts. Many car dealers are compensating for this by selling you more service than you really need.

Did you know that virtually every employee in a service department gets a percentage of the total amount of service he sells? The guy that writes up your service order when you drive in is on commission. They are service “salesmen” but they don’t like to be called that. Their title is usually “service advisor” or “assistant service manager”. The mechanic that fixes your car is on commission. The service manager that supervises the mechanic and the service salesman is paid on commission. The dealer and service manager expect the service salesman to “up-sell” you. This is typically accomplished with a “free inspection” purportedly to find maintenance and repairs that you “didn’t know you needed” and was probably not mentioned in your owner’s manual. After the service salesman sells you as much service as he can, the mechanic’s role is to find anything that needs to be fixed on the car that the service salesman or you were unaware of. He then calls the service salesman and tells him about the additional repairs you “need” …the second “up-sell”. I recommend that you stick to what your car’s manufacturer recommends for maintenance in your owner’s manual. When your service salesman tells you what he recommends, be sure that the manufacturer recommends it too. There are some exceptions to this, based on certain local environmental conditions, but very few. Always question any service not recommended by your owner’s manual. When a repair is recommended that you were unaware of, get a second opinion from another service department, especially if it’s an expensive repair. Be especially leery of transmission and radiator flushes. They’re not recommended by auto manufacturers but very popular with car dealer service departments; their high-priced and unnecessary.

Now, don’t get me wrong; just because people are paid on commission doesn’t make them dishonest or uncaring. However, if there’s a “rotten apple in the barrel” he will take advantage of a commissioned pay plan to maximize his earnings. There are very few companies with zero “rotten apples”. A good company does its best to ferret out the rotten apples but it’s a constant battle. In fact, there are companies that have more rotten apples than not. When you have a department or company where everybody is on commission, it takes an awfully altruistic manager to fire a top-producerbecause his paycheck enhanced by that individual. The more his “rotten apple” sells the more money the supervisor earns. This applies also to the “supervisor’s supervisor, all the way up to the guy that owns the company. The higher up the ladder you go, the harder it is to identify these more passive, unseen rotten apples that “aid and abet” the front-line apples. The head guy usually has what many CEO’s insist on…DENIABILITY. You hear a lot about that in government scandals. The press always wants to know, “Who knew what and when did they know it?” Everybody remembers Watergate where the rotten apples extended from the bottom of the barrel all the way to the top. It took Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein over several years to follow the tracks all the way to the top of the barrel.

Often, there are people in all companies that are honest and caring for their customers. The point of this article is that you’re better served to look for that good person than only a good company. There is no surefire way to do this, but I can suggest a few methods. Clearly, you’re more likely to find a good service salesman in a company that has a good reputation. You find good companies by personal experience, recommendations by friends, and ratings by various services like Google (most reliable), Yelp, Dealer Rater, and BBB. If you read the reviews, often the individuals are mentioned. If you’ve dealt with this company before, others in that company, like the salesman sold you the car, can refer you to a particularly good service salesman. All manufacturers measure the customer satisfaction index of every service salesman. Insist on seeing these scores and find out how the service salesman ranks among his peers, both in the company and the entire region. Finally, always make an appointment to see that service salesman you’ve chosen. If he’s on vacation or not available for other reasons, wait for your service until he can see you.

Finally, when you find yourself a “good apple” for a service advisor, don’t keep it a secret. Tell your friends and tell the service manager and the owner of the dealership. When you do this, you’re doing your friends, the service advisor, the service manager, and the owner a great favor. You’re also spreading the word that treating customers with honesty and compassion is good for business.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Never Go Car Shopping Alone

I receive phone calls, texts, and emails from car buyers who have usually “already bought a car”. The “horse is out of the barn” and they want me to give them advice on how to get it back. Most of these car buyers went car shopping and bought their car alone. Most of the complaints involve verbal promises by the sales person, not committed to writing. Bringing at least one other person when you’re car shopping doesn’t negate the importance of getting all promises in writing, but substantially lowers the chances of a car salesman trying to pull a fast one. The salesman and his manager know that, in court, two people’s word trumps that of one.

A woman wrote me a letter in response to one of my columns. Her husband had recently passed away and this was the first car she had bought on her own. The dealer did not have the model car with the accessories she wanted and was unable to locate one at another dealership. She did not want to decide without seeing the actual car she wanted to buy but the salesman and manger talked her into signing a buyer’s order, assuring her that she was under no obligation to buy. They also included two accessories that she did not want because they said that “the manufacturer required it”. I’ve heard of distributors ordering cars with certain accessories from the manufacturer which essentially makes them “standard”, but never “$250 floor mats” which was one of the accessories she mentioned. I get a lot of emails, phone calls, and letters from people who made a bad deal in their car purchase and want to know how they can get out of it. This is one of the less egregious, but I chose it because it was a simpler and shorter example.

There is strength in numbers when shopping and negotiating to buy a car. In fact, this applies to any serious decision in life. You might be the sharpest, shrewdest negotiator on the block, but your odds of striking a better deal and not get taken advantage of are enhanced when you have others on your side. Personally, I make a habit of always having at least one partner when I am engaged in a serious, adversarial decision-making process. When meeting with those on the other side, I make it a point to arrive with at least as many people as they have present. One reason is the psychological factor. When you are in an office by yourself with two or three others, it can be intimidating. Another reason is that you always have people on your side to corroborate what was said. If a salesman or a sales manager makes a verbal promise that can be corroborated by a friend or two, it is far less likely to be broken. It will also hold up in court, if it must come to that. Of course, the better solution is to see that all promises are committed to writing.

Buying a car, especially a new car, is more often than not, an emotional decision. Having a friend or two with you can help you make more of an analytical, logical decision. Another point of view is always useful when making an important decision. Also, having one or two friends with you slows down the process to a level more easily absorbed and understood by you. A friend will often think of a question you should have asked but forgot.

Ideally you should bring someone with you who is skilled in negotiation and experienced in buying cars. However, if you don’t know someone like that, somebody is better than nobody.

Please understand that asking a friends, family member, or associates to join you in the purchasing of a car is not a sign of weakness; on the contrary, it’s a sign of intelligence and a sign of understanding how to stack the deck in your favor in a negotiation.

By the way, most car dealers are unhappy when prospective customers bring in advisors and friends. Naturally they feel that way because they recognize their chances of making a fast, very profitable sale are diminished.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Buying a Car When You Have Bad Credit

There are fewer things more sensitive or embarrassing than having to share your personal credit problems with a stranger. Having credit problems can also put many buyers in a weakened and defensive position when buying a car. Many people with bad, or too little credit feel like the car dealer is somehow “doing them a favor” by selling them a car and getting them financed. Some car dealers will lead you to believe that your credit is worse than it is to put you on the defensive. If they can make you believe that they’re doing you a favor by getting you financed, you’re less likely to complain about the price of the car, the interest rate, and even the type of car you buy.

Make no mistake about it. A car dealer is probably making more money selling a car to a person with bad credit a car than one with good credit. If you have a credit problem, go about buying a car with the same care and due diligence as if you had the very best credit. Shop and compare your financing, your interest rate, and your trade-in allowance. Get at least three quotes on each of these.

Lenders who specialize in lending to those with bad credit are known as “special finance” lenders. Many of these lenders charge the dealer a large upfront fee, as much as $2,500. Legally, the dealer is not supposed to add this fee to the price of the car you buy but, in the real world, the price of the car is usually higher as the result of this fee. Dealer also add high priced but worthless warranties to the price of the cars with the excuse that the lender requires it. This is a lie: it’s illegal for lenders to require a warranty to finance a car. In addition to an upfront fee, the interest rates are very high from special finance lenders. Because they anticipate a much higher amount of repossession losses, they must make more on each transaction. Don’t automatically accept a dealer’s opinion that you must finance through such a lender. There are many conventional banks, credit unions and auto manufacturer lenders these days that loan to people with bad credit. Their interest rates are lower and they don’t charge large upfront fees.

There is much fraud in special finance lending. Credit applications are falsified to show more time on the job, higher incomes, etc. W-2 forms and check stubs are counterfeited. Buyer’s orders show accessories and equipment that do not really exist on the car. Hold checks or promissory notes are misrepresented as cash down payment. Co-signers signatures are forged. Confederates pose as employers, answering cell phones or pay phones to verify employment. These falsifications are performed by finance managers, salesmen, brokers for special finance lenders (who are paid on commission) and the customers themselves. If you sign a credit application, be sure that you know all the information on that application is accurate. Be sure that you understand and agree to all parts of the transaction including down payments, accessories on the car, etc. Never be a party to falsifying information to a lender to obtain a loan. This is a federal crime.

Advertisements aimed at people with bad credit usually exaggerate with claims like, “We finance everyone”, “Wanted, good people with bad credit”, “No credit, no problem”, and, my favorite, “No credit application refused” (it doesn’t say your loan won’t be refused, just your application). My advice is to ignore these kinds of ads and these kinds of dealers. Their strategy is to take advantage of people with bad credit who they believe will buy any car, pay any amount of interest, and any profit to the dealers if the dealer can get them a loan.

It is common practice in Florida to encourage the car buyer to drive the car home immediately upon signing all the papers. In some states like New York this is not permitted until all the car has been registered with the state in the new owner’s name. The reason for this immediate delivery (commonly referred to as the “spot delivery”) is to discourage and possibly even prevent the buyer from changing his mind. Taking possession of the car is a legal consideration making the purchase more binding. I recommend that you not rush the purchase or the delivery. For one thing you want to be sure that the car is exactly the way you want it…clean inside and out, all the accessories properly installed, no dings, dents or scratches, and that you have a complete understanding of how to operate all the features of the vehicle.

More important than anything above, is to be sure the car does not have an outstanding safety recall from the manufacturer. Independent used car dealers, especially those who specialize in folks with bad credit, have become the home for dangerous used cars with unfixed safety recalls. Many new car dealers, like the AutoNation stores, wholesale all cars with unfixed Takata airbag recalls. These cars are bought at auction by used car dealers like DriveTime, OffLeaseOnly.com, CarMax, and thousands of others smaller used car dealers. These cars are retailed to people with bad credit who don’t ask the right questions because they are “grateful” to find financing. ALWAYS CHECK THE VIN OF THE USED CAR YOU BUY AT WWW.SAFERCAR.GOV.

I mention the risk of the “spot delivery” in this column on buying a car with bad credit because it can be especially harmful to someone whose credit is denied after the car has been delivered. You will most likely be required to sign a “Rescission Agreement” before you drive the car home. This is a quasi-legal document which requires you to return the car if your credit is denied. You will probably be told that your credit will be approved, but sometimes the dealer is wrong. The rescission agreement will have a charge for time and mileage that you have put on the car you are driving. Usually this is a very high charge from 25 cents per mile plus $50 per day and higher. It can take weeks for a special finance lender to rule on a credit application. If your credit is denied you could owe the dealer thousands of dollars which the down payment you made might not even cover.

As frightening as all the above may sound, the one single thing you can do to prevent bad things from happening when you purchase a car is to choose your car dealer very carefully. How long has he been in business? What is his track record with the Better Business Bureau, the County Office for Consumer Affairs, and the Florida Attorney General’s Office? Ask friends, neighbors, or relatives who have dealt with this car dealer what their experiences have been like. Choosing a good dealer with integrity will resolve 95% of all your concerns.

Monday, April 02, 2018

HOW TO COMMUNICATE BETTER WITH YOUR CAR DEALER (and be taken more seriously)

As many of you know, I communicate directly with my customers. Some would say to a fault. I don’t have a secretary or administrative assistant. My dealership’s telephone receptionist never asks the caller “who’s calling” or “may I ask the nature of your call?” and she puts my calls (and the calls to all my employees) right through. If I am not in my office, she puts them through automatically to my cell phone…7 days a week. I also have five red phones in five locations of my dealership…the showroom floor by the receptionist, the service customer waiting lounge, outdoors in the service drive, the used car department and in the body shop waiting lounge. Each phone has a picture of me with the message, “Customer Hotline to Earl Stewart. The Buck Stops Here. Have We Not Exceeded Your Expectations? Please Let Me Know. Simply Pick Up the Receiver and Wait For Me To Answer.” As if all this wasn’t enough, I put my personal cell phone number on my business cards and pass them out to my new customers at our bimonthly New Owners Dinner.

I say all this, not to brag (or maybe just a little). It might surprise you that I am not deluged with phone calls. I get quite a few, but considering I sell 400-500 cars a month and service thousands of cars each month, I doubt if I average more than 25 calls per day. Most of them are positive, complimentary calls. I believe one reason for this is that my employees are motivated to work harder to satisfy my customers because they know, if they don’t, I’m going to hear about it very quickly. Another reason is that my customers are remarkably respectful of the fact that they can call me and do not take advantage of it. When you extend your trust to people, they almost always respect that and do not take advantage.

Of course, you are not going to find a lot of car dealers who do what I do. But here is how you can improve your communications in other ways that will allow you to get problems solved and promises kept. Always ask for the business card of every person you deal with. If they don’t have a card, be sure to get their name. This improves your service right away because the person is no longer anonymous. Ask the person for his cell phone number. There was a time when it was considered wrong to call someone on his cell phone, but that was before cell phone rates became so cheap and the cell phone became universal. If this is a critical person you are dealing with, ask for his home telephone number too. Here is a little trick that I use when I do this. I always start out by giving them my cell phone and my home phone number. Then I say, “and may I have yours?” I can’t remember ever having been refused. If someone you are doing business with refuses to give you his cell phone number, maybe you should wonder why.

Also, make it a point to be introduced to this person’s manager. Get the manager’s business card and as many contact numbers as he is willing to share with you. When you do this, you have put the salesman or service advisor on notice that if he doesn’t return your phone calls you will be calling his boss. If you really want to have an edge, ask to meet the general manager and/or owner of the dealership. Get his telephone numbers. Now you will have everybody’s attention when you come into the dealership to transact business. Also, when you have their cell phone number, you can also text them which is less invasive than a phone call.

If you are a “computer person”, collect email addresses from everybody you deal with. Email is not as timely as a telephone, but it has the advantage over the telephone because it is “on the record”. When you make a request of a person by email, he can’t deny it because you have a copy of the message. I know that with Microsoft Outlook email, I get an acknowledgement every time somebody opens an email that I sent them. Furthermore, you can copy as many people as you like with an email. You can send copies that the primary recipient knows about or make them blind copies that he can’t tell were sent. Someone is a lot more likely to act on your request when he knows that it is a matter of record and his boss was copied with the email.

If you can force yourself into the habit of getting names, telephone numbers, and email addresses from everybody you deal with and their managers, conducting business with your car dealer (or any other business) will be much smoother and trouble free.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Treated Badly by a Car Dealer? 5 Steps You Can Take to Resolve the Issues


Hopefully the sales or service experience with your car dealer went well. But, too often, they don’t. Now what? The advice I give you applies to all business transactions, not just car dealerships.  

Your first step should be to communicate your complaint ASAP to the General Manager or, preferably, the owner. Be sure that you are talking to the real owner or the real general manger. A General Manager is over all employees in the entire company. A general “sales” manager is not a General Manager. If you can’t reach the owner (Many car dealerships are either publicly owned or owned by absentee owners), ask to see the General Manager. Often times the owner or General Manager is not aware of everything that goes on with all of their customers and employees. They might have new employee that should not have been hired or received inadequate training. Or, they may simply have a “rotten apple” that should not be working there. The ease and speed with which you can meet and speak to a General Manager or an owner is a pretty good measure of the integrity of the company as whole. If the owner or General Manager cares enough about her customers to allow total access, it is probably a very good place to do business. In fact, it is a good idea to find this out before you do business.  

If you cannot reach the owner or General Manager, contact the manufacturer who franchises the dealership. Car dealers have a contract with the manufacturer called a franchise agreement and this contractual agreement requires that they treat their customers with courtesy, efficiency and integrity. Most manufacturers have a customer hotline that allows you to call and register a complaint directly. The owner or General Manager of the dealership will be made aware of your complaint. As you might guess, the manufacturer has quite of bit of clout with their dealer. If a dealer does not live up to his side of the contract, his franchise could be canceled or not renewed.  

The third step I recommend, if numbers one and two don’t work, is to contact a consumer agency like The Better Business Bureau or the County Office of Consumer Affairs. These agencies will send your complaint to the dealership and request a written reply. No car dealership or business wants an unanswered complaint in the file of a governmental or private consumer agency 

The 4th step is to call the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles, DMV, and/or the Florida Attorney General’s office. These are extreme steps to be used for serious, even illegal, activities. The DMV has the power to suspend or cancel a dealer’s motor vehicle retail license, putting him out of business. The Attorney General’s Office can file criminal charges and assess large fines, even jail terms. The DMV phone number is (850) 617-2000 and the Attorney General’s phone number is 866-966-7226. . This website provides you with three forms to download…from the Florida Attorney General, Florida Department of Motor Vehicles, and the Florida Office of Consumer Affairs, www.FloridaCarDealerComplaints.com

Your last resort is to contact an attorney. I list this last because hiring an attorney just about eliminates the possibility that you can quickly, amicably and inexpensively resolve your differences with the car dealer. Be very careful which attorney you choose. Try to choose one that is primarily interested in helping you and not in generating large fees for him. Under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, an attorney is entitled to his fees and costs from the defendant in a lawsuit if he wins. These fees can be much larger than the amount of your claim, motivating an unethical attorney to spend more time than is needed and dragging out a case to generate more fees than are necessary. This can be very dangerous for you because the car dealer’s attorney’s fees run roughly parallel to your lawyer’s and you can be held liable for those if you lose the case. However, there are honest and talented consumer advocate attorneys that will counsel with you at no charge. They will tell you whether or not you have a lawsuit you can win. If you do, the car dealer will pay your attorney’s fee. 

Hopefully you never have to resort to the final step of hiring a lawyer. In trying steps one, two, three and four try to present your complaint as concisely and politely as possible. You have every right to be angry when you are taken advantage of, but try to let your anger subside before you speak to or write to someone about your problem. We all react negatively to someone who is profane, raises his voice, or is sarcastic. Your goal of communicating and resolving your complaint is best reached by communicating clearly, politely and concisely. 

Monday, March 19, 2018

Car Dealers Exploiting the Elderly

Not a week passes without at least two or three elderly people contacting me about being victimized by a South Florida car dealership. These are usually pre Baby Boomers in their seventies, eighties and nineties. I’m happy to say that I have a high rate of success if I’m contacted soon after the purchase…within a few days. The first thing I do is contact the dealership’s owner. With publicly owned dealerships like AutoNation, Penske Automotive, and Sonic, and Group One I have to contact the real General Manager. I emphasize “real” because sales managers will often try to foist themselves off as the General Manager, but they are only in charge of the car sales departments and are really “general sales managers”. In the rare occasions I strike out, I have no alternative but to contact the Florida Department of Motor Vehicle, DMV which is the best governmental agency to keep a car dealer on the straight and narrow. You can download a complaint form to the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles at www.CarDealerComplaints.com.

I use the term “car dealer” often in my columns and I want to make it clear that I am not trying to get personal. I could use the terms “car salesman” or “car sales manager”, but the dealer is the boss and I firmly believe the placard Harry Truman had on his desk, “The buck stops here”. The guy or gal that owns the place is responsible for the actions of their employees. Just because he doesn’t know that there are some salesmen or managers taking advantage of his customers, is no excuse.

When I became a senior citizen I began to see the world in a different light. I’ve been a car dealer for over 50 years, but I have seen my own business through the eyes of a senior citizen for only the last few. One thing that has helped this awareness has been my relative new public persona, brought on by my TV commercials, radio show, public speaking appearances and this column precipitate a lot of phone calls, texts, emails, and letters from seniors in South Florida and all over the USA. Some of these are very complimentary. Many of them are also calls for help or advice from those who were taken advantage of when they bought their car.

I get more calls from widows than any other single group. Recently, I was introduced to a widow in her seventies who had come in to buy a car with her nephew. She had never bought a car before. Her husband had always handled this responsibility. He passed away 2 years ago. She was very wise to bring along her nephew to assist her in her first car purchase. Our culture and especially the roles of women have made incredibly positive changes since the second half of the 20th century. More women who grew up in the fifties, sixties, and seventies were relegated to the role of homemaker and mother. The Man had a “regular” job and earned the money, and made the major decisions like buying a car. As you know men generally predecease their wives and many widows have never bought a car before.

Buying the right car at the right price is no easy task. There are a lot of variables like trade-in allowances, monthly payments, discounts, interest rates, lease or buy, finance or pay cash, and all that I just mentioned has to do only with the cost of the car. What is the best make and model for you? This process should take lots of time in the study and preparation, but too often purchases are made in just a few hours with little or no preparation.

The reasons why the elderly are so often targeted and exploited by car dealers (and other businesses) are many and complex. For one thing, there are just a lot of elderly people living in South Florida and other popular retirement communities. When a reporter asked John Dillinger why he robbed banks, Dillinger replied, “Because that’s where the money is”. Even though most senior citizens are smarter than ever, I believe that we are perceived by many as not being so smart. We are looked upon as easy prey. Also, I think that we pre-baby boomers grew up in a more trusting, family oriented time and we sometimes trust others more than we should.

In summary, if you are a pre-baby boomer like me, take extra precautions before you enter a car dealership. Do your homework carefully. Never, never make a rush decision. Do not buy that car on the same day you come into the dealership. Go home, discuss it with friends and family, and sleep on it. And if you call me, please call me before you buy the car, not after it’s too late.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Consumer Reports: Don’t Buy Another Vehicle without it!

If you don’t already subscribe to Consumer Reports, you should. I have been a subscriber for as long as I can remember. I rarely buy any product without consulting this great magazine. I also subscribe to Consumer Reports online, www.ConsumerReports.org, which is even more current than the regular magazine. I recently received their annual auto issue (April 2018), which no car buying family should be without. All libraries should have this on hand.

Don’t be fooled by other magazines with similar names purporting to objectively analyze and recommend products. There is only one Consumer Reports. They do not accept any advertising and therefore are not beholding to any companies. CR is a not for profit organization and receive all their funding from donations and the sale of their subscriptions. They even go beyond this and will not allow a retailer or manufacturer to use the name Consumer Reports in their advertising. Even if Consumer Reports gives a product a great rating, that company cannot mention this in their advertising. If they do, they get sued by Consumer Reports. Lastly, CR will not accept the gifts of products from manufacturers for testing. They purchase the products at full retail asking price to be sure there can be no conflict of interest. No other company goes this far and is this “squeaky clean”. J.D. Powers is a company that ranks and compares lots of products including cars, but they allow companies to use the JD Power name to advertise their products when they rated them good. You can understand why a consumer might be just a little more skeptical of J. D. Powers’ objectivity than Consumer Reports’.

I am not saying that Consumer Reports is infallible. They do make mistakes and they have been successfully sued by some companies that were affected by their mistakes in testing. But this is very rare. As a car dealer for over fifty years, I have not always liked what I read about all the makes and models of cars I have sold, but I grudgingly had to admit that the reports were almost always accurate. I must confess that with some makes and model cars I have sold over the years, I was very thankful that the circulation of Consumer Reports is not very large. Their circulation is growing as consumers become more educated and sophisticated.

This annual auto issue should be a mandatory read before you buy your next used or new car. Here are some of the articles in this issue…Top Picks (the best new vehicles they have tested), Best and Worst (tells you the ones you shouldn’t buy), New Car Ratings (255 tested models, from best to worst by category), and Ten Top Picks (Only the very excellent models), Reliability trends (repair histories on all makes and models.


Consumer Reports also offers other car buying services like their “New Car Price Service” which discloses the actual cost to the dealers, rebate and incentive information, negotiating strategies, and their expert recommendations. They also offer a “Used Car Price Service” which provides an evaluation tool kit that helps you establish the right price for most used cars made from 2010 to 2017.

Monday, March 05, 2018

The Ten Commandments for a Car Dealer (Secrets for Success for all Businesses)

I composed these “ten commandments” for all the employees in my car dealership, aka The Earl Stewart Code. They didn’t come to me in a vision or on a mountain top, but evolved over fifty years as a car dealer. Most of them evolved over the last two decades which is why I often refer to myself as a “recovering car dealer”. But just like the biblical Ten Commandments, they don’t do any good unless people know, understand, and apply them. In my dealership, all my managers and other employees know that we must “walk the talk”.

(1) Do whatever our customer asks, if she believes she’s right. It’s not important whether our customer is right or wrong, only if she honestlybelieves she’s right.

(2) Do what is right for the customer even if you don’t have to. Just because we’re not required by law or contract to do the right thing is no excuse.

(3) If your supervisor is not available, then you do what is the right thing for our customer. All Earl Stewart Employees are empowered to spend or do whatever is necessary to do the right thing by a customer. If in 20-20 hindsight you should err, you will not be held to blame because you acted in good faith to make our customer happy.

(4) Always answer all phone calls, emails, texts, and messages of any kind from our customers ASAP. Nothing angers a customer (or me) more than a delayed or non- response from us.

(5) All Customers must be treated with courtesy and respect always. Just because you judge a customer to be unreasonable is no excuse not to treat that customer with courtesy and respect. If you are incapable of dealing with a customer, involve your supervisor or me.

(6) You will always tell our customers the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I believe in giving every Earl Stewart employee a second chance except when it comes to dishonesty.

(7) Your first loyalty is to our customer, not to the auto manufacturer. In the rare case where a dispute arises between our customer and Toyota over warranty coverage, for example, we advocate for our customer. We argue and present the facts on behalf of our customer but abide by Toyota’s decision.

(8) You must personally take ownership of our customer’s problem. This means that if you are the first person to learn of a customer’s complaint or problem, you have the responsibility to stay on top of its resolution until you personally verify that the issue has been resolved. Don’t just refer or delegate the problem to someone else even it is outside your department.

(9) Promise our customer less than you will deliver. Always be conservative when making promises to your customers. Overestimate the time of a service or the date of arrival of the new car they ordered. Under-promise and over-deliver.

(10) Trust your customer as much as you hope he will trust you. We’ve all been burned by trusting someone who disappointed us but that’s a very small percentage. The fastest way to earn trust is to trust the person you want to trust you. Somebody must go first. Let it be us.

Monday, February 26, 2018

BEWARE THE PHONY MONRONEY!


The Monroney label, commonly knowns as the “window sticker”, is meant to inform car buyers of the official retail price suggested by the car manufacturer. The U.S. Senator who drafted this law, Mike Monroney, said this about his law: “The dealer who is honest about the so called ‘List Price’ cannot compete with the one who packs several hundred dollars extra into it so he can pretend to give you more on the trade-in.” Senator Monroney said this in 1958 and the only thing that has changed is that dishonest dealers are now charging several THOUSAND dollars extra. To add insult to injury, some remove Monroney Labels before delivery which is illegal.

The Monroney label is the window sticker that is mandated by federal law to be affixed to every new vehicle sold in the United States up until the time the new owner takes delivery. The name, Monroney, derives from Senator Michael Monroney’s law passed by Congress in 1958. Prior to the proposal of this bill, there was often a large discrepancy between the showroom price and the actual price of a new vehicle. The fact was that existing price tags did not tell the full story. Most customer-quoted prices were for "stripped-down" models and did not include additions for preparation charges, freight charges, federal, state, and local taxes, or optional factory-installed equipment requested by the purchaser. These hidden charges were used by some dealers to increase the selling price while giving the new vehicle buyer an inflated idea of their trade-in allowance. This price confusion led to a slump in auto sales during the early 1950's. Senator Monroney's bill was designed to prevent the abuse of the new vehicle list prices, but would not, however, prevent dealers and buyers from bargaining over vehicle prices.

Well, as you might expect, car dealers have figured out a way to evade this very good law. An alarmingly large number of dealers use a label that is designed to look almost identical to the official Monroney label. It has the same coloring, fonts, type size and layout. This “phony Monroney” is affixed right next to the genuine article. Unless you really look close and read all the fine print, you will have no idea that you are looking at a counterfeit Monroney label. This phony Monroney includes extra charges to artificially inflate the manufacturer’s suggested list price, MSRP.

One of the most egregious of these charges is an addition of pure markup just for profit which has a variety of names. Some of these are “Market Adjustment”, “Additional Dealer Markup”, “Adjusted Market Value”, “ADM”, “Market Adjustment Addendum” and “Market Value Adjustment”. Some dealers advertise discounts from DSRP vs. MSRP, with DSRP standing for “DEALERS suggested retail price.” This is simply an amount that the dealer adds to the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. It is almost always used in high-demand, low supply cars. I have seen these labels with charges as much as $10,000 added to the MSRP. Additions of $1,500 to $3,995 are common. Dealers also use the counterfeit labels to price dealer-installed accessories, which are OK, if the accessories are not marked up higher than the manufacturer marks them up. But dealers usually add virtually worthless accessories just to increase the price of the car to you with very little increase in cost to the dealer. Nitrogen in the tires, pin stripes, roadside assistance, floor mats, etched and tinted glass are just a few examples.

When customers confuse the phony Monroney with the real one, this distorts their point of reference for comparing prices between different dealerships. Manufacturers’ Monroney labels are consistent for the same year, make and model with the same accessories. A 2016 Honda Accord with the same factory accessories will have the same MSRP at every Honda dealership you visit. But if dealers fool you into thinking their label is part of the Monroney, you’re not comparing “apples and apples”. This can adversely affect a good buying decision in many ways. Some buyers focus mainly on how big a trade-in allowance they can get for their old car. If one dealer has the same car marked up $3,000 more than another dealer, he can offer you $3,000 more for your trade and still make the same profit as the other dealer. Some buyers focus on how big a discount they get from “sticker”. It’s easy to give a higher discount if you have artificially inflated the MSRP by thousands of dollars.

My advice to you is carefully inspect the sticker on the new car you are contemplating buying. Read it completely and especially the fine print. If there is a second label on the car, it is possible that it is fair. This would be for purposes of adding an item, installed by the dealer like floor mats or stripes, priced the same as the manufacturer charges. If that second label includes a markup over MSRP for no reason other than profit for the dealer, make sure that you adjust for that number in your comparisons for discounts and trade-in allowance. Some dealers also add a second markup to these labels and that is the infamous “dealer fee” also sometimes called “doc fee” and “dealer prep”. Some dealers do not put this on the phony Monroney but print it on their buyer’s orders and program it into their computers.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Should I Trade in My Old Car or Sell it Myself?

When you trade in your old car on your next car, the dealer will try to retail your car or sell it at auction for more than he allowed you in trade. If he successfully retails your car, he will make about $2,000. If he wholesales it at the auction, the profit will be less. You should know that this is what the dealer wants to do. Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way and he will lose money on your car at the auction. Or, he may be unable to retail your car and then most certainly lose money when he is forced to wholesale it.

Obviously it is more difficulty for an individual to make a profit by selling her own trade-in than it is for the dealer. That is one of the main considerations you must consider before deciding to sell your old car yourself. Most people run an ad in the local paper and/or online (www.CraigsList.com) to advertise their trade. If you do this, you need to know what to ask for your car, and I recommend consulting www.kbb.com. This is Kelly Blue Book’s Web site and will tell you about what your car is worth wholesale and retail. Another way to determine this is to ask dealers for your make of your car what they will buy it for. This will establish the wholesale value. CarMax is a good company to consult if there is one near you. Once you establish the wholesale, you should consider a markup of less than what car dealers are asking. A $1,000 markup is about half of what car dealers are marking up used cars for and a good price for you to try. When deciding how much profit you want to make, remember that you’re losing the 6% (or whatever state sales tax applies) sales tax reduction that you earn when you trade your car in. This takes a lot of work and you will be dealing with a lot of “tire-kickers” and people who cannot afford to buy your car. I strongly advise you not to extend credit. Require full payment in cash. There’s also the “security issue” of having strangers visit your home and drive our car. Set a time limit on how long you will try to sell your car. Remember that your used car is depreciating every week and your cost of advertising will climb. I wouldn’t suggest you hang on to your old car for more than a month.

www.Ebay.com, is a good alternative to advertising your car in the newspaper. A lot of car dealers use eBay to retail used cars and it is very effective. There are schools on how to retail merchandise on eBay and eBay has tutorials. There are also a lot of books at any bookstore on this subject. There are companies who will do all the work for you and you only pay them a fee if they are successful in selling your car. If the dealer you are buying your new car from sells cars on eBay (most do), you can ask him if he will post yours eBay along with his cars for a fee. www.AutoTrader.com is also a good way to advertise your car online.

If you fail in your attempt to retail your old car, remember to be careful to maximize the amount you get from your dealer as trade-in. Often dealers will attempt to trade a car in for below wholesale. Be sure you have a firm handle on the true wholesale value of your trade. You can get bids from other dealerships to purchase your car for cash and you can check with www.kbb.com. If you are buying a car from a dealer franchised to sell a different make than your trade-in, be wary. This dealer will likely be unable to offer you as much as a dealer who is franchised to sell the make of your trade. People looking to buy a used Toyota are more likely to visit a Toyota dealership than a Chevrolet dealership. That is why it’s important to get bids from other dealerships before accepting the trade-in offered by the dealer you’re buying your new car from.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Buy Your Next Car Online

Prediction: Five years from now, 90% of all new cars will be purchased online. Currently, in 2018,  it’s less than 30%. The reason this percentage will balloon is simply that the online price is usually your lowest price. More and more car buyers are figuring that out every day. Dealers must give their best price to a prospect inquiring over the Internet because that dealer will have that one chance to sell the car. If they try “the old negotiating game” the Internet prospect will simply choose the lowest price from several other quotes he gets. When my friends ask me to advise them on how to get the best price on a new car, I always tell them to use the Internet.

I’m not suggesting that you don’t visit your local dealer to see, touch, smell, and drive the new vehicles you’re considering. This is very important. You can’t make a valid, final decision on which new vehicle is best for you by solely reading data and looking at pictures on the Internet. Research of that nature is important, but you should finalize your decision with visits to the dealers to experience the vehicle.

Once you have made your final decision on the year, make, model, color, and accessories, you are ready to use your smartphone or PC, and choose the dealer from whom you will buy this specific vehicle. If you’re not handy with computers, ask a friend or relative who is. First go to the manufacturer’s Web site like www.ford.com, www.toyota.com, www.chevrolet.com, etc. You will be able to type in your zip code to find all the dealers of that make within a given radius, usually about 40 miles, giving you 3 or 4 dealers. To expand the radius, choose another zip code further from yours. The dealers within your radius will show their Web site addresses. Click on their Web site and ask for a quote on the specific car you have selected. Most Web sites have a page for what is called a “quick quote”. You type in the year, make, model, color, and accessories. It will also ask you for your name, telephone number, address, if you have a trade (always indicate you do not have a trade), whether you are ready to buy now (yes), and other questions. All you really need to fill out is year, make, model, and accessories and your email address. If you prefer not to be contacted by phone, don’t fill in the phone number. If they require it before you can submit your request, type in any 10 digits so that the Web page will allow you to. If you can’t find a “quick quote” link, just email your request to their Internet sales department.

Depending on your computer skills, this whole process should take less than half an hour. Think of all the time, gasoline, shoe leather, and especially aggravation you are saving compared to visiting several dealerships in person. The time it will take to get back quotes varies from dealership to dealership. You may get some back within a few minutes, some will take a few hours, and some may take a day or two. Believe it or not, some might not respond at all. There are even a few dealers who will not quote a price on the Internet, but try to lure you into their store with false promises. Ignore them. I recommend that you get a minimum of 3 valid price quotes on your specific vehicle. It’s so easy to get quotes, why not get a half dozen or so? You are not necessarily even limited by driving distances. If the best price is from a dealer who is too far away, show that quote to a dealer nearer you and ask him if he will match it.

There are some things that you must be careful about. Be sure that that the price you get is an “out the door” price. That is a price which excludes only federal, state, and local fees and taxes which are usually just for tax and tag. Most dealers in Florida tack on fees of their own which are variously referred to as “dealer fee”, “delivery fee”, “do fee”, electronic filing fee, tag agency fee, etc. Typically, there are more than one of these phony fees. This is illegal or highly regulated and enforced in many states, but not in Florida. These fees vary from around $700 to over $3,000. Be sure that this fee (which is just profit to the dealer) is included in your “out the door” price. Also, be certain that you’re comparing “apples and apples”. When you select your low bid, double check that this dealer is quoting you on the same year, make, model, and accessories as the other dealers. A good double-check is to compare the MSRP. The MSRP, manufacturer’s suggested retail price, will be identical on identically equipped cars of the same model and year. Also, be sure that the car  you are considering will actually be there when you come in. Give them deposit on your credit card to hold the car for you. I they try any “flim-flam”, you can always stop payment on your credit card.

One “trick” you can use on a car dealer who is reluctant to quote you his real out-the-door price is to tell him your bank or credit union requires a signed buyer’s order from the car dealer with total (itemized) out-the-door price. Tell the dealer that gives you the lowest online price to email or fax you a copy of this buyer’s order so that you can take it to your credit union or bank, pick up the check, and bring it to the dealer. If he refuses to do this, you know he’s lying to you about his price. I mystery shopped a dealer last week that gave me an impossible low price on line. I emailed him that I liked the price, would come in the next day to buy the car, but he wouldn’t send me a copy of the buyer’s order. I asked him three times and he would not respond.

Online car buyers are the wave of the future. The retail car business is going through rapid changes and the old fashioned, price-haggling way of buying cars is slowly but surely becoming obsolete. If you haven’t already, now is the time to join the ranks of the smart, sophisticated car buyers.