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.