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Monday, February 26, 2024

Insider Car Buying Tips for the “Hardcore” Negotiator

Disclaimer: I advise 99% of car buyers not to negotiate for the lowest price when buying or leasing a car.

This column is for that 1% who are skilled at and enjoy the game and art of negotiation. Lawyers are often excellent negotiators, having been trained in law school to deal with judges, opposing lawyers, district attorneys, and the police. A few non-lawyers are good negotiators; it’s something they were born with and enjoy. My wife and partner, Nancy Stewart, loves to negotiate and is very good at it. Therefore, 99% of those reading this column should not attempt to negotiate with a car dealer. If you try, you're "playing his game" and are like someone who sits down at a poker table in Las Vegas. If you find yourself looking at each person around the table, wondering if there's a “sucker” playing in that game… YOU ARE THE SUCKER. Never play the other person's game; you will lose control. Follow my advice in my hundreds of other columns and use the Internet to buy online, using aids like Costco, Consumer Reports, and TrueCar.


1. Decide exactly what year, make, model, and MSRP car you want and never deviate from that choice.

2. Bring a friend along with you. Never car shop alone. Your friend can take notes for you, remind you about details, and there’s strength in numbers, both psychologically and legally.

3. Do not tell the dealer that you will trade in your old car, even if you plan to. You remove the dealer's ability to increase profit on the car you're buying and force him to negotiate on the price of the specific car you're buying. It's easier to sell your old car today at a higher price than ever before.

4. Tell the dealer that you're financing your car through him, even if you aren't, and probably shouldn't. Why? Historically, car dealers make more money on financing than on the markup of the car they sell. When they believe a profit opportunity exists, they're more likely to lower the car price because they can make up for it (and then some) on finance profit.

5. When you believe you've reached the lowest price you sought, ensure to get it in writing and ensure it includes all charges except government fees, namely sales tax and registration paid to the state government. To be perfectly safe, verify the “fees” listed do not have sales tax calculated on them. Government fees are non-taxable.

6. Make it clear that, even if they meet your price, you'll shop it with their competition. If they tell you the price is good only for today, tell them that’s too bad because you're going to compare it anyway. Don’t worry; if they would have sold you the car today for that price, they will tomorrow too.

7. If you get bogged down in negotiations, stand up, walk out the door, get in your car, and begin to drive away. Most of the time, the salesman and even his manager will intercept you before you get on the highway with a lower price than you have.

Monday, February 19, 2024

When, How, and Who? Complaining at a Car Dealership

The chances are that if you buy a car or have yours serviced by a car dealer, you’ll have something to complain about. For the past 50 years, the Gallup Annual Poll on Ethics and Honesty in Professions has ranked car dealers at, or very near, the bottom of all companies and professions.

The trick is knowing how to complain effectively so that the likely bad treatment you'll receive can be corrected. Car dealers will only pursue aggressive, unethical, and dishonest tactics when they believe that it's working to make more money on your purchase of a car or service. Once they believe that they’re dealing with an educated consumer who can't be scammed, they'll probably back off, become transparent, and do what they realize they must to make the sale, or even avoid being sued.

Complain only to the person who is authorized to correct the wrongs you’ve incurred. This is a real manager in charge of the department with which you’re dealing—new car, used car, service. I underlined "real" because rank-and-file salespeople will often claim to be managers. A true manager is identified on the dealership's website and on his business card (don’t settle for an assistant manager).

Speak to the highest-ranking manager you can find, ideally the General Manager of the entire dealership or the owner. These "higher-ups" often don't even know about the shenanigans going on at lower levels, but if they do, by speaking to you, they lose "deniability". This means they can't claim they didn’t know about all the dishonest and unethical behavior by their subordinates.

Speak calmly, politely, but firmly, and never raise your voice. Don’t come across as accusatory and threatening. Refer to the issues that caused you to complain as misunderstandings or mistakes, not dishonesty or deception (even if you suspect them).

Let it be known that you will be confirming this issue in writing via email, text, or letter. Tell them this is just to be sure you’ve clearly and completely stated your case, not because you're going to sue them (even though this is exactly why you should do this).

Include the auto dealer's manufacturer in the written summary of your complaint. If it’s a serious matter, also include your state's Department of Motor Vehicles.

Be sure to obtain the cell phone number of the person you’ve complained to. This is a good habit to have with all dealership personnel you meet. You’d be surprised, or may already know, how difficult it is to get responses on promises made to you in car dealerships. Phone calls, texts, and emails are not answered. Most everyone in a car dealership is paid on commission, and once that’s "in their pocket," there’s no time for returning phone calls.

Monday, February 12, 2024

Ways to Avoid Common (and costly) Mistakes Made Serving Your Car

It's easy to make a mistake and agree to services for your car that you just might not need. Arm yourself with this information and you can forget about making these costly errors:
  • You are not required to take your car to the dealer from whom you bought your car for service. Any dealer franchised for your make of car can perform warranty work and all other work.
  • Buy your next car from the dealer with the best price and service it with the dealer that offers the best service.
  • You are required only to have warranty work done at a dealer for your make of car. All other repairs and maintenance can be performed by any qualified mechanic or service company. Always save receipts for the work performed when you have work done by someone other than a franchised dealer for your make.
  • Always get at least two bids on any service or repair that’s costly, or you aren’t sure is necessary.
  • Always get a written estimate of the cost of a service or repair. Many states, including Florida, require that the dealer remain within 10% of the written estimated cost.
  • My rule of thumb on an extended warranty or service contract is not to buy one. Assuming you bought a reliable car and maintained it properly, the odds are against you saving money on repairs by buying a warranty or service contract. The fine print in these contracts excludes most of the more likely and expensive repairs. The only valid reason for buying one is for "peace of mind," which is a psychological issue that only you can decide.
  • Ask for a more qualified technician to be assigned to work on your car, even if you must wait a little longer. One of my favorite jokes is, "What do they call the doctor who graduated last in his medical school class? A Doctor." Ensure your technician is ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certified in the skills required to work on your car, such as transmission, engine, air-conditioning, etc.
  • Be sure to have all the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance done, according to their time schedule, and don’t buy anything else recommended only by the dealer. The service advisors are commissioned service salespeople. The more they can sell you, the more money they make. Today’s cars are far ahead of the cars you bought 10-15 years ago in terms of maintenance requirements. Most manufacturers offer free maintenance for periods of time, and the required maintenance is negligible—mainly tires and oil changes. Many dealer’s service departments will try to sell you more maintenance than you need to make money.
  • Be sure that the service advisor, or, even better, the technician, road tests your car with you before and after the repair or service. One of the most common problems in service departments is telling the customer the service was done or the problem was fixed when it wasn’t. This often happens because the service salesman didn’t understand the problem, or the technician didn’t understand the service salesman.

Monday, February 05, 2024

How to Buy a New Car With the Least Effort and Stress

Below is the suggested format for a written communication to the car dealers who sell the make of the new car you want to buy. You can choose how many new car dealers you contact. I suggest "the more the merrier." The average new vehicle today sells for about $50,000, and the discounts can be substantial. You decide how many prices from how far away you want to contact. The more dealers you ask, the lower the prices will range.

I suggest you use another email address, phone number, or address than yours; otherwise, you risk lots of salespeople harassment. Free email addresses are readily available, probably the best way; post office boxes and burner phones are also available but have a small cost.

Dear sales manager, 

I’m going to buy a new (fill in the year-make-model and MSRP) within the next 30 days. I will either pay cash or finance it through my bank or credit union. Please give me your out-the-door selling price for this new vehicle. My definition of "out-the-door" selling price is the price which adds only government fees, sales tax, and license tag and registration. I’m sending this email/text/letter to several (name of make) dealers in this area. Some may not respond, some will respond without complying precisely with my request, but some will comply completely. I will buy my new vehicle from the dealer that fully complies and has the lowest out-the-door price. If I were in your shoes, I’d rather have a chance to sell me a car than no chance at all. You have no chance if you don’t give me your out-the-door price in a timely fashion. If you respond with questions, suggestions, but do not include an out-the-door price, you’ll never hear from me again. The choice is yours.

Thanks very much for reading this,

“Maybe” your next customer

If you have a trade-in, shop it with CarMax,,, or at the used car lot of the dealer that sells that make new. If the dealer you decided to buy your new car from wants your trade, tell him he can have it if he’ll match the best price you've been offered by CarMax, etc.

This method of buying a new car will not only get you a much lower price but save you enormous time and aggravation. You can get prices from a dozen or more dealers in less time than visiting one dealership. You don’t have to play the car salesman’s game of running back and forth to his manager or endure the constant follow-up phone calls, emails, and texts.

Earl Stewart

Monday, January 29, 2024

Open Letter to Honest Car Dealers Supporting FTC, Combating Auto Retail Scams (CARS)

Dear Honest Car Dealer,

I just got off the phone with Jamie Brooks, an attorney at the Federal Trade Commission. I called her for an update on the implementation of the FTC regulation, CARS (Combating Auto Retail Scams). As you know, this regulation was scheduled to go into effect on July 30. However, the National Auto Dealers Association (NADA) teamed up with the Texas Auto Dealers Association (TADA) to petition the Texas Federal Court to stop it. Consequently, the July 30th implementation date has been postponed.

I’m just one of many honest dealers who is supporting this regulation, according to FTC attorney Jamie Brooks. She plans to ask other honest dealers to contact me, and each other, so that we can network and assist the FTC in their fight to combat auto retail scams.

The argument against CARS made by NADA and TADA is that it will overly burden car dealers with regulations, harming their profits. They claim that all car dealers are adamantly opposed to CARS. In reality, we honest car dealers’ profits are being hurt by dishonest car dealers who routinely steal away our potential customers. They lure them in with bait-and-switch advertising of low-priced cars that they won’t sell at those prices. Our potential customers are tricked into paying hidden junk fees, dealer-installed accessories, and addendum stickers, resulting in thousands of dollars more than the advertised price.

Many honest dealers, like us, feel we have no choice but to “fight fire with fire” and reluctantly match our competition's bait-and-switch advertising and dishonest quotes of impossibly low prices. How can a car dealer sell a new or used car when his nearby competitor advertises the exact same car for $2,000 less than what he’ll actually sell it for?

If the hardcore dishonest car dealers could be stopped by the implementation of the CARS regulations, many honest dealers would breathe a sigh of relief. We could then treat our customers honestly and transparently while still making a fair profit.

Please call or text me at 561-358-1474, email me at, or write to me at Earl Stewart Toyota of North Palm Beach, 1215 N. US-1, North Palm Beach, FL 33408. Please help me and the FTC bring honesty and transparency to the retailing of automobiles.


Earl Stewart

Monday, January 22, 2024

Open Letter to Marco Rubio and Rick Scott: Do You Support or Oppose FTC Regulation Combat Auto Retail Scams?

Attention: Florida Senators Rubio and Scott:

I’m sure you’re familiar with the Federal Trade Commission’s new regulation, CARS which will hopefully be implemented soon. It was originally intended to go into effect this July 30th, but the National Auto Dealers Association (NADA) teamed up with the Texas Auto Dealers Association (TADA) to fight it in the Federal Court, which forced the FTC to postpone the July 30 implementation.
This letter is, in no way, an attempt to change your view of the CARS regulation. I understand that you have an opinion on this regulation which may be negative or positive. I’m not attempting to change your mind because I understand how unlikely that would be. What I do ask is that each of you GO ON THE RECORD as to whether you do or do not support this regulation.
Knowing how busy you must be, I’m offering to donate $1,000 to your favorite charity when you do state in writing that you are for or against the FTC CARS regulation. Because my favorite charity is Big Dog Ranch Rescue (, I’ll double the donation to $2,000 if you designate this charity.
I’m sure that Florida car buyers, and all American car buyers, are unanimous in their support of the FTC “Combat Auto Retail Scams” regulations. The proof of this is the annual Gallup poll on Honesty and Ethics in Professions which for over 50 years has ranked Car Dealers at the bottom.
I understand why politicians like yourselves might be reluctant to take a position on a subject which puts you between “a rock and a hard place”. The rock is the 14 million car buyers (many of whom are also voters) and the hard place is the National Auto Dealers Association, Texas Auto Dealers Association and all other state dealers associations, their Political Action Committees, and the wealthy 48,000 car dealers in the US.
Silence on such an important issue should not be an option and it’s certainly not something a U.S. Senator can do that fulfills his duties and responsibilities to the voters of his state.
Please email me at or text or call me at 561 358-1474. The same day that you do so I will mail a $1,000 check to your favorite charity or $2,000 if it’s to Big Dog Ranch Rescue.


Earl Stewart
Earl Stewart

Monday, January 15, 2024

Don't Buy the Worst New Car!

CR Scores Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Lowest of All New Cars

When you think about buying a new car, you're considering purchasing the best you can afford. There are lots of good, even great, new cars today. The quality, safety, reliability, and cost of maintenance have all improved tremendously over the past few years. You almost can't go wrong when you buy a new car. Of course, getting a fair price is still a huge challenge, but that's fodder for another column.

As far as which make and model of new car you should buy, a lot depends on your individual needs and tastes. There are a lot more good cars to choose from today than ever before, but there are still a few bad ones that you can't learn about from advertisements or the car salesman.

Consumer Reports magazine or online is your best friend when it comes to spotlighting the new cars you should NOT BUY. CR (Consumer Reports) calculates the predicted reliability ratings for almost every new auto on the market. They measure twenty potential problem areas (including the engine, transmission, electric motors, leaks, and infotainment systems) and include responses on 330,000 vehicles. You may know that CR is a non-profit organization that derives all revenues from contributions and subscriptions. Their loyalty and responsibility are 100% to you, the consumer. When they test cars, they buy them directly from a dealership and pay full retail just like you.

The January issue of CR lists reliability reports on all nineteen types of new cars, like subcompact SUVs, electric cars, full-sized pickups, luxury mid-sized large cars, etc. For example, in the category of subcompact SUVs, the best is the Subaru Crosstrek with a score of 99, and the worst is the Volkswagen Taos with a score of 18. My point is, you needn't buy the Subaru because there are several other subcompact SUVs with good scores, like the Honda HR-V, Toyota Corolla Cross, and Mazda CX-30, which scored 85, 71, and 66, respectively. But don't even think about buying the VW Taos with its shockingly low score of 19!

Even if you get a much better price on a very low-rated new car, you're better off paying more for a highly rated make. This is because the total cost of ownership is undoubtedly higher for the less reliable vehicle. The higher costs of repair, maintenance, depreciation, and insurance will more than erase the savings you might find in the purchase price.