Monday, November 29, 2021

Only Suckers Pay MSRP for New Vehicles?




Nope! Today, It's the Smart People Paying MSRP!


The most informative and “entertaining” part of my radio show, Earl on Cars, is the Mystery Shopping Report. Every week for about 20 years, I dispatch an undercover, pretend buyer of a new or used car, to a different car dealership. We report the unexpurgated results, live on the air every Saturday morning between 8 and 10 am, EST. [95.9 and 105.9 FM; www.FaceBook.com/EarlOnCars, www.YouTube.com/EarlOnCars]. Dealerships are graded and displayed on our list of good dealers and bad dealers. You can check this out at www.GoodDealerBadDealerList.com. 

As you know, for almost 2 years, ever since the COVID pandemic induced microchip shortage, new and used car prices have spiked to unprecedented heights.  New and used vehicles that were formerly discounted thousands of dollars below MSRP were marked up thousands of dollars above. New car buyers are, unbelievably, paying as much as $40,000 above sticker for new vehicles like a Toyota RAV4 Prime. Google “Downtown Oakland Toyota” for a recent, specific case. 

I have some good news and bad news for you. The good news is that new car prices have begun to come down; the bad news is that they’ve come down only to MSRP and only at a few dealerships. For the last 2 months my mystery shopper has discovered 4 dealerships offering to sell new cars at very close to MSRP. Interestingly, most of them have Been Ford dealerships; I’m not sure why that is. 

My advice to you is DO NOT BUY A NEW OR USED CAR UNLESS YOU MUST, for the next 30 to 90 days. If you must, insist on paying no more than MSRP. You’ll probably have to shop several car dealerships that sell the brand you want to buy. You can do this very efficiently and quickly online, or by phone if you’re not good with computers. Send the dealership this email, “I will buy the specific car we’ve discussed for its MSRP plus sales tax and license/registration (nontaxable fees only), out-the-door. I will pay you this total amount with my check and drive my new car home with no further payment. If this is agreeable to you, confirm by email and I will come in today to pick up my new car. 

Most car dealers typically add hidden fees (not nontaxable government fees but added profit to the dealer) and dealer installed accessories that are not in the advertised or quoted price. Even If some or all of these are included in the total out-the-door price, no higher than MSRP, it’s OK. You’ve accomplished your goal. 

Monday, November 15, 2021

Dealer Fees Aren’t Bad; Hidden Fees Are


The phrase “dealer fee” has become a generic term for all the hidden fees that car dealers have added to the advertised prices of their cars for the last 50 years. When I started in the car business with my father in 1968, Stewart Pontiac in West Palm Beach, FL charged a $6.50 fee named “doc fee”. I guess my father chose “doc fee” for this hidden profit because it sounds like an amount that would be charged for processing documents. I never gave this a second thought, because the fee was quite small, and all car dealers had similar charges.
 
Today dealer fees have surged in amount and number of fees charged on a single sale. A few states regulate the fees effectively like California which caps theirs at $80. Most states have NO LIMIT on the amount. Florida’s is one of those and their average dealer fee, according to Edmunds.com, is $799. But in South Florida, dealer fees exceed $1,000 on the average and some dealers have as much as $3,000!
The first thing you need to know about dealer fees is that almost no car dealer names their hidden fee “dealer fee”. All dealers have come up with legitimate sounding names designed to make the car buyer believe the fee is a government fee like sales tax or license/registration. A few examples are tag agency fee, electronic filing fee, e-filing fee, administrative fee, doc fee, notary fee, dealer prep fee, etc. In fact, some dealers advertise that they don’t charge a dealer fee, because they can say they named their “hidden fee” something else.
 
Secondly, you may not even be aware of their hidden fees until you are signing the final documents in the dealer’s business office. In your mind, you’ve already bought the car. The salesman’s job is complete, and you’ve signed some paperwork. The salesman escorts you to the “business office” to finalize the paperwork. This is where the hidden fees often first appear, mired in the rehems of paper and fine print spit out by the highspeed computer/printer. Most car buyers never know that additional dealer profit was added to the price they “thought” they paid for the car.
 
Hopefully, the above explanation of how difficult it is for you spot all the hidden fees and the total amount is well understood. The purpose of this article is to relieve you of even having to attempt this almost impossible task. Even if you did find all the hidden fees, you’ll never win an argument with the salesman or sales manager on their legitimacy. In fact, many salesmen and manager have been misinformed by their superiors and may believe that these fees are commonplace, legal, and even ethical. When you argue with a salesman about taking off the hidden fees, he knows that his boss won’t allow it, and he can only make you happy by reducing the price of the car by the amount of the hidden fees. Reducing the price, reduces his 25% commission. Taking off an $800 dealer fee off the price of the car costs him $200 in commission.
The solution to the “hidden fee game”, is to refuse to play. Let them give you bottom line price that includes as much in hidden fees as they want to. That’s when you tell the salesman and manager, that you going to take that bottom line price to at least three other car dealers, his competitors, and see if they can offer you a lower one. Their only choice is to decide how high an out-the-door price they can give you and have you come back to buy from them. You must remember that the definition of an out-the-door price is the amount of money you can write out your check for, hand it to the salesman, and drive your new car home.
 
Don’t fall for the old tricks…” this price is good for today only”, “the car you chose will probably be sold when you come back”, or “I won’t give you my best price in writing”. When you hear these sorts of remarks, simply say “If I leave here without your lowest out-the-door price in writing, you might sell me a car’. If you don’t give me this price, you have zero chance of selling me the car because you’ll never see or hear from me again”. At his point, you turn around, walk out the door, get in your car and drive away. Nine times out of ten, they’ll give you the price you asked for. You might even have to get in your car, start it, and begin driving away. Be sure to check your rear-view mirror for a salesman frantically chasing behind you. 😊

Monday, November 01, 2021

Begin your New Car Buying Process Today... Target Date for Delivery/Payment in 60-90 Days


It’s time to decide which 2022 new vehicle, make model and accessories, is best for you. You’re fortunate that you don’t have to buy a car today, because you understand that supply and demand conditions brought on by the microchip shortage and other COVID-precipitated factors has driven new car prices to record levels.
 
Choosing the right new car is relatively easy because there’s one source of accurate, unbiased information that you can bank on…Consumer Reports, the “Bible” of consumer information on automobiles. Go to www.ConsumerReports.org, and check out any new vehicle that strikes your fancy. Choose the one that you like best esthetically…styling, performance, etc., but then check them out for the less obvious, but important criteria. Safety, fuel economy, maintenance and insurance costs, reliability, and rate of depreciation.
 
Test drive the vehicle that you choose to order. To avoid a lot of time and sales pressure, make it clear to the salesman that you will not be buying that car today. Finding the exact vehicle in a 2022 model can be a challenge, depending on how soon you begin your buying process. You’re buying a 2022 because a 2021 model is a one-year-old car today…essentially an “undriven used car”. The discount that dealers may give you on a 2021 never offset the extra cost of depreciation when you trade that car in on another. As I write this column, new vehicle inventories are at historic lows, especially 2022’s. If there are no major changes in the 2022 you order vs. the 2021, you can settle for driving the older model. Test driving a new car isn’t just “driving it around the block”. Take it out on the highways and the same roads that you routinely drive on. Drive it at all the various speeds you drive, back it up, and park it. Ideally, you should take a car home overnight and park it in your garage.
 
Locate the Costco certified auto dealers in your region. Go to this web address, www.CostcoAuto.com. If you’re not a member of Costco, you should buy an annual membership for only $65. The Costco auto buying program requires their certified dealers to sell Costco members a new car at a lower price than they have sold that car to any other buyer for. Costco will initially offer you only one certified dealership…the one closest to your zip code. You can obtain more certified Costco dealers by calling Costco directly. As you probably know, car dealers charge different prices to each of their customers for the same car, including Costco dealers. What sets Costco dealers apart is that the price you pay is the lowest price they will sell anybody that car for.
 
Be sure the Costco certified dealers will agree to sell you the car at their Costco price on the date you are prepared to take delivery of your new car. Eliminate any Costco dealer that refuses to do this. Contract with those that do agree and the one from whom you choose to buy your new car at the Costco price in effect at your expected time of delivery.
 
Choose a delivery date no sooner than December 2021 and, optimally, closer to March 2022. New car prices will begin coming down slowly this month (October 2021). They’ll continue to decline through the first quarter of 2022. Once you’ve finalized this purchase agreement, you can monitor the Costco price on the car you’ve chosen as often as you like. You may find that the price has come down enough to buy the car sooner than your planned delivery date. You might have to choose from a color or equipment of a car in stock that’s a little different than the one you have on order.
 
Buy low and sell high is the title to this article. You’re buying your new car low, and you CAN sell your used car very high today. I devoted little of that to this article because you probably need your current car. This morning, before I started writing this article, CNBC announced that the average used car is selling today for 56% higher than two years ago. That’s a record increase in used car prices. If you can get along without your current car, sell it today. But don’t trade it in on your new car, sell it directly to a dealer after shopping for the highest price. Also, check with these online companies, www.Carvana.com,www.Varoon.com, www.CarMax.com and www.WeBuyAnyCar.com.

Monday, October 18, 2021

It Was the Best of Times (for Car Dealers), It Was the Worst of Times (for Car Buyers)


Did you hear the one about the 6-foot man who drowned while trying to wade across a river with an AVERAGE depth of 3 feet?

A recent Consumer Reports article reported that the average price (MSRP) of a new car has risen over $45,000 for the first time ever. The average transaction price has risen 7.7%. The interesting thing is that this 7.7% increase in the average price you pay represents more than a 300% PROFIT increase for the car dealer.

Of course, that $3,465 price increase (7.7% of $45,000) is a huge increase in profit to the dealer. The interesting thing is that this 7.7% average price increase represents more than a 300% profit increase to the dealer.

The average dealer margin on new cars was about $1,000 before the microchip shortage. Most car dealers, pre-covid, made relatively little net profit in their new car departments. In fact, quite a few lost money. They relied heavily on the large profits they made in the finance and service departments. The covid pandemic with its subsequent worldwide microchip shortage has brought unprecedented, record profits to car dealers. Car dealers are making so much profit on each car they sell, they can sell far fewer cars and make far more money than ever before.

What make this even worse for the car buyer is that the highest prices are being paid by those that can least afford it. These are the car buyers I often refer to in my articles as the “victims” …the less sophisticated, educated, English language impaired, the very young and the very old. Remember that AVERAGE big price increase of $3,465 is made up of lower prices by the sophisticated, educated buyers and higher prices by the victims. Unlike all other retail products sold, only automobiles are sold at a different price to each buyer…based on their ability to search out and negotiate the lowest price.

A shrewd buyer can buy a car for thousands of dollars less than a typical victim. I estimate that the average price increase to victims approaches $7,000 compared to the $3,465 average price for everybody. Sadly, these are also the people that are most likely to need a car. They are also the people that will pay very high interest rates in the dealer’s finance department.

If you’re interested in helping potential victims from being taken advantage of by unscrupulous car dealers, please consider volunteering for “Earl’s Vigilantes”. Please click on www.earlsvigilantes.com. If you qualify, I’ll even send you a free “Earl’s Vigilante” hat. 😊

Monday, October 11, 2021

My Personal Cell Phone Number




This column was prompted by a Facebook friend who reminded me yesterday that I’d sent her a post with my cell phone number included. She warned me not to display this in the social media. Certainly, conventional wisdom and most people feel the same way. I fully understand that I “march to the beat of a different drummer”.

I’ve had this cell phone number, 561 358-1474 before I formed “Stewart Cellular Communications Inc” in 1993, the first agent for Bell South Mobility in South Florida. I’ve been sharing this number with my customers for many years; it’s on my personal business card which I freely pass out to all my customers and prospective customers. The switchboard operator at my dealership passes my business card out to anyone who asks. When someone calls the business number, 561 844-3461, and asks for me, the call is automatically passed directly to my cell phone.

I must confess that I was nervous about this when I first began doing it, but my fears were never realized. Sure, I get a few unwanted solicitations and crank calls, but far fewer than I thought. People are a lot more respectful of my time than I ever dreamed. Since I began opening myself to all my thousands of customers, I’ve learned more ways to improve my business than ever before. The negatives to this openness are dwarfed by the positives.

I share this with you, not only to brag because I’m the only car dealer in the World that dares to do this, but to advise car buyers to make it a point to get the cell phone numbers of those they deal with when buying or servicing their car. The salesmen and service advisors always ask for your cell number, don’t they? Before you give them yours, insist on getting theirs. If you have a problem, they can’t “disappear”. But, don’t stop there. Ask for the cell phone number for their manager. If he refuses, that will tell you something right away about his sincerity, transparency, and honesty. It tells you that he wants you to trust him, but he doesn’t trust you. Now, if you really want fewer problems after your purchase or service, ask for the personal cell phone number of the “manager’s manager”. If you can get all three of these numbers, each of those individuals is far more likely to honor their promises and be more transparent, especially the salesman or service advisor that know his bosses also gave you their cell number.

If you don’t believe that I do what I just said I did, give me a call at 561 358-1474. If I don’t answer right away, please leave a message and I promise I’ll call you back. I’ll admit that I don’t always return calls from folks who call, hang up and don’t leave a message. But I always get back to those who leave a message and are customers, prospective customers, or others who are not solicitors or cranks.

Monday, October 04, 2021

COVID PANDEMIC + MICROCHIP SHORTAGE EQUALS HIGHEST EVER PRICES AND PROITS FOR CAR DEALERS


I’ve been a car dealer since 1968 and never dreamed that one day I’d be advising potential customers not to buy a new or used car right away. But, as you know, the COVID 19 Pandemic has changed everything in our lives, worldwide…most of it for the worst, but, counterintuitively, made a lot of money for some businesses…including auto manufacturers and car dealers.

This is the second column I’ve written on this subject and I’ve added a few more pointers for those people that believe they must buy a new or used car today. The good news is that car prices have peaked and can only come down from here. Next month, November, will offer lower prices and December will be even lower. The first quarter of 2022 will see prices back to normal, Pre-Covid. The longer you can postpone your purchase of a new or used car, the lower the price you will pay.

Here are some more tips for those that can’t wait to buy:
Whether you want to buy a late model new or a brand-new car today, price the “other” too. Some used cars are selling today at higher prices than the new ones. Car dealers know you can easily compare new car prices with other dealers, but it’s much more difficult to compare used car prices…no two used cars are identical, like new ones.
  • Don’t buy a new car from the dealer’s on-the-ground inventory, because he will charge you much more than if you order the car through that dealer from the manufacturer. The dealer knows that if you refuse to pay the exorbitantly high price for the new car on his showroom somebodywill come in soon and agree to it. He has only one or two of that particular model, and if he sells it for less, he can’t make up that lost profit.
  • Late model used cars are selling, as I stated in (1) above, at, and even higher, than the new equivalent. Reliable older cars are priced much fairer than late models. Therefore, they’ll retain their value more and make it less expensive for you to trade it in on late model or new car later.
  • Before you “take the plunge” and buy that new or used car today, ask yourself “Are the thousands of dollars I’m overpaying to buy a car today vs 90 days hence, worth it? How expensive and inconvenient will it be for me to repair my current car, use public transportation, take Uber or Lyft, or carpool?
  • Paying Costco $65, if you’re not already a Costco member, and utilizing the Costco auto buying program is, by far the single best solution to this problem, www.CostcoAuto.com. If you do buy a new or used car today (against my advice), the Costco price is the “lowest high price” you can get. The smartest move you can possibly make is to contract with the selling Costco Certified Dealer that they will honor the Costco member price on your ordered new car when it arrives from the manufacturer. It’s imperative that you get this in writing. If you don’t, the dealer will sell your car to somebody else at a much higher price.



Monday, September 13, 2021

How to Buy Another Key-fob for Your Car Without Having to Take Out a Loan


The modern, high-tech remote keys for our vehicles are amazing. They can, not only start your car, but lock and unlock the doors, open the trunk, and help you find your car at the mall by flashing lights or blowing the horn. Some of us didn’t really want or need the extra “bells and whistles”, but you can’t buy a car today with an old-fashioned, inexpensive key that will “only” start your car.

The auto manufacturer executives must have been thrilled when they discovered a minicomputer, they named a “keyless remote”, aka key fob, with so many bells and whistles. The design and manufacturing engineers must have “joyously” met with the marketing people to come up with a “big fat” price to maximize this new source of profits in their new vehicles. We may never know what it costs an auto manufacturer to make a key fob. This sort of thing is top secret, but we do know that a key fob is far less complex to design and far less costly to manufacturer than a smart phone; however, you can buy smartphones today for less than $200 which is on the low end of what many key fobs cost. Remember that prices are set by supply and demand, not what it costs to manufacture. The best way to bring down your cost of buying a key fob, is to shop and compare prices with what the car dealers charges you with other retailers. Dealers pay their manufacturers too much for key fobs too, and then their dealers mark them up even more, charging you “an arm and a leg”.

My motivation for writing this column is to offer you several sources, rather than just your car dealer, to buy another key fob at a significantly lower price. In full disclosure, I’m taking this information from October 2021 edition of Consumer Reports, the very best of source of information to consumers of every product.
 
1. If you would prefer, or must, buy an OEM key fob made by the manufacturer of your car, you don’t necessarily have to buy it from the car dealer. My favorite source for buying almost anything is Amazon. www.CarAndTruckRemotes and www.Walmart.com are two more good online sources. Or, you can “Google” key fob for your particular year-make-model car and find other online sources. Consumer Reports found a genuine Hyundai key fob for a 2017 for $93 including shipping, $208 less than the Hyundai dealer charges.
 
2. Or, buy an aftermarket key fob online. Consumer Reports was able to save $208 by buying a key fob for a 2008 Chrysler Town G Country minivan through Amazon.
 
3. You can buy a key fob from your local locksmith. Consumer Reports paid $95 less for key fob for a 2009 Honda than the Honda dealer would have charged.
 
4. Ace Hardware and Batteries Plus are two national chains that offer significant saving over car dealers.

When more and more car owners boycott car dealerships in buying replacement and second keyless remotes/key fobs, the auto manufacturers will lower their prices to their dealers, and you will be able to buy one at a fair price.