Monday, January 24, 2022

Leasing or Owning a Vehicle Today

Is a Valuable Hedge when Buying or Leasing Another


You probably know that new and used car prices are at historic highs. In previous columns I’ve recommended that you don’t buy a new or used vehicle today, because waiting until the microchip shortage abates and supplies of vehicles rise will see prices drop by thousands of dollars. This advice is particularly aimed at those who don’t have another car to trade in. This is because the car you trade in is worth about as much more as the vehicle you’re buying increased. In other words, the value of your trade-in largely offsets the increased cost of the car you’re buying.

About a third of new cars on the road today are leased. A lease contract includes a clause giving you the legal right (option) to purchase that vehicle at a price that was fixed when you leased it, about 3 years ago. This amount is the “residual” and was forecasted (guessed at) by the leasing company. Oftentimes those forecasted prices are inaccurate because markets change. Over the last 2+ years with the Covid pandemic, rampant inflation, and the microchip shortage precipitating the vehicle shortage has caused those lease residuals to be much much lower than today’s market value of your leased vehicle. Many are unaware of their option to buy their leased vehicle, and the leasing company or the car dealer takes the vehicle back, sells it at the auto auction, and makes a huge profit above your option price.

To take advantage of the increased value, you must first establish today’s market value. You can do this by shopping your vehicle to several potential buyers. The used car departments at franchised dealers for the same make you drive will make offers. Go online to used car companies like www.Carvana.com, www.WeBuyAnyCar.com, www.CarMax.com, www.Vroom.com, and many more. Google “Used Car Buyers” and you’ll find many more. It’s a “seller’s market” and the more you shop your leased car, the higher the price you’ll get. Of course, technically you don’t own the car; the leasing company does. But that won’t deter you from hearing the offers. You’ll have to exercise your purchase option before you can sell it.

Different leasing companies have different policies on exercising your option to buy. GM, Honda, Toyota, and Ally Leasing will sell you the lease car at the residual and this is the safest, easiest way. Your leasing company, if they won’t buy your off-lease car, will require you to return it through one of their dealers. Unfortunately, most dealers will add bogus fees, often over a thousand dollar to your option price. If you must go through a dealer, shop the dealers to find the one that charges the lowest extra fees.

If you don’t want to buy and then sell, your off-lease car, you may be able to get an extension on driving the lease for up to six months. The longer you can wait to make another purchase or lease, the lower the prices will be when you do have to commit.

If you own a car now, you can realize all the advantages described above without all the hassle. Just be sure you shop your trade-in to as many of the used car buying sources as you can.




Monday, January 10, 2022

How to Know if a Florida Car Dealer is Breaking the Law


Most of the “skullduggery” Florida car dealers use to trick you into overpaying for the vehicles they sell are illegal. Florida Statute Title XXXIII, REGULATION OF TRADE, COMMERCE, INVESTMENTS, AND SOLICITATIONS, 501.976 regulates "actionable, unfair, or deceptive acts or practices" in trade and commerce.If you want to read the whole text, just visit www.FloridaLawProtectingCarBuyers.com.

When you click on this link, you’ll have too much information and legal gobbledygook. Unfortunately, this is the way all our laws and regulations are written. They’re in a language that can only be interpreted by lawyers. You must hire a lawyer to explain the laws. If you break a law (that was written by lawyer), you’ll be prosecuted by a lawyer and you’ll have to hire another lawyer to defend you. Politicians (mostly lawyers) and regulators (mostly lawyers appointed by politicians) are supposed to fairly enforce the laws!

This law is decades old and was passed during the reign of Bob Butterworth, Florida’s longest serving Attorney General, elected in 1987, serving 15 years as AG. This law would have never been passed had not a Bob’s wife been taken advantage of by a car dealer in Tampa who charged her for “undercoat” on her new car, adding the price to the advertised price she thought she was paying. Since this law has been written, much of it is obsolete and irrelevant, but no other Florida attorney general or legislator would dare to modernize it, much less toughen the law. If they did, they would suffer the ire of the powerful car dealer lobbying groups and PACs, like the Florida and National auto dealers associations.

However, there’s still some “teeth” in this law that can protect you against unscrupulous car dealers. Most car dealers in Florida don’t know or understand the law. Even if they do, they ignore it because our regulators and legislators are afraid to enforce it. This column will point out some small sections of this law which can protect you from dealers adding hidden fees to the prices they advertise, quote you, and are illegally charging you.

It is illegal under Title XXXIII 501.976 (11) to “add to the cash price of a vehicle defined in s. 520.02 (02) any fee or charge other than those provided in that section and in rule 69V-50.001, Florida Administrative Code. All fees or charges permitted to be added to the cash price by rule 69V-50.001, Florida Administrative Code. All fees or charges permitted to be added to the cash price by rule 69V-50.001, Florida Administrative Code, must be fully disclosed to customers in all binding contracts concerning the vehicles selling price.” The translation of the above paragraph is simply, the advertised and quoted price must include everything you must pay, plus government fees only (sales tax and license).

It is illegal under Title XXXIII 501.976 (16) to….” The advertised price must include all fees or charges that the customer must pay, including freight or destination charge, dealer preparation charge, and charges for undercoating or rustproofing. State and local taxes, tags, registration fees, and title fees, unless otherwise required by local law or standard need not be disclosed in the advertisement. …” The freight/destination charge is charged in the dealer’s invoice and in the MSRP. If a dealer charges you for that, he’s “double-dipping…getting paid twice.

It is illegal under Title XXXIII 501.976 (17) to….Charge a customer for any predelivery service required by the manufacturer, distributor, or importer for which the dealer is reimbursed by the manufacturer, distributor or importer. All new car dealers are reimbursed by their manufacturers for preparing the car for delivery. Charging you for that is also “double dipping” getting paid for the same service twice.
It is illegal under Title XXXIII 501.976 (18) to “Charge a customer for any predelivery service without having printed on all documents that include a line item for predelivery service the following disclosure: ‘This charge represents costs and profit to the dealer for items such as inspecting, cleaning, and adjusting vehicles, and preparing documents related to the sale.’”

“Knowledge is power” (Nancy Stewart’s favorite phrase) and letting the car dealer know that you’re familiar with this Florida statute will often motivate him to remove these illegal charges.

Monday, January 03, 2022

Earl On Cars, Weekly Live Talk Radio

 



Current Advice on Buying, Leasing, & Servicing Your Car

Many readers of my weekly articles appearing on my blog (www.EarlOnCars.com), Florida Weekly, and Hometown News may not know about my weekly radio show which has been on the air for nearly 20 years.
 
Earl on Cars airs every Saturday morning from 8-10 EST. You can access this show in South Florida at True Oldies Radio, 95.9 and 105.9 FM (WIRK-HD3). You can stream it directly at www.StreamEarlOnCars.com. You can also stream it at www.Facebook.com/EarlOnCars and at www.YouTube.com/EarlOnCars; or access Earl on Cars via the app, TuneIn Radio.
 
Why listen to a live radio show when you have all these other resources of information? The number one reason is that conditions change rapidly with respect to buying, leasing, and maintaining your vehicle. In the past two years (Covid pandemic) these conditions have radically changed, I’ve been a car dealer for over 50 years, and I’ve never seen such change…both for the good and the bad. Listening to Earl on Cars weekly keeps you on top of the car-buying and repairing/servicing market.

Our live-talk radio show thrives on callers’ input…questions, personal anecdotes for their buying and servicing experiences, as well as suggestions and constructive criticisms. There are multiple channels for you to covey your input. Primarily is our telephone 877 959-9960. You can text us at 772 497-6530. Post your input on Facebook and YouTube as indicated in the second paragraph of this article. We even have a unique form of communication to those who prefer to remain ANONYMOUS. Click on this line, www.YourAnonymousFeedback.com. Who you are and where you’re located is completely anonymous. We generally can respond to all input during the 2-hour show. If we miss one, we address it in the following week’s show.
 
The Earl on Cars team consists of me, Earl Stewart, currently a car dealer in North Palm Beach Florida. This radio show, my blog, newspaper columns and my book, Confessions of a Recovering Car Dealer are part of my role as an advocate for you, the consumer. I stress that my radio show is not an “infomercial” attempting to sell you a car. In fact, I currently recommend that you don’t buy a car unless you must because of historically high prices.
 
Nancy Stewart is my co-host, wife, and co-founder of the show 15 years ago. Nancy’s primary role is to act as an advocate for the women buyers of vehicles and service. Since the inception of the show, Nancy has built the female listening audience from near “zero” to about half. Car selling and buying is evolving (too slowly) from a “good old boys club” to the enlightenment of dealers and manufacturers that women are arguably even more important than the male market. Every week, Nancy pays the first two, new women callers $50 cash…no strings attached. If you’re female and reading this, that’s something to think about.
 
Rick Kearney is a Certified Diagnostic Master Technician for Toyota and has all the current qualifications from ASE, the national organization, American Service Excellence. He can answer any question about servicing, maintaining, and repairing your vehicle. Contact the show any Saturday morning and get a free diagnosis on a problem you’re experiencing with your vehicle.
 
Stu Stewart (Earl Stewart III) is my son and the general manager of my Toyota dealership in North Palm Beach, FL. He has real-time, hands-on experience of how cars are being sold and serviced TODAY and every day. Stu directs our weekly MYSTERY SHOPPING REPORT.
 
The Mystery Shopping Report is the highlight of our show, both from an information and entertainment perspective. Every week we send a person into a different car dealership to pretend to buy, lease, or maintain/repair their car. We name the dealership, the individuals dealt with, and the events exactly as they happen. When we see a violation of the law occur, we say so. When we observe unethical, deceptive advertising and sales practices we say so. When we see honest, ethical practices in place at a dealership we say so. Each week the dealership is given a grade from A to F, and we list the grades on two lists accessible at  www.GoodDealerBadDealerList.com. How do you know that we’re telling the truth and being accurate? The answer is this: In the nearly 20 years we’ve been mystery shopping car dealers, we’ve never been sued. Car dealers know (and their lawyers know) that the perfect defense against Libel and Slander is TRUTH.

Jonathan Kantor is the “behind the scenes guy” whose technical, digital prowess enables Earl on Cars to be heard and seen around the world. He also preserves the best parts of our show, categorized by topic, and makes them available on YouTube, accessible at any time. All the past shows are archived and easily accessible. The camerawork during the show includes aiming the cameras at the right person at the right time and providing all the other visual effects, like the background and video clips.
 
Tune in some Saturday morning between 8 and 10 eastern time and give us a shout…or just listen for a few minutes. I promise that you won’t be disappointed.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Earl On Cars Predictions

Buying, Leasing, and Repairing Cars in 2022

When immersed in a watershed moment of history, those living it often don’t appreciate the magnitude of change on the World. WWI, the Great Depression, and WWII were watershed moments. My father, Earl Stewart Sr., was born in 1892 and was a young man during all three of those watershed moments in history. I don’t think he ever fully appreciated how much the world changed from those 3 events.
 
We’ve been experiencing the COVID-19 Pandemic for about 2 years. Coinciding with this is the knowledge explosion from quantum computing the “Cloud”, and Artificial Intelligence. The Internet (unheard of before 1990) offers answers to every question that a human being can conceive of. As I write this article a giant telescope is speeding toward an orbit around the sun that will show us “pictures” of the beginning of the universe, 13.7 billion years ago.
 
Lots of people make forecasts, but few put them in writing. I’m going out on a limb and asking that you save this article and let me know in year how many of my forecasts I got right and wrong. 😊
  • Prices of new and used cars will drop substantially. As I write this article the average price paid for a new car in November 2021 was $45,872, up from $39,984 one year ago…about a $6,000 increase which is several thousands of dollars above MSRP. I predict that by the end of 2022 car prices will average MSRP, manufacturer’s suggested retail price. This will be significantly less than today, but significantly more than prices pre-covid. The average price paid for a used car now is above $29,000 up from $22,679 in 2020. Used car price will come down to about $26,000 by the end of 2022.
  • Car dealers’ bait and switch advertising and deceptive sales practices will be reduced significantly. The quantum leap in consumers knowledge because of the Internet via Google et al in 2022, has increased the percentage of educated buyers as never before. With a PC and the “click of mouse”, any car buyer can learn the average, and even the lowest price charged by a dealer. Consumers can learn the dealer cost and which dealers have the better reputations for fairness and lower prices. Manufacturers who have been very reluctant to “control” their dealers are “seeing the handwriting on the wall”. With smart buyers, the dealers with the best reputations for honesty and transparency will out-sell the high pressure, bait, and switch style dealers.
  • Some auto manufacturers will follow Tesla’s lead and sell cars directly to the consumer, without an independent dealer network. The only reason this didn’t happen a long time ago was due to state franchise laws enacted almost 100 years ago. Dealers have lobbied to have laws passed in all 50 states that allow only a franchised car dealer can sell a new car. It’s illegal in all 50 states for anyone to buy a car, except a Tesla, directly from the manufacturer. These laws will be challenged and overturned by some manufacturers in some states, like New York.
  • Female car buyers will become the most important buyer for both auto manufacturers and car dealers. For nearly 100 years, the auto manufacturers and car dealers have been a “good old boys club”. Most of the advertising has been directed toward men. Most cars are designed and engineered for men. Even the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, NHTSA, designed safety crash tests designed to protect men, not women. Most employees, over 90%, of auto manufacturers and car dealers are men. Automotive dealer training school graduates are almost exclusively men. Thanks to the 21st century knowledge explosion, women have become more educated and capable car buyers than men. Women, by their nature, have been proven to be more careful about the car they buy and the price they pay.
  • Electric cars will surge in popularity beyond everyone’s expectations. This prediction is my most personal one. Some of you know that I’m a Toyota dealer in North Palm Beach, Florida. For the last 47 years I’ve driven only Toyota products, including Lexus. Toyota builds great cars and I never saw myself ever driving anything else. My curiosity overcame my loyalty to Toyota, and I recently bought a 2021 Tesla Plaid. I can only say that driving an all-electric car like a Tesla is all it will take for you to forsake all other combustion engine powered cars. I get 350 miles on one charge when I plug the Tesla into my garage electric outlet overnight. Words can’t describe the pleasure of passing crowded, over-priced gas stations. The electric motor is more powerful, by far, than any combustion engine vehicle. There is no transmission or shifting, only one, smooth continuous acceleration. I rarely ever touch my brakes because I rely on the automatic braking when I take my foot of the accelerator. I haven’t enjoyed driving a car as much since I was sixteen years old and that’s along time ago…I’m 81 years old.
  • Today’s auto manufacturers will decrease in number by 50%. The automobile as we know it today is obsolete. The car of the future is all electric and totally autonomous. The strong manufacturers, like Toyota and Volkswagen will survive but most will perish. There will be mergers, acquisitions, and bankruptcies. The auto manufacturer of 2023 will become a software company. The final phase of this radical change will be the cessation of car ownership. The fastest growing form of transportation in 2025 will be ridesharing of autonomous, all electric vehicles. You’ll summon the vehicle of your choice only when you need it and pay only for that time. The vehicle will arrive in seconds (faster than you can walk to your own garage and back your car out). You’ll arrive at your destination in less than half the time it now takes. There will be no more rush hours because all cars will travel at the same high speed (100 mph or more). Traffic accidents and injuries will be a tiny fraction of what they are today.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Buying a Car During the Omicron Threat


Just When We Thought It Was Safe To Go Back in the Water

You’ve already read or heard this all over the news media. Omicron, the latest mutation of the COVID virus, appears to be setting the world back from an optimistic recovery from Covid to the worst surge ever. Only time will tell, all too soon, just how bad this will be.

My job as a consumer advocate for auto buyers is to make it “safer” for you to buy your next new or used cars. My regular readers know that I been doing weekly “mystery shops” of car dealerships for many years. The information from these has been my primary guide to advise you how to buy or lease a car without being taken advantage of by a car dealer.
 
One problem that my mystery shopping reports have revealed in the past two years is that the precautions car dealerships take against Covid-19 varies tremendously. My mystery shoppers have visited dealerships where no precautions were taken…nobody in those dealerships was wearing a mask…much less asking their customers to. In those dealerships where some did wear masks, we almost never saw the N95 or KN95 masks which provide much better protection, about twice that of any other. Many of those wearing masks wore them improperly.
 
In previous articles I wrote that you should not buy a new or used car now because the covid induced microchip shortage has raised all car prices to historically high levels. But, if you must buy a car, these are some precautions that that you should take.
 
  • If you’re like most people, you find yourself buying almost everything online. My wife, Nancy, and I buy almost everything on Amazon. It’s more difficult to buy a car online, but it can be done. There are a few car dealers that will give you their lowest out-the-door price online, appraise your trade-in online, allow you to electronically sign all the paperwork, and deliver your new car to your home. You should test drive the car you buy before you buy it. Insist that the car dealer bring it to your home and allow you this opportunity. 
  • If you cannot, or choose not to buy online, call the dealerships that you are considering buying from and ask them what their COVID protection protocol is. You should get answers to these questions: a. Do all your salespeople properly wear N95 or KN95 masks? Of course, this should apply to all personnel you may meet like receptionists and sales managers. (b) Also ask what the dealership’s vaccination policy for employees is. Are employees that come face-to-face with customers required to be fully vaccinated. The latest recommendation from scientists is that the definition of “fully” vaccinated should include a booster shot. (c) Does the dealership have a policy of requiring periodic COVID tests of their employees.
  • Some people buy all their cars through an auto-broker. Brokers are often former car salesmen or sales manager who go into business for themselves. Dealing with one auto broker on the phone, or even in person, instead of several people at a car dealership is much safer. You should do your “do diligence” on the price the broker offers you. As I said earlier in the article, all car prices are currently at historic highs. A broker receives a commission from the car dealer and that’s increasing your already high price. These broker commissions can range from $500 to $5,000.
As you may know, I’m not only a consumer advocate for car buyers but I have a Toyota dealership in North Palm Beach. I “walk the talk” when it comes to protecting my customers and employees from COVID. We hire no one who’s not been fully vaccinated. Most of our employees are fully vaccinated and those few who aren’t must wear N95 or KN95 masks. In fact, with the onset of Omicron, we’re going back to all employees wearing KN-95 masks. We even ask our customers to wear masks and furnish masks to those who don’t have one.

Monday, December 13, 2021

How to Get a Better Price on a Car In a High-Priced, Seller’s Market


There’s an old saying about the stock market…” You can never buy at the bottom or sell at the top.” This is because nobody, not even the experts, can predict the absolute tops and bottoms of markets But, if you’re careful, you can predict the best “approximate” time to buy or sell. This same truism holds for buying a car in a seller’s market, where demand exceeds supply.

I’m somewhat of an expert on the auto market because I’ve been a car dealer for more than a half a century, since 1968. I’ve seen a lot of “peaks and valleys”. This current, unprecedented rise in prices peaked about a month ago. Prices are still very high, although they are slowly coming down and will continue to decline for up to six months. If you’re thinking about buying, be prepared to pay more than you’ll pay next month or the month…probably $1,000 to $2,000 more. By June, you’ll save $3,000 to $4,000.

If you must buy today, you’ll have to accept a target price of close to MSRP. I spoke to a woman last week whose current vehicle had been totaled in a car accident, but her insurance company paid her a very good price to replace it. She had to buy a car and I sold her one from my dealership for MSRP, out-the-door plus sales tax and license plate. That’s about $2,000-$3,00 more that I would have sold her the same car in 2 or 3 months. Most dealers are still charging thousands of dollars over MSRP, using addendum labels, hidden fees, and dealer installed accessories. You can read a mystery shopping report that I conducted last week on a large, South Florida Toyota dealership that refused to sell a new Toyota Corolla for MSRP, asking $1,300 above by clicking on this link www.MSRPTooLow.com.

Here are some pointers to guide you through this high, stormy new car market:
  • If you must buy a car soon, wait until Saturday, New Year’s Day, 1-1-22 or the Sunday and Monday immediately after. The first 3 or 4 days of January, in the new year is when auto manufacturers and car dealers push to “hit their numbers”. They close their books to sales after 3-4 days of the previous year. The motivation to manufacturers and dealers to sell cars peaks every year on these few days. Prices plummet briefly, relative to prices from the previous year. Auto execs want 2021 to look as good as possible to their board of directors, stockholders, and Wall Street. Car dealers feel the same way, especially the public traded ones like AutoNation. You should have done your due diligence/homework in the weeks before to choose the right car and dealership. The more flexible you are on color, model, trim, and accessories you are, the lower the price you’ll get. Be prepared for a very limited inventory of stock cars, or those in-transit to choose from.
  • Utilize www.CostcoAuto.com. After the first of 2022, the slow downward trend in prices will continue. Consider ordering the exact car you want…color, options, make and model. If you’re not already a Costco member, pay the $65 annual membership fee and contract to buy your car from a Costco Certified Dealer. Stipulate on the official vehicle buyer’s order that the price you pay the dealer will be the Costco member’s price at the time your ordered car arrives at the dealership. Costco certified dealers are contractually obligated to sell you the car at a lower price than they’ve sold that model to any other customer for.
  • Pay no more than MSRP, if you must buy your car at a different time than suggested in items (1) and (2). This may take some searching and flexibility on model, color, and options, but there are a few dealers out there will, reluctantly, sell you a new car near MSRP. The best way to encourage them to do so is by shopping the best out-the-door price you get from one dealer with his closest competitor for the same make. This is much less time-consuming if you do it online. In your communication with each dealer, be sure to define out-the-door price as the price you can write the check out for to buy the car plus state sales tax and license plate. In other words, nothing added to the price except government fees. The test of government fee is that there’s no sales tax charged for a true government fee.

Monday, December 06, 2021

Pandemics, Bad Credit, and Car Buying


Since the Covid-19 pandemic enveloped us, millions of Americans are either unemployed, furloughed, or working fewer hours for less pay. Banks and all lenders are raising their credit standards to buy vehicles. Lending institutions, themselves, are financially threatened by customers unable to make their car and home payments.

Almost counterintuitively, new and used car sales are surging back almost to pre-Covid times. Many car dealers have always taken advantage of buyers with bad credit. With millions more car buyers with bad credit, this danger to you is worse than ever before. People with bad credit can be desperate (and therefore careless) when buying a car. They’re more worried about having their financing approved than buying the right car at the best price. This allows car dealers to overcharge them for the car they want to sell. It also allows dealers to sell them the car that the dealer wants to sell, not the one the customer wants to buy.

Following are six rules to follow if you have low income, bad credit, or too little credit, and you need to buy a car:

  • Never assume that you have bad credit; you should check your own credit score which you can do free. Even if your credit score isn’t good, you should always check with your credit union and/or bank before you opt for dealer financing.
  • Choose the car that you want to buy and negotiate the best price before you let it be known that you have marginal credit. Almost every car dealer will try to get you to fill out a credit application before you even begin discussing the car you want to buy and the price. REFUSE to do this and tell the salesman that you have acceptable credit. By doing this you ensure that the dealer isn’t raising the price and steering you to the wrong car because you have bad credit.
  • Car salesmen and finance managers can falsify your credit application that is sent to the bank. NEVER sign a credit application until it is completely filled out, and you’ve verified its accuracy. Be sure that you have a copy of the credit application before you accept delivery of your car. Falsifying credit is a federal crime, not to mention the fact that you’re probably paying far more for the car than you can afford.
  • Choose the car that’s best for you, not the one the dealer “wants” to sell you. The dealer will choose a car that he “wants to get rid of”, one that he can’t sell to anybody else; and/or he’ll choose one with a higher loan value than the one you really want.
  • Verify that the car described to the lender has the same options and accessories as the one you’re buying. Dealers will sometime falsify additional optional equipment on the car that they’re asking the lender to finance. Adding fictitious options like sunroofs, navigation, sound systems, etc. tricks the lender into advancing more money than they should. This allows the dealer to sell you a higher priced car, increasing his profit.

Lenders that specialize in people with bad credit are called “subprime lenders”. Car dealers even have separate finance people that specialize in subprime buyers. They’re called the “special finance” department. Subprime lenders often charge a fee to the dealer which can be as much as $2,500. This fee is not supposed to be paid by the buyer, because it would effectively increase the interest rate, probably above the usury law limits. Unfortunately, it’s commonly added to the price of the car. This is illegal, but it’s almost impossible to prove. By negotiating the best price on the car you want to buy BEFORE the dealer find out you have credit problems, it becomes obvious if the price is increased.