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Monday, July 18, 2016

The War between Insurance Companies and Body Shops

(That You Never Knew Was Being Waged)


I’ve written other articles about how insurance companies try to fix your car as cheaply as they can without showing the necessary concern for the quality and safety of the repairs. You can find them on this blog, “Collision Insurance and Your Rights” and “Coping with Body Shops and Insurance Companies”.

This new article was written by Alan Nappier, my body shop manager at Earl Stewart Toyota. Alan is, not only the best body shop manager I’ve employed in my 47 years as a car dealer, but one of the smartest, most articulate people I know. I’ll probably sound like I’m overdoing it but he also has an incredible sense of humor. I say all this so that when you read what he has to say below, please take it as the gospel. Alan is not a “smoke blower” or an exaggerator. He tells it like it is. You can ask Alan a question about repairing your car and your insurance company any Tuesday afternoon between 4 and 6. He appears on my live radio talk show, “Earl Stewart on Cars” on 900 AM, The Talk of the Palm Beaches. You can also stream this show live at www.StreamEarlOnCars.com.

Your body shop is either at war with the insurance companies or they fight on their side. If your body shop is not fighting for you to protect your car from cheap, poor quality, and unsafe repairs you’re in a “heap of trouble”. The chances are that if your body shop is on your insurance company’s “approved repairer list” that its loyalty is not to you but to that insurance company. You should take your car to the body shop that you know and trust will fix your car with your interests paramount in their mind, not one who must “play ball” with your insurance company or lose their membership on the “approved repairer list”. One way to find out whose side your body shop is on is to ask them if they will be asking you to sign two forms. One is called a “Limited Power of Attorney” and the second is called an “Assignment of Proceeds”. Please read on and Alan will explain very clearly why this is so.

By Alan Nappier:

Getting an insurance company to “approve” proper repairs to a collision damaged automobile is the toughest part of the collision repair industry. First of all, in a legal sense, the insurance company really has no right to dictate or blueprint a repair process. Their responsibility to the customer is to pay for property damage, NOT determine HOW the vehicle is to be repaired. The insurance company makes money by taking in premiums and investing these premiums. Any damage claim payouts are EXPENSES and like any company, controlling expenses is a top priority. This creates a conflict of interest when the insurance company is allowed to participate in the repair process. Contrary to popular belief, insurance companies DO NOT look out for YOUR best interests; they look out for their OWN best interest. This scenario leads to an adversarial relationship between insurance companies and HONEST repair facilities. Dishonest or unethical repair facilities view the insurance company as their customer and you as a product. They will repair your vehicle however the insurance company instructs, regardless of quality or the resulting structural integrity of the automobile. They want to keep the insurance company happy so that they may keep getting business referred to them. It’s a great arrangement for everybody EXCEPT the vehicle owner. An ethical body shop will repair your vehicle properly REGARDLESS of the insurance companies’ suggestions otherwise. In the past, we would have to just “absorb” the difference between what the insurance company “allowed” and what it REALLY cost to repair your car.

Enter now a powerful couple of legal documents called the “Limited Power of Attorney” (POA) and the “Assignment of Proceeds” (AOP). The POA is exactly what it says it is. It gives the repair facility the power to initiate legal action or collection efforts on your behalf. No, we can’t steal your house or take over your bank account, the LIMITED POA is specific to the insurance claim[Symbol] Remember, in a legal sense, the shop has NO legal connection with, or obligation to, the insurance company. Our contract (signed repair order) and responsibility is with YOU, the vehicle owner. Therefore, YOU are still financially obligated for the monetary difference between what the company allowed and the true cost of the repair. A POA allows me to repair the car properly, deliver the finished product to you and then begin collection efforts on your behalf. Odds are, you’ll never hear about the claim again.

The AOP is actually a document that “assigns” your contractual arrangement with the insurance company to the repair facility which then gives us legal standing to sue this insurance company directly. This “connection” must be established to allow the shop to sue for “breach of contract”. When an insurance company fails to adequately compensate for property damage, they have breached their contract with YOU. The AOP extends this contractual obligation to the repair facility.

With all of THAT being said, here’s the REALITY of the situation. We are most likely never going to use these documents. The power of these documents is the knowledge that they exist. Reaching an agreed repair dollar figure is a negotiation and a negotiation is a battle of wills. You don’t want to enter any “battle” without the proper weapons and knowledge. The AOP and POA are the most powerful weapons the repair facility has available to it. When confronted by a mugger with a knife, just showing the dirty no-good your gun is enough to deter further aggression and typically end an ugly situation and you walk away the victor, not with any illicit gains, but, just with what was rightfully yours to begin with. This is the EXACT same thing we use the AOP and POA for. Simply by brandishing these powerful weapons, the muggers (insurance companies in this case), recognize a losing battle and retreat. No insurance company wants to have their dirty little secrets exposed in court. They know they can’t win because the facts and truth are on our side. The end result is, these couple of signatures you gave me makes me David to the insurance companies Goliath.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Open Letter to Auto Manufacturers: Accept Your Responsibility for Takata Airbag Debacle

Dear Automobile Manufacturers,

As I write this letter, there are over 100 million vehicles on the road with defective Takata airbags. You selected Takata as the supplier for these airbags and you installed them in your vehicles. You then sold them to your dealers, and they sold them to over 100 million drivers.

Many of these airbags were installed more than a decade ago and many more are being installed today even though you know them to be dangerous. The metal inflator which contains an unstable explosive propellant, ammonium nitrate, can detonate too forcefully, causing the metal casing to explode into shrapnel, striking the car’s driver and/or passenger. There have been 10 deaths and over 100 injuries due to this in the United States, and many more worldwide.

Because Takata cannot manufacture safe airbag replacements fast enough, the drivers of your vehicles with unsafe airbags cannot have them replaced. They are faced with the dilemma of renting or buying a safe car or driving the dangerous one. Unfortunately, most can afford only the latter option. Car dealers are telling their customers that the waiting list for a safe airbag can be as long as one year.

As the manufacturer of these dangerous vehicles, you must immediately accept the responsibility for keeping their owners and drivers safe. Why? Because you should have been absolutely certain that the maker of one of the most important safety components on your vehicles, the airbag, was building a safe and reliable product. Your due diligence was clearly insufficient. Investigations have revealed that Takata has been aware of this safety problem for many years and covered up the fact that they were supplying you with millions of dangerously defective airbags every year.

You can point the finger of blame at Takata, and they certainly are guilty. However, Takata has not taken any meaningful actions whatsoever to protect the drivers of your vehicles and it’s highly unlikely that they will; their liability is so massive that they cannot afford to do so. Most industry observers believe that Takata will declare bankruptcy, or have their assets acquired absence any liability.

You must protect the drivers of your vehicles now, and take legal action against Takata to recover whatever you can!

As I write this letter, unsuspecting customers continue to buy the defective used cars you manufactured more than a decade ago. Virtually none of these have had their dangerous Takata airbags replaced. Car dealers are under no requirement to even disclose the fact that that the used cars they are selling contain a potentially lethal airbag. CBS News recently aired an exposé on this by sending mystery shoppers into several car dealerships in several different states. Their investigation revealed that no disclosure was offered to the customers. I mystery shopped twenty-four car dealerships in South Florida. I sent my mystery shopper into four and contacted twenty more by telephone. Twenty-three car dealers misrepresented the car the shoppers were buying as not having a recalled Takata airbag. I verified that the cars did, in fact, have dangerous airbags on the NHTSA website, http://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/owners/SearchSafetyIssues.

This is what you must do immediately to stop the deaths and injuries in the vehicles you manufactured:

(1) Order your car dealers not to sell, or allow to be driven, any of the vehicles you manufactured with an unsafe airbag: new or used.

(2) Provide free loaner cars to all owners and drivers of the cars you built with defective airbags until safe airbags can be installed. Honda is already doing this and all manufacturers should follow their example.

(3) Compensate your dealers as well as independent used car dealers for the financial loss they experience by being unable to sell your unsafe vehicles.

(4) Immediately stop manufacturing vehicles that you know to have unsafe airbags. Although you may anticipate eventually being able to replace the faulty airbags, many of these vehicles will find their way into the used vehicle market and in the driveways of unsuspecting consumers prior to being fixed. Millions of these vehicles will never be fixed and remain on the road for years. CarFax data shows that only one in four recalls are ever fixed.

(5) Lobby federal and state governments to pass laws making it illegal to sell a used or new car with an unsafe airbag. 


Sincerely,



Earl Stewart

Monday, June 20, 2016

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, June 13, 2016

Good People Make Good Car Dealerships

In my columns over the years, I’ve always advocated carefully choosing the car dealership that you buy your vehicle from or allow to service it. I still believe this is important. In fact, I’ve published a list of dealers that I recommend you buy your car from and a list that I recommend you avoid.  You can access that list at www.GoodDealerBadDealerList.com.

We've all visited a restaurant or retail store and had a terrible experience with a waitress, sales person, or other employee and never returned. Yet, we’ll have friends recommending the same place that we swore never to patronize. We condemned an entire company because of one person.

I also wrote a column a couple of years ago in which I suggested that you carefully choose the individual who advises you and sells you service on your car.  These individuals are really commissioned sales people who sell you service just like car sales people sell you cars. Unfortunately most dealerships call them something else like “assistant service manager” or service advisor. As I was rereading this old column, it occurred to me that the same recommendation applies to all companies, not just car dealerships and it applies to all departments in a company.

Whichever car dealership you choose, take the time to pick and choose those individuals you deal with. Car dealerships, just like other organizations, are nothing more than the sum of their parts…their people. You should get to know the person who sells you service and, if you don’t like that individual, ask for another person to handle your service requirements. This requires a little courage because we don’t want to offend the person we originally dealt with. If this makes you uncomfortable, the second best thing is to ask the manager of the dealership to recommend their best person. Tell the manager that you would like to deal with the sales or service person that has the “highest customer satisfaction rating”.

All dealerships and auto manufacturers measure this for their sales and service people. There’s a new customer satisfaction measurement that’s slowly replacing the customer survey method. This is called customer retention. It’s a measure of the percentage of customers that return to a dealership to buy another car or additional service. This trumps customer questionnaires because it cannot be “rigged” by the dealership or sales person. Paying money or giving free gas for good surveys is a common practice with car dealers.

When you buy a car, don’t settle for the first salesman who approaches you. For example, if you’re a woman you may feel more comfortable dealing with another woman. Or, if your native language is Spanish or Creole, you may feel more comfortable with one who can converse with you in your native tongue. Don’t be shy about asking and don’t feel bad about hurting the feelings of the first sales person. An automobile is the 2nd largest purchase most people make and it’s very important that you feel comfortable with the person selling it to you. Furthermore, if after dealing with your sales person for a while, you think you made a bad choice, ask to speak to the sales manager or general manager. Believe me, car dealerships “desperately” want to sell you a car and no sane sales manager is going to lose a sale because a prospective customer doesn’t like or trust the sales person she’s dealing with. He will handle your sale personally or choose another sales person you do feel good about.

Car dealerships have other departments including parts, finance and insurance, accounting, and some have body shops. My same recommendation applies to all departments. A word of caution, when you ask to speak to a manager, be sure he or she really is a manager. Car dealerships are notorious for calling rank and file employees managers to trick the customer.

My purpose in writing this column is in realization of the fact that there are no perfect companies, especially car dealerships and that includes mine. I employ 156 individuals and I would be less than candid if I didn’t say I might have a few “rotten apples” in my barrel. Unfortunately, I don’t know who they are and finding them is a work in progress. The same thing applies to all companies including car dealerships. In my list of recommended dealers, there are some employees of those dealerships who would take advantage of you but most would not. In those dealerships that I recommend you don’t buy your car from, there may be a few honest, courteous employees. Then there are all the dealerships that I don’t put in either category. Your odds of finding the right individual are much better if you patronize a good company or car dealership, but don’t totally let your guard down.

Just stay away from the ones that I recommend you don’t deal with. In every organization there’s a tipping point. A great company reaches a critical mass of good employees and as their reputation grows, more good employees from other companies seek to be employed there. Honest, hardworking, courteous people enjoy working in an environment where others are like them. The same holds true for “evil” dealerships and bad companies (those on my “don’t buy” list). A good person with a conscience has a very difficult time functioning in an environment where, from top management all the way down, the design is to trick and take advantage of customers. These few good people don’t last long in evil dealerships and flee to a place where they can treat their customers in a manner that lets them sleep at night.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Open Letter to Governor Rick Scott

Dear Rick,

Please excuse this public form of communication, but I chose it because my message is urgent and I believe it will get your attention faster than going through the normal, bureaucratic channels.

Florida has no law requiring car dealers to disclose national safety recalls on used cars sold to their customers. This has always been bad, but in light of the unprecedented Takata air-bag inflator recall (currently affecting 75 million vehicles in the U.S. and rising), it should be mandatory for all licensed Florida automobile dealers to fully disclose to their customers when a defective Takata airbag is installed in the vehicle they are selling.

I’ve communicated my position directly to the Florida Automobile Dealers Association, and they are aware of this serious omission in Florida’s laws. Unfortunately, legislative action, as you well know, is always a slow process if it ever happens at all. What is required in this case is an emergency executive action by you, the governor of the state of Florida.

I can assure you  that very few Florida automobile dealers are voluntarily disclosing safety recalls affecting the used cars they sell.  As I write this letter, there are Floridians unknowingly buying cars with defective Takata airbag inflators that could possibly explode on impact, firing metal shrapnel into their bodies. There have already been several deaths across the country attributed to these faulty inflators.

It is a certainty that nearly all car dealers in our state have vehicles in their current inventories with these defective airbags and other safety recalls. I have identified sixteen in my used vehicle inventory that are affected. It’s a simple matter to identify these vehicles by entering the VIN online at the NHTSA website, http://www.nhtsa.gov/Vehicle+Safety/Recalls+&+Defects.

The sad fact is that most dealers don’t check these vehicles for recalls because it takes time to have the recalls performed and “time is money”. Recalls can only be performed by franchised new car dealers of the make that is recalled. Franchised car dealers prioritize recalls for their inventory cars and for their customers’ cars. They are also dealing with long waiting lists of these cars awaiting the requisite parts. With the Takata airbag inflator recall, the wait time is about about a year because of the lack of availability of parts. No car dealer is going to let a used car sit on his or her lot for a year!

Sadly, another reason safety recalls are not being disclosed to customers is fear of loss of profit. As it should, telling a customer that they are buying a used car with a potentially deadly defective airbag reduces the value of that vehicle - especially when the customer learns he or she must drive that car for a year before a safe airbag can be installed. 

Because disclosure negatively impacts the affected vehicles' values, car dealers are caught between a rock and a hard place. If they retail the cars to customers, they have to slash the selling price and if they sell them at the wholesale auction they have the same problem. Florida consumers will also be adversely affected, as car dealers will not be able to offer as much money for trade-ins under this recall since the dealer knows he or she can’t resell it for as much as they could with a safe airbag.

This presents an entirely new and different problem…an economic liability question. Everyone agrees that Takata is largely responsible for the reduction in value of the 75,000,000 vehicles with dangerous airbags. However, Takata is rumored to be on the verge of bankruptcy and/or selling out. This leaves the auto manufacturers with, potentially, all of the liability. The only parties that clearly have no responsibility in this are the owners of these affected cars and the dealers who disclose the defective airbags. Unfortunately, these are the only two parties that currently bear all of the economic loss.

Adding to the urgency of this crisis is the fact that the failure rate of Takata airbags is higher in Florida than most other states because of our high humidity which increases the risk of the airbag accelerant, ammonium nitrate, exploding. Furthermore, many of the cars recalled are older models, dating back to 2004 that have been on the highways for many years, and age is also a contributing factor to risk.

Rick, if you have any questions or comments about this letter, please call me on my personal cell phone, 561-358-1474. If you would like to meet with me, I will fly to Tallahassee on a moment's notice.

Best,

Earl

Monday, May 23, 2016

Car Salespersons' Six Deadly Sins

The internationally renowned research and polling company, J.D. Power, LLC, conducts annual surveys of U.S. car buyers to learn what motivates them to buy from one particular car dealer rather than another. The surveys reveal six most common reasons that car buyers choose not to buy from a car dealer.

Surprisingly 49% of people who buy cars, buy from the first dealership they visit. This is a shocking statistic to me because it means that a lot of car buyers are not getting competitive prices from several dealers. This means that they overpaid for their vehicles. Of the 51% of those car buyers who shopped more than one car dealership before buying, 21% bought the same make car from another dealer than the first one they visited for six reasons. I’ve labeled these “The Six Deadly Sins of Car Salesmen”.

(1) Thou shalt not be rude to thy customer. In schools for sales people, no matter what you’re selling, you’d think this would be full explained. How could a salesman expect to make a sale after insulting the prospective customer? But, apparently it happens often. One of the most common offenses is male chauvinist car salesmen referring to female customers as “honey”, “sweetie pie” or other demeaning terms, and even telling them to go home and come back with their husbands!

(2) Thou shalt not be dishonest with thy customer. Of course this applies only to the salesmen who are “caught’ being dishonest.

(3) Thou shalt be knowledgeable about thy product. Today’s automobile is a highly complex, very sophisticated computerized machine. Buyers look to the sales person for answers to their questions. Buyers rightfully assume that, if the salesman can’t even show them how the navigation system works or tell them what the city gas mileage is, why they should believe he’s right about anything else he has been telling her.

(4) Thou shalt not pressure thy customer. Can you believe that car salesmen still haven’t figured this one out yet? Who likes to be pressured? I often drive by car dealerships and see a half dozen or more sales people gathered together in a “pack”, often smoking cigarettes waiting for their “prey” to drive onto the lot. I wonder how many prospective car buyers just keep on driving after absorbing that fearful scene. Has a car salesman ever said to you, “This price is good only for today? If you wait until tomorrow, the price will go up”? How about, “I won’t give you my best price until you tell me you will buy the car today”? Or, “Shop around with the other dealers and get their prices, come back and see me, and I guarantee I’ll beat their prices”?

(5) Thou shalt not ignore thy customer. My first reaction to this one is how a salesman could afford to ignore anybody that might be thinking about buying a car. The unfortunate answer is that a lot of car salesmen think they can tell just buy a person’s appearance if they can afford to buy a car. Boy is that stupid! I know many wealthy people who dress down because they like the comfort or because they don’t want to be seen as having a lot of money. That person that walks into a car showroom wearing a Tee shirt, flip flops, and jeans may well be able to buy the whole dealership.

(6) Thou shalt quote thy customer a firm price. You may find this hard to believe, but this is true of 95+% of car sales people. In fact, a lot of car dealerships have a firm rule never to give a prospective customer a firm price unless that customer will buy now. A salesman can be fired for giving a customer a firm price and letting that customer leave the dealership. This is “old school” but still common and it’s very insulting to the customer. When I ask other car dealers why they continue this practice, they ask me “why should I give the customer a firm price so that he can go to my competitor and let him beat it by $100?” What these car dealers don’t understand is that this is what the free marketplace is all about…shopping and comparing products and prices so that you can make the best buying decision. If you deny your customer this inherent right, they will not buy from you. If you do give the customer a firm price, you show your trust and often times that customer will return to give you a 2nd chance to meet a better price.

I recommend that you do your homework before you begin car shopping. NEVER BUY FROM THE FIRST DEALER THAT GIVES YOU A PRICE. The single best source of information about reliability, performance and safety on cars is Consumers Report. I also recommend that you use a company named True Car to find out what a good price is for the car you’ve chosen to buy. Go to www.TrueCar.com. Armed with information on what a good price is, you can begin your car shopping. The certified True Car dealers you will find in your market are required by True Car to give you an out-the-door price plus tax, tag, and title (government fees) only. They are contractually bound to include their dealer fees and dealer installed accessories. You don’t have to buy from a True Car dealer to get their price; you may want to buy from another dealer who will meet or beat that price.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Dealer Fee is Illegal if Not Included in the Advertised Price


Daniel Bell, Plaintiff, vs MIAMIMOTORSPORTS, LLC and ZGFINANCIALSERVICES,LLC Defendants 

As all of my regular readers know, I’ve been battling the infamous “dealer fee” in Florida for many years. For my new readers, to bring you up to speed, the dealer fee is a generic term for hidden profit secretly added to the price of a car. Florida is, by far, the worst of all 50 states in taking advantage of car buyers with the dealer fee. There is no cap on the dealer fee as there is in all other states. It’s not uncommon to find dealers charging dealer fees over $2,000. There’s no specific name for the dealer fee, allowing dealers to disguise it as an official government tax or fee. “Electronic Filing Fee” and “Tag Agency Fee” are just two examples.

Dana Manner is a highly qualified and experienced consumer advocate attorney in Miami. He has appeared on my weekly radio show [Earl Stewart on Cars Tuesdays 4-6 PM; www.StreamEarlOnCars.com] three times. Last February he won a judgement against Miami Motor Sports, LLC in Miami for a violation of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act FDUTPA. This dealer added his dealer fee to the advertised price of a car he sold to Daniel Bell. The case was published in the Florida Law Weekly Supplement and it is the first of its kind reported in Florida. A lawyer reading this will understand why publishing this court decision is so important and historic. “Case law” is looked to by judges in deciding a lawsuit and this is the first case law finding for the car buyer against a car dealer for adding the dealer fee to the advertised price. You can read this case law by clicking on www.DealerFeeillegal.com.

The legal decision, Daniel Bell, Plaintiff, vs MIAMIMOTORSPORTS, LLC and ZGFINANCIALSERVICES,LLC Defendants reads as follows:

Consumer law---Florida Deceptive and Unfair ‘Trade Practices Act---Vehicle sale---Dealer committed per se violation of FDUTPA by adding upcharge to advertised cash price of vehicle sold to plaintiff—Dealer and financial service company that is holder of dealer’s written contract are liable to plaintiff for actual damages and attorney’s fees---Where notice sent by financial service company prior to disposition of collateral failed to satisfy Uniform Commercial Code Article 9, plaintiff is entitled to statutory damages equal to finance charge plus 10% of principal amount.

What this court decision means to you, a Florida resident, is that it makes it much easier for you to demand an out-the-door price which includes all dealer fees. If you respond to any advertisement online, TV, radio, or print, the dealer fee or fees should all be included in that price. Dealers “disclose” their dealer fee in the fine print in different ways and some don’t disclose them at all. Some disclose it by saying “price excludes all fees”. This lumps together government fees (tag-tax-title) with the dealer fees, clearly illegal. Other dealers disclosure says “plus dealer fee”, but it doesn’t tell you the amount of the dealer fee, much less include it…thus it’s not legal. Some dealers disclose the amount of their dealer fee in the fine print, but that does not abide by the law which says it must be included in the price. This is not even to mention that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires that anything that increases the advertised price must be “clearly and conspicuously displayed adjacent to that price”.

Perhaps the most common dealer fee deception is advertising just one car at the price which includes the dealer fees. For example, a Ford dealer might have 50 Ford F150 trucks of the exact same year, model, accessories and identical MSRP’s. He advertises this F150, including this disclosure in the fine print…”#A62932”. No one except the dealer knows what that number means; it’s the “stock number” of one of those identical Ford F150 trucks. He “might” sell you that exact truck at the advertised price, but if you buy any one of the other 49 identical trucks, you will have to pay extra for his dealer fees. Typically, when you ask the salesman to see the advertised vehicle, “it’s just been sold” or he “can’t find it”. But, the salesman says, “Not to worry…we have 49 more F150’s that are identical.” Yes, they are identical, but now the dealer can legally add his dealer fee to the advertised price.

Another common dealer fee deception is the multiple dealer fee charges using different names. Remember that the term “dealer fee” is generic. Many dealers don’t call their extra profit charge a dealer fee and, if they do, they often charge other dealer fees by a different name. Electronic filing fee, e-filing fee, doc fee, Dealer Services fee, documentary fee, processing fee, tag agency fee, administrative fee, notary fee, notary and closing fee, dealer prep fee, freight fee, and document processing fee are just a few. Some dealers will include only one of their dealer fees in the advertised price, the one that they named “dealer fee”. They can claim that they abided by the law because they did include their “dealer fee” in the advertised price. But the truth is that their “electronic filing fee” or “tag agency fee” is added to the price and they are also dealer fees under Florida law.

Remember that the powerful thing about Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA) is that it awards attorney’s fee to you if you win the case. Too many consumers hesitate to sue over a relatively small sum like a $999.95 dealer fee on a $40,000 vehicle. They’re afraid that their legal fees will cost them more than the amount they can recover. But under the FDUTPA, you can recover all of your attorney’s fees plus the $999.95 dealer fee. The dealer you’re suing knows this, and he assesses his downside as many thousands of dollars, not just $999.95…plus his own attorney’s fees. Most smart dealers will refund his dealer fee money, his ill-gotten gains, immediately upon receiving the initial demand letter from your attorney. Most attorneys will conference with you to assess your chances of winning at no charge. With a winning case, you pay him nothing and get back the illegally charged dealer fees. It’s a win-win for you and a lose-lose for the car dealer.