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.




Monday, August 02, 2021

Have Your “New Car Cake” And Eat It Too



Regular readers of my column know I recommend that you don’t buy a new or used car until the last quarter of this year unless you must. This is because of the extreme, but temporary, spike in new and used car prices. This record increase in all vehicle prices emanates from the extreme shortage from the microchip shortage with simultaneous extreme demand from the booming economy. Of course, no one anticipated that such a thing would occur because of the global COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve been a cars dealer since 1968 and I never recall a time when most new cars were being sold above sticker, MSRP.

I came up with a solution to this temporary hyper-inflation problem. Simply and succinctly stated, you can buy your new car today, but pay the price that it will sell for after prices drop sharply in October, November, and December. The caveat is that you cannot buy a new car from dealer’s stock and take delivery

today or even soon. You must order your new vehicle from the dealer’s manufacturer. It typically takes 2 to 3 months to receive a custom ordered car. By the time you’ve done your homework selecting the right vehicle, shopping for the best price, and placed your order with the manufacturer, your new vehicle will arrive in the last quarter of this year. The price will be several thousands of dollars lower than you’ll pay today.

You accomplish this by making it part of your new car purchase contract that you pay the best price you can get in October-November-December than the price you’d have to pay today. I caution you that you’ll have to talk to a dealership manager, maybe a general manager or the dealer himself, to finalize this agreement. A salesman is highly unlikely to agree to this because he’s not authorized, and he’s mainly interested in selling a car today from stock at MSRP+ to earn a huge commission.

Yes, you’ll have to wait for your new car, but you’ll get exactly the car you want…model, color, and options. Buying a car from dealer stock today, you’re almost sure to make lots of compromises, not to mention the highest markup you’ll ever pay again on a new car.

How can you be certain that you will pay a very low and fair price in October-November-December? Buy your new car through www.CostcoAuto.com or www.TrueCar.com. I recommend that you use Costco. If you’re not a Costco member, pay the $65 annual membership fee just for the privilege of buying your new car through a Costco approved dealer. Costco dealers are contractually obligated to sell their members cars at a lower price than they sell anybody else that same car. Today, because Costco dealers are selling all their cars at highly inflated prices, the Costco price is still too high, even though it’s lower that all their other prices.

If you plan on trading in your current car, you have a problem because used car prices are also at record high prices. Your trade in value will drop, but not enough to entirely offset the savings on your new car. This is how you can “have your new car cake and eat it too.” Sell your trade-in to the highest bidder today. You’ll get a record high price for your trade. Now you’ll save thousands on buying your new car and almost as much on selling your trade-in…a “twofer”. Be sure to shop your used car with at least three buyers…the dealership you bought your new car from, CarMax, www.WeBuyAnyCar.com, www.Carvana.com, and www.Vroom.com.

You’ll ask, how am I going to get along without my old car for three months? The answer can be carpooling, Uber or Lyft, or doubling up on another car in your family. Renting a car is very expensive today, but you have ask, will the thousand or more dollars I get on my car today vs. three months from now offset my substitute transportation costs?Have Your “New Car Cake”

Monday, July 26, 2021

Everything You’ll Ever Need to Know About How Not to Be Ripped Off by a Car Dealer


If you’re a regular reader of this column and/or a listener to my radio show, thank you very much. Did you know that everything I’ve ever said  for the past 20 years on my radio show and this column is available at www.EarlOnCars.com 


If you go to www.EarlOnCars.com, you can click on links or search for virtually everything we’ve ever explained or discussed on the radio show,  written in newspaper columns, and posted on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.  


These are just a few of the resources you’ll find at www.EarlOnCars.com: 


  • You can listen to podcasts of all our past radio shows. Just click on the Apple Podcast app, TuneIn Radio, Google Podcasts or whatever your favorite podcast app is.  
  • We’ve archived our past mystery shopping Reports. Every week for years we’ve dispatched an undercover, mystery shopper to pretend to buy or lease a car at different car dealerships. We read the report on the air. We name names…car dealerships, salesmen, and sales managers. We vote to “grade” each car dealership on a scale of A to F. Passing dealerships are listed on our “Recommended Dealer List” with their grades and those who get an F are on the “Do Not Buy” list. The proof of our honesty and accuracy is in the fact that WE’VE NEVER BEEN SUED BY ANY CAR DEALER WE’VE MYSTERY SHOPPED since we began mystery shopping weekly 20 years ago. Why? Any lawyer will tell you that the perfect defense against libel and slander is the TRUTH 

  • You can file a formal complaint with government agencies when you click on our link that lists the car dealer complaint contact information for the Attorney General, Department of Motor Vehicles, and Department of Consumer Affairs.  

  • You can Search www.EarlOnCars.com for any subject pertaining to buying, leasing, maintaining or repairing your car. There are lots of article on leasing, financing, negotiating, deceptive advertising, and third-party sources to get the lowest, honest prices on cars.  

  • Contact information (phone numbers, emails, and text numbers for every member of the Earl On Cars team…Nancy Stewart (my co-host), Stu Stewart (my son and mystery shopping spymaster), and Rick Kearney, Certified Diagnostic Master Auto Technician.  

  • Join “Earl’s Vigilantes” or locate a vigilante in your area. We’ve formed a team of volunteers around the country and are recruiting more weekly. If you’re a knowledgeable person on buying, leasing, repairing and maintaining cars and comfortable with online, digital shopping, please sign up. The information application is available at www.EarlOnCars.com. This is particularly important for seniors who are not digitally skilled to shop online.  

Monday, July 12, 2021

Common Hazards of Servicing the Vehicle You Purchased from your Car Dealership


  • You DON’T have to have your car serviced by the selling dealer. But you must have new car warranty work performed by a franchised dealer of the make car you own…it doesn’t have to be the dealer that sold you your car. Your warranty requires that you maintain your car according to your car manufacturer’sowner’s manual. Most car dealers will have an “enhanced” list of recommended maintenance which is designed to enhance their service department’s profits. A good rule of thumb is to ignore any service recommended by your dealer that’s not listed in the manufacturer’s owner manual. You should always keep receipts of all service you have done by whomever maintains your car. It might be necessary to prove to your car’s manufacturer that their recommended maintenance was performed in the event of a warranty claim.
  • Car dealers make a lot more money servicing cars than selling them. AutoNation, the largest new car dealership group in the USA, made over seven times as much money from their service and parts operations than their new car sales last year. The person that greets you in the dealership service drive is a commissioned salesperson even though their nametag might say “Service Advisor” or “Assistant Sales Manager”. The more service this salesman sells you, the more money he makes. The mechanic that works on your car and the service manager are also paid on commission.
  • Most car dealerships charge hidden fees in addition to the service you thought you were paying. These fees are disguised with names that make them look legitimate. Some examples are “Sundry or miscellaneous supplies”, “Hazardous Waste Disposal Fee”, and “Nuts, bolts, screws and other fasteners”. These may, or may not be costs to the service department, but they’re costs of doing business and should have been included in the price quoted to you. Typically, they’re calculated by a percent of the total invoice, usually 10%. These fees are always added at the bottom of your service invoice. There’s a good chance that the service cashier or service manager will remove this bogus charge if you complain. Most people never notice.
  • Car dealers advertise low prices on common maintenance items like oil changes, tire rotations, wheel balances, and tires. They know they must do this to “get you in the door”. Where they make their big money is on major repairs like transmissions, air-conditioners and water pumps. These expensive items are negotiable, and you should always get competitive bids from other service departments.
  • Always get a written estimate for your total charges before signing the repair order. Many states, including Florida, require the repairer to provide a written estimate if asked. In Florida, the repairer cannot exceed that written estimate by more than 10%.
  • In most states, the repairer can hold your car until you pay for your service. The legal term is a “mechanic’s lien”. If you don’t pay your bill, the repairer can sell your car and keep the portion of the proceeds to cover what you owe. A mechanics lien takes precedent over bank’s lien if your car is financed.