Monday, November 28, 2022

Earl & Nancy Drive AUTONOMOUSLY

    
When Nancy and I got into our Tesla S Plaid last Saturday morning to drive to our weekly radio show, Earl on Cars, there was a message on the large display screen of our Tesla Plaid advising us that Tesla had activated their Full Self Driving Beta 10.69.3.1 on our vehicle. We’d signed up for this beta program when we first bought our Tesla and they monitored the safety of our driving, but we never attained the perfect score of “100” that Tesla required…we were stuck at 99. Fortunately, they relaxed their requirements with their newer software, and we’re now approved for Tesla Full Self Driving (FSD)!
 
We didn’t turn on the Full Self Driving right away. We decided to carefully study the directions. We read the directions and watched the videos from Tesla and other sources. Saturday, in the later afternoon, we decided to “take the plunge” and let our Tesla Plaid (aka “Miss Nancy”, Tesla asks you to name your car) drive us to our car dealership, Earl Stewart Toyota, in North Palm Beach from our home in Jupiter, about 10 miles away. From our dealership, “Miss Nancy” drove us to the Publix supermarket in Tequesta, FL, about 12 miles. After that, Miss Nancy took us back to our home in Jupiter, FL. The traffic was heavy on Saturday afternoon, which you’d expect in South Florida on Thanksgiving weekend. Yesterday, Sunday, Miss Nancy took us to the Promenade Shopping Center in Palm Beach Gardens from our home, about 15 miles. From there she drove us home. Later, she drove us to a restaurant named Spotos in Palm Beach Cardens, FL, about 15 miles and back home again. The traffic on Sunday was also quite heavy.
 
So, how did we feel about sitting in a car and having the car drive us around for a hundred miles over two days in heavy traffic? Our emotions ranged all over the human spectrum of feelings…exhilaration, fear, anger, disappointment, satisfaction, confusion, frustration, and happiness. Nancy and I took turns sitting in the "driver’s" seat. The duty of this person is to tell “Miss Nancy” where to drive us, “Take us to Publix in Tequesta, Florida”, click on the blue FSD (Full Self Driving) icon, and then remain alert with both hands on the steering wheel (shaped like a yoke on the Tesla Plaid) and, most importantly, be prepared to immediately disengage the self-driving mode in case of a failure. This is done by stepping on the brake or turning the steering wheel.
 
We learned quickly that Tesla’s Full Self Driving hasn’t been perfected. Here are a few of the glitches that we’ve observed in 2 days of autonomous driving: (1) The navigation system got the address for Earl Stewart Toyota wrong and tried to drive us to Lake Worth, FL instead of North Palm Beach. I had to disengage FSD and program in the correct address. (2) FSD got “Miss Nancy” stuck in the far-right lane at a stoplight intersection with her left turn signal on. The traffic was heavy and there was no way she would ever have safely crossed over 3 lanes to make a left turn. Again, I had to disengage the FSD and manually drive to a safe location for “Miss Nancy” to take over again. (3) We all know we’re supposed to “slow down” when there’s a yellow caution light, like those out-front of fire stations. We also know that most people ignore these. “Miss Nancy” doesn’t ignore caution lights and slows down considerably. This caused us to be almost hit from behind by a speeder, following too close, who doesn’t slow down for caution lights. (4) When “Miss Nancy” must pull out into several lanes of busy traffic from a side street, she makes many, rapid partial turns in the steering wheel/yoke before and during the drive out of the side street. I’m guessing that this is necessary to fine tune the exact millisecond to accelerate out into heavy traffic. The problem with this for the passenger in the driver’s seat is that she or he must keep both hands on the steering wheel/yoke (If Tesla detects you don’t; your self-driving privileges are revoked). When the FSD turns the wheel/yoke quickly, it also turns if forcibly…such that it’s hard to hold onto; also, if you hold on so tight as to impede the turn, FSD disengages, and the car just sits there, maybe in the middle of the street! (5) Heavy road construction with lots of cones and blocked or rerouted lanes confuse “Miss Nancy”. There’s an area like this near our home and it confuses me and Nancy and also “Miss Nancy”. Yesterday, “Miss Nancy” put us in the wrong lane in this construction area and, again, I had to disengage FSD.
 
You might be thinking, “how in the world can you and Nancy even “think about” using the FSD autonomous feature again!’ As we learn these things about “Miss Nancy” we’re able to correct and accommodate her and not be shocked, stunned, and surprised. Also, I believe that “Miss Nancy” is learning more about us through AI, artificial intelligence. We’ve noticed that since the first caution light incident when we were almost rear-ended, she hasn’t braked as much at caution lights. Computers with AI, learn from their mistakes (I wish we could say that about all humans).
 
In summary, Nancy and I are very happy with our full self-driving Tesla Plaid. We’re lucky and privileged to experience this amazing technology. I’ll be 82 next month and Nancy will be 80. We can now feel fairly confident that we’ll be driving in our own personal cars for as long as we live. Fifteen years ago, I wrote a blog entitled, Don’t Take Away Grandma and Grandpa’s Freedom Machine. This is the link to that column http://oncars.blogspot.com/search?q=freedom+machine. This article discusses how important a person’s automobile is to her or him, especially in states like Florida where mass transportation is quite limited. As an automobile dealer for 54 years, I’ve talked with lots of families faced with taking away their mother or father’s car because they felt they were too old to drive. It always brought tears to my eyes. Now thanks to the amazing worldwide knowledge explosion and tech revolution, no one will lose their personal transportation due to age or incapacity.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Earl’s Pocket Guide To Buying or Leasing a Car

 


(1) Choose the right vehicle for you, utilizing Consumer Reports, the most reliable, accurate, and totally unbiased source of auto quality, reliability, safety, and value.

(2) Shop ONLINE for the lowest, honest price. Communication by phone and text are also useful. The lowest, honest price (aka out-the-door price) is the amount you can write your check for, present it to the dealer, and drive your car home. DO NOT VISIT A DEALERSHIP for any reason other than test driving the vehicle you have decided to buy or to pick up and pay for the vehicle you’ve chosen. When you physically enter a car dealership, you relinquish your control to the car salesman. You’re playing on his home turf, playing all by yourself against him and his highly trained, team.

(3) Shop as many dealerships as you can. Shopping online allows you the time to get the lowest price from, literally, dozens of dealerships, instead of maybe 3 or 4 if you had to physically visit each one. THE MORE PRICES YOU GET, THE LOWER THE PRICE YOU WILL PAY.

(4) BEWARE OF THIRD-PARTY AUTO BUYING SOURCES, like Car Guru, Auto Trader, and Cars.com. These three, and most others, allow their dealers to add thousands of dollars in hidden fees to the prices they post. Three exceptions are Costco, TrueCar, and Consumer Reports.

(5) If you finance your purchase, arrange that directly with your bank or credit union, preferably your credit union. If the company you work for doesn’t have a credit union, there are numerous credit unions you can join, independent of where you work.

Monday, November 07, 2022

Florida Car Dealers Rejoice! Ashley Moody Reelected Fla A.G. in Landslide!


For the record, I know election day is (was) Tuesday, November 8, 2022, but I’m writing this article the day before. You can verify this by clicking on www.EarlOnCars.com, my blog, and verify it was written on November 7, 2022. No, I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do know that money wins elections, and the Florida Auto Dealers Association (FADA), and their members gave Ashley, ALL THE MONEY!
 
Last week Jeff Weinsier, investigative reporter for WPLG, TV Channel 10, Ft. Lauderdale/Miami called me to “brag” that he’d FINALLY “corralled” Ashley Moody for an interview. She’d been deliberately avoiding him for months because she knew of his investigation exposing fraud by many South Florida car dealers and even some auto manufacturer leasing subsidiaries. These dealers and manufacturers were violating the 1976 Consumer Leasing Actwhich requires lessors to honor the lessee’s option to purchase their lease car at a predetermined price upon the expiration of the lease. (In all fairness to Ashley, she was only one year old when the 1976 Consumer Leasing Act was passed.)

Jeff told me that he was able to “slip up on her” while she was campaigning In Broward and Dade counties last week. When he asked her why she’d done NOTHING in her entire 4-year term as Florida AG to reign in rowdy car dealers preying on Florida car buyers, she said that she had an just begun an investigation, but couldn’t comment while the cases were under investigation. Shortly after their brief interview, WPLG investigative reporter, Jeff Weinsier, was verbally accosted by Ashely Moody’s press agent… How dare he accuse the Attorney General of being “soft” on car dealers breaking the law!

With midterm election propaganda peaking today, Monday, October 7, I don’t need to explain to you how many misleading, manipulative political advertisements have flooded the airwaves and cyberspace this year. Virtually none of them is honest, on either side of the political aisle. I dare you to show me one political ad from a Democrat or a Republican than can stand up to a fact check. It’s almost childish in the way political ads pander to voters’ lack of knowledge and prejudices. To me the most obvious is politicians always featuring ugly, stupid, and mean looking photographs of their opponents in their own political ads.
 
Did you know that the Federal Trade Commission, FTC, regulates COMMERCIAL advertisements, but it does NOT regulate political ads? The FTC does not regulate political ads, and spin in a political ad does fall under the First Amendment. Simply put, truth in advertising laws don’t apply to political ads, and bending the truth is protected by free speech.
 
You’ve probably heard the quote attributed to the infamous Nazi propagandist, Joseph Goebbels, “Repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.” I can see how this can be true, especially if our law protects lies by politicians under our Constitution’s freedom of speech. The final “nail in the coffin of truth” is our laws also permitting unlimited spending on political campaigns. It’s a fact that the candidate with the most money contributed to her campaign wins. Jeff Weinsier discovered that 81 Florida car dealers gave Ashley Moody $161,000 and this is just “the tip of the iceberg”. That doesn’t include contributions by family members of car dealers or PAC’s (political action committees) contributions by dealer national, state, and local associations…NADA, FADA, SFADTA, Tampa Dealer Association, Jacksonville Dealer Association, etc. etc.
 
Sadly, the bottom line is that Ashley Moody wouldn’t have been elected without the financial support of Florida car dealers and you don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
 
Ashley, Florida car buyers and I are begging you to “make a liar out of me”.

Monday, October 31, 2022

Is it Safe to Go Car Shopping Again?


To be clear, it’s never been safe to shop for, much less buy, a new or used car from a car dealer. The title to this article should read “Is it Safer again to go car shopping”. For nearly the last three years it’s been the worst, most dangerous market EVER for car buyers. With the advent of the Covid pandemic, the Ukraine war, supply chain shortages, severe inflation, and high interest rates, new and used car prices soared to all-time highs. Auto manufacturers and dealers are getting rich and auto buyers are getting “screwed”. 

As the saying goes, all good (and bad) things come to an end. It looks like the trend line is inclined toward things getting better for the buyers and worse for the sellers. New cars selling for thousands of dollars above MSRP, and used cars selling for higher prices than new is at an inflection point, trending downward. New car inventories are higher today than they’ve been in over two years. This isn’t only because the supply chain shortage has improved, but because buyers began balking at stupidly high prices, like tens of thousands above MSRP. 

A high inventory is something the car dealers haven’t seen in over 2 years and is “the kiss of death” to dealer profitability in a down-turning market. The biggest danger to dealers who don’t sell their cars fast enough is losing their share of the auto production from their manufacturer. The expression in the auto industry is “turn and earn”. This means that the faster a car dealer sells his cars, the faster the manufacturer ships them to his dealership. Car dealers are insanely competitive amongst the same-make dealers in their market. If there are 4 Toyota dealers in the same market, they don’t each get 25% of the cars that Toyota builds each month; they get the percentage they’ve earned based on how fast they’ve historically sold cars. The single largest dealer in each marketplace with 4 dealers can sell 50% of all the cars each month if he sells them a lot faster than the other 3 dealers. Of course, this translates into higher profits for that dealer and earnings for the salesmen. 

The cost of a high car inventory is also a negative factor for car dealers. Almost all dealers finance their new (and sometimes used) car inventories. Interest rates have recently soared. Insurance, incidental lot damage, and inventory maintenance are also cost factors to consider.
So, what do car dealers do who see their inventories growing so large as to cost them earned production from their manufacturer as well as higher interest and other costs? They must sell cars at a faster rate which translates into lower prices to attract customers from their competitors in their marketplace. A Ford dealer’s main competitors are the other Ford dealers in his market…not the Chevy, Honda, and other makes. The Ford manufacturer, of course, looks at it exactly the opposite. “Ford Inc.” doesn’t care which Ford dealers sells their cars, but they do reward the one that sells them fastest at lowest prices with more cars than they ship to the other Ford dealerships in the market.

The payoff for you, the car buyer, is higher inventories translate into lower prices. This doesn’t mean you rush out and buy a car today; it does mean that you can start the car buying processtoday. This includes carefully researching the best car for you (Consumer Reports is the best source of information). Begin the search for the car you’ve selected and determine which dealers have the largest inventories on their lots. I’m alerting you to the sad fact that most dealers and manufacturers are deliberately exaggerating on dealers’ websites, the true number of cars that are on the ground at the dealerships. Sadly, the only way to be sure is to visually confirm the inventory level by visiting the dealership. You can try to call and confirm first but seeing is believing. 

You should get several prices from different dealers and consider using www.CostcoAuto.com, www.TrueCar.com, and Consumer Reports car prices, build-buy service.
Finally, I’m not suggesting you buy a car today or even next month. I’m suggesting you begin the process. After you’ve done your due diligence, you can be your own judge on the price. Good luck on “going back into the “car-buying water”.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Should You Buy a New Car Today?

How much over MSRP will you pay?


I saw a friend of mine on the beach this morning, and he asked my wife, Nancy, and me if he should buy a used car that our dealership had for sale. At first, I said that I don’t recommend that anybody buy a used or new car today, unless they must, because prices are beginning to come down and inventory selections are rising quickly.
 
He asked me, nervously, why my price on this used Prius Prime (rechargeable hybrid) was higher than my price for a new Prius Prime. I told him that I have no Prius Primes in inventory and the waiting list for them is about ONE YEAR. He looked at me aghast, and I hurriedly explained why. That is, I’ve always had a policy of never charging above MSRP for a new vehicle. This was rarely an issue in the “pre-Covid” era. High demand, exceeding low supply rarely occurs in the new car business. Chevy dealers sell Corvettes way over MSRP, and Toyota dealers sold Supras way over manufacturer’s suggested retail, but this is rare.
 
I went on to explain that the Covid pandemic, microchip and other parts shortages, the war in Ukraine, high inflation, and high interest rates, have changed auto retailing and manufacturing into “Bizarro World”. The used Prius Prime on my used car lot was priced higher than a new Prius Prime because I have no new Prius Primes and Toyota can’t build and send me one for about a year. When I traded in the used one, I had to allow the buyer of the new Toyota a very high trade-in allowance because low supply and high demand for used car prices has soared. With my markup, the final retail asking price is higher than MSRP (my maximum price) for a new Prius Prime.
 
I’ve been a car dealer since 1968 owning several franchised dealerships. This is the first time that I’ve ever literally had zero new vehicles in my inventory. Every new vehicle I sell and deliver, 200-300 monthly, was ordered months ago after my customers placed their orders. This month I’ll deliver about 250 new Toyotas to customers that ordered their car up to one-year ago. The average wait is about 5 months. These cars come in daily on trucks, carrying about eight cars each, and are washed and prepped for delivery in a day or two.
 
Why would anyone wait up to a year for new Toyota? It’s because I’m the only Toyota dealership in the USA, as far as I know, that caps his out-the-door price at MSRP, the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. I charge no hidden fees. The only extra charges over MSRP are Florida sales tax and the license plate. All other dealers, Toyota, and every other make, are charging thousands of dollars above MSRP as well as adding hidden dealer fees on top of that!

You might be wondering why anyone would buy a new Toyota from any dealership except mine. The reasons are (1) I’m only one of about 2,000 Toyota dealerships in the USA and most people don’t know I’m selling for thousands less. (2) Most new Toyota buyers either can’t or won’t wait months to take delivery of their new vehicle. If you want something bad enough, many people (who can afford to) are willing to pay up to have the instant gratification. (3) The less educated, sophisticated buyers often are unaware of that they’ve paid thousands over MSRP.

The red flag to any car buyer of any make should be the number of new vehicles a particular dealer has in inventory, sitting unsold on his lot. The larger the inventory a new car dealer has, the higher his prices. They should have taught you in Economics 101 that sellers pricing their products too high, will have much larger inventories than those that don’t.

Monday, October 10, 2022

How to Avoid Buying a Flood Car After the Hurricane Ian Disaster


As I write this column, the terrible toll of human injuries, lives lost, and homes and vehicles damaged and destroyed by hurricane Ian are still being tabulated. It’s clear that Ian will go down in history as the costliest hurricane in Florida’s history.
 
We think of hurricanes’ danger as being mainly the high winds, up to 145 mph in Ian’s case. But the real culprit is the flooding. In Ian’s case, on the west coast of Florida, the storm surge raised the sea level high enough to put much of southwest Florida’s coastline underwater. Thousands and thousands of vehicles were immersed in varying depths of water for hours or days.
 
When an insurance company “total’s” a car because of flood damage, the car isn’t scraped; it’s sold by the insurance company for pennies on the dollar. Those who purchase these “totaled cars” resell them, usually to car dealers. Guess who the car dealers sell them to; they sell them to you if they can get away with it.
Even when there aren’t storms, hurricanes, or floods, cars are flooded, totaled, and resold every day. Heavy rains creating deep puddles and running off roads into canals happens often. It’s “buyer beware” anytime you buy a used car, but with hurricane Ian, the danger of buying a flood car has increased astronomically.
 
You’d think that consumers would be protected from accidentally buying a car that had been underwater and totaled by the insurance company, but that’s not so. All 50 states in the USA have varying rules on titling cars that have been damaged or flooded. The used car buyers and sellers of flood cars know which states they can get phony titles to hide the fact that the car they’re selling you was previously “underwater”. Flood cars bought in Florida can get “clean” titles in Mississippi, New Jersey, and other states.

As you probably know, since the advent of Covid, new and used car prices have soared. Just recently used car prices have begun to come down slightly, but hurricane Ian will certainly reverse that trend, at least in Florida and other states impacted by Ian. Regular readers of my column know that I advise not to buy a new or used cars at the present time unless you absolutely must. Sadly, many victims of Hurricane Ian will have to buy a car.
 
There’s a very good reason that insurance companies total flood cars. A car that has been in water as high as the dashboard is just as worthless as a car that’s been totaled in a head-on crash. The only difference is a crashed car is obvious and many can be repaired. A flood car can be made to look “as good as new” and is far from obviously being worthless. Today’s high-tech cars are particularly vulnerable to water permeation. All vehicles today are more computerized and electronic than they are mechanical. A modern car that’s been immersed in water for only a short time might run fine for a few months or longer, but eventually the water inside its computerized and electronic parts will fail.
 
The unscrupulous sellers of flood cars are masters of disguise. They can make a flood car look, smell, feel, and even drive (for a while) like a perfectly good car. In fact, one of the things an investigator of a possible flood car looks for is that the car is too nice and clean. The serious damage to a flood car, inside the computer and electronic modules, is completely invisible.
 
If you must buy a used car today, take it to a qualified auto technician that you can trust. Ask him how much he’ll charge to examine the car you’re thinking of buying and tell you whether the car has been underwater. A fair price for this is between $200 to $250 and will be the best $200-$250 you ever spent.

Monday, September 26, 2022

A Salute to WPLG TV South Florida & Investigative Reporter, Jeff Weinsier


www.SoFlaCarDealerFraudExposed.com

Regular readers of my column know that I often blame Florida’s regulators, like our Attorney General, Ashley Moody, and our Florida legislature/lawmakers for allowing the rampant and obvious deceptive, unethical, and often illegal advertising and sales practices of most car dealers. I’m probably remiss in not pointing to the media. How often have you seen a news story on TV, read an article in the newspaper, or heard one on the radio about a local car dealer doing anything wrong?

We know the reason our politicians and regulators give bad car dealer behavior a pass. It’s called “follow the money”. A politician can’t get elected without the support/money from car dealers, their associations, and their PACs, Political Action Committees. “Money, the root of all evil” is also why the media looks the other way to car dealer bad behavior, especially the localmedia. You can understand this by noticing the number of car dealer and auto manufacturer ads you see and hear daily, maybe even more than attorney ads. Without this major source of advertising revenue, most TV, radio stations, and newspapers would have a difficult time surviving.
 
The link at the beginning of this article is the second one in, what I hope will be, a series of news stories about South Florida’s car dealers and their unprecedented bad behavior. No other state in America equals the extremely deceptive advertising and sales practices of Florida dealers, especially South Florida. Most car dealers in all 50 states leave a lot to be desired in the way they treat customers. I cite the Gallup annual poll on Honesty and Ethics in Professions to prove my statement.
 
When WPLG investigative reporter, Jeff Weinsier, interviewed me several weeks ago about car dealers’ bad behavior regarding leasing customers exercising their option to purchase their leased car, I told him this. “I’ve been interviewed many times by local TV, radio, and newspapers and their editors always reject the stories that speak badly of local car dealerships. In fact, I cited a case with WPLG a few years ago. Their investigative reporter, preceding Jeff Weinsier, spent almost two days with me. She attended a speaking engagement I made at a Rotary Club and spent the day at my car dealership in North Palm Beach. Her editor pulled her story because it negatively reflected on South Florida car dealerships, one of WPLG’s major sources of adverting dollars.
 
You’ve heard the term “The Fourth Estate”, meaning the press. America’s free press is as equally important as our government…the Congress, Senate, and the Executive branch. Journalism is supposed to be among the noblest of professions. They’re certainly among the most powerful because out constitution protects them from our government! No other country allows their press to say and write anything they like. But we are a capitalist society and money is the Achilles heel of the American free press. Even I find it hard to argue against a newspaper or TV stations right to choose financial survival above journalistic ethics.
 
So, I applaud WPLG, channel 10, and Jeff Weinsier for nobly going forth to tell the truth about South Florida car dealers. Their effort will certainly cost them a large amount in car dealer advertising revenue. When you tell the truth and aren’t afraid to face severe consequences, you’re displaying the courage that gave America’s free press the reputation of the best on the Planet.
 
If other media were to follow their lead, it would have a huge positive impact on buying or leasing your next vehicle. If you didn’t already know, you would be forewarned about what to expect in the car dealership. But, even more importantly, our politicians and regulators would change their “hear no evil, see no evil, do no evil” policy to car dealers. Why? Because you and all consumers are mostly also voters. When Jeff Weinsier and WPLG had the courage to shout, “The Emperor has no clothes”, this becomes an opportunity to garner more votes by giving the voters what they demand…honesty and ethics with Florida car dealers.