Monday, September 25, 2023


How long will it take to get the year-make-model car I want?

Answer: The length of time it takes is inversely proportional to the price you're willing to pay and how particular you are about the color and accessories. This has always been true, but it's more pronounced today due to the scarcity of higher demand cars. A clue is that if a dealer has none, or very few, cars with the year, make, model, and accessories you want, the price, including junk fees, addendums, and dealer-installed accessories, will be significantly above the MSRP. Some manufacturers are building inventories, but the top-selling vehicles are still in short supply. Cars are less expensive now than they were a year ago and are likely to be cheaper next year.

Should I lease or buy?

Answer: My rule of thumb is to buy, though there are exceptions. I advocate buying because leasing typically costs more. Leasing can be more complicated than buying, and complex transactions often favor the seller. Leasing involves numerous variables like lease factor, residual value, inception fee, termination fee, capitalized cost, lease term, and purchase option price. Dealers can exploit any of these to increase their profit, often without the buyer realizing. In contrast, when you buy a car, the primary variable is the price. Once you ascertain the true out-the-door price, you can compare and opt for the best deal. Electric vehicles are an exception. Those that qualify for the government's investment tax credits can be cheaper to lease.

Should I buy a combustion engine, hybrid, or EV vehicle?

Answer: I'd recommend a hybrid. Hybrid technology is mature, efficient, and reliable. Toyota introduced the Prius, the pioneering hybrid, in December 1997. Other manufacturers eventually adopted the technology, leading to increased production and reduced prices. Unless I had a strong preference for a combustion-only vehicle, I'd opt for the hybrid. It may cost more upfront, but the operational costs are lower, and the performance is often better.

Should I buy an extended service contract (warranty)?

Answer: Generally, no. From a cost/benefit perspective, it often doesn't add up. If you pick a reliable car, the maintenance and repair costs are relatively low by historical standards. If you're concerned about a potential expensive repair, instead of buying an extended warranty ($1,000-$3,000+), consider investing that sum in bonds or equities. It's likely you'll use little to none of that investment for car repairs. If you feel the need for an extended warranty, review what's covered and, crucially, what isn't. REMEMBER, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A TRUE BUMPER-TO-BUMPER WARRANTY.

Should I finance my car or pay cash?

Answer: There's no definitive answer. But if you opt to finance, AVOID FINANCING THROUGH THE DEALER. Dealers often earn more from financing than from car sales. Secure a loan through your bank or credit union. The exception is if a car manufacturer offers special low rates as an alternative to a cash discount; you'll have to choose one. Another strategy: during negotiations, don't disclose to the dealer your intention to pay cash. Instead, imply you're considering dealer financing; this may help you secure a better deal, as the dealer might anticipate more profit through the financing.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Open Letter to Florida Attorneys That Represent Aggrieved Auto Buyers

Dear Ms. or Mr. Attorney,

First, allow me to commend you for representing one of the most unprotected groups of consumers in Florida. While buyers of insurance, real estate, food, pharmaceuticals, and almost any other product enjoy considerable protection from attorneys and local, state, and federal agencies, automobile buyers often find themselves without such safeguards. There are myriad reasons for this oversight: a dearth of government agencies, politicians, and attorneys ready to counter car dealers who flagrantly use bait-and-switch advertising tactics and partake in unfair and deceptive trade practices.

It's no secret that Florida is home to a vast number of lawyers. A simple Google search reveals that over 107,000 individuals are members of the Florida Bar. However, few among them are willing to challenge car dealers who exploit their customers. Alarmingly, there’s scarcely a mention of this concern by media outlets, the office of Attorney General Ashley Moody, or politicians ranging from Governor DeSantis down to local representatives. The disproportionate influence of the Big Auto lobby, which operates with significant clout yet remains less conspicuous than groups like the NRA or Big Insurance, is a likely culprit. Their ability to "fly under the radar" makes them even more formidable.

For over two decades, I've authored blog posts, penned newspaper columns, and hosted a weekly radio segment on "Earl on Cars" at True Oldie stations every Saturday from 8-10 am EST. Each week, an undercover "mystery shopper" visits various Florida car dealerships on my behalf. Posing as a prospective buyer, this agent then reports their findings on my live talk show, where I openly share the names of the salespeople, managers, and dealerships involved. My ethos is to "tell it like it is." Whenever a state or federal law has been violated, I don't hesitate to mention it. Regrettably, in approximately half of these numerous mystery shops, a law has been breached. Even more disconcertingly, around 90% of these visits uncover unethical, unfair, and deceptive behavior in both dealer actions and advertisements. As a legal professional, you might find this revelation intriguing: despite my candid exposés of car dealers on live radio, I’ve yet to face a lawsuit. I've certainly received threats, but as you well know, the truth stands as an impeccable defense against accusations of libel and slander.

Every week, distressed car buyers share their experiences on my show, narrating tales of exploitation at the hands of Florida dealers. Often, when I inquire if they’ve sought legal counsel, they express the challenges of finding an attorney to champion their cause. This is the impetus behind my letter. If you're willing to address the grievances of car buyers who reach out to me, please get in touch. I promise to connect you with numerous aggrieved individuals and feature your contact details on You can reach me directly at 561-358-1474.

Warm regards,

Earl Stewart

Monday, August 21, 2023

TrueCar to Aid New Car Purchase - Endorsed by Consumers Report


TrueCar to Aid New Car Purchase

Endorsed by Consumers Report

My last column informed you that it’s time that you can consider buying a new car and paying less than MSRP out-the-door with only government fee added (sales tax and license plate). True Car is a good source to aid you in finding a fair price. New car prices will continue to slowly go down as supply catches us with demand. If you can wait, prices will be better in the following months, but they are much lower today than a year ago. 

I’ve been an advocate of using TrueCar, for many years and was a member of their dealer advisor board about ten years ago. One of the major reasons I have faith in TrueCar is that they are endorsed by Consumers Report, the source of product information that I rank higher than any other. CR is a nonprofit company deriving all of their revenue from contributions and subscriptions. They accept no advertising from any company including auto manufacturers and dealers. 

Once you’ve decided upon the exact year-make-model and MSRP, go to and sign up as a member. Use a fictitious name and phone number and sign up for a free email address on Google MS Outlook, or Yahoo. If you give TrueCar your real information, you’ll be deluged with car salesmen calling, texting, and emailing you. 

When you give TrueCar your zip code, use your real one because they will give you dealer quotes within any mileage radius of your zip code you designate. Be forewarned that the dealers will add junk fees and dealer installed accessories, but they must give you their bottom line, out-the-door, price plus government fees only. This is state sales tax and license plate registration. You will receive as many car dealer quotes as you decide you want to see, based on the radius from your zip code. 

When you’ve chosen the dealer with the lowest price, contact him by email and confirm the price and the availability of the specific vehicle. You will have that vehicle’s VIN in the information from TrueCar. You should be dealing with the TrueCar salesperson designated by TrueCar for that dealership. I recommend that you tell the dealer representative that you will be bringing him a check for payment in full based on the TrueCar stated out-the-door price and expect to drive your new vehicle home.

If you encounter any problems with respect to the price or a specific car being unavailable, call TrueCar immediately and describe the issue. They will force the dealer to honor their contractual agreement with TrueCar or cancel that dealer as a certified TrueCar dealer. 

Monday, August 14, 2023

It Might be Time to Buy a New Car

It Might be Time to Buy a New Car 

Some Auto Manufacturers are Discounting 

You’re a very lucky person if you haven’t bought a new car in the past 3 years; Because, if you did, you paid too much, had to wait too long too to get the car, and weren’t able to precisely buy the car you wanted. Covid and post-Covid have wreaked havoc on the World economy, particularly the price of new cars. Supply is gradually catching up with demand. Manufacturers are building more new cars than they have since 2021, and buyers’ demand is being mitigated by higher interest rates and overall inflation.  

Those manufacturers with more manufacturing capacity are beginning to advertise discounts directly to their retail customers. This is known in the trade as “customer cash”. Manufacturers are also beginning to offer discounts to their dealers, and this is called “dealer cash”. The dealers always prefer dealer cash because that goes directly into their pockets and, most importantly, the retail customer doesn’t know about dealer cash.  

For example, as I write this column, Jeep is offering $4,000 discounts directly to the retail customers on some new Jeep models. The problem is that most Jeep buyers don’t know about this offer and when they buy the Jeep, the Jeep dealer does not tell the buyer about the Jeep manufacturer’s discount. When signing the large amount of paperwork associated with every car purchase, the customer unknowingly signs a document “Assigning all Jeep manufacturer cash rebates to the Jeep dealer”. This way, the Jeep dealer converts your intended $4,000 cash back into $4,000 profit for himself, the Jeep dealer.  

The way not to be taken advantage of is to go directly to the Manufacturer’s website and discover the customer cash discounts yourself before you contact the dealer. Then, shop and compare prices with several Jeep dealers on the Jeep you chose online at Go to the Jeep dealer that gave you the lowest out-the-door price and get a signed vehicle buyer’s order before you disclose that you will be applying for the $4,000 cashback from Jeep, Inc. (Stellantis). Of course, this works with any make new car and the information is available to you online.  

Before you disclose to the salesman and sales manager that you have knowledge of the cashback offer from Jeep, be sure you have a new vehicle buyer’s order filled out, signed by an authorized person in the dealership. You will probably have signed a dealer worksheet before you’re presented with the vehicle buyer’s order. A WORKSHEET IS NOT A LEGAL DOCUMENT. Also, be sure you don’t sign any document assigning your cash rebate back to the dealer. 


Friday, June 30, 2023

“Tesla Full Self-Driving May Do the Wrong Thing at the Worst Time” - Elon Musk

The headline above is a direct quote from Elon Musk regarding the latest software update for my 2021 Tesla Model S Plaid (as seen on Elon’s shirt). The trim level "Plaid" is inspired by the Mel Brooks movie "Spaceballs," symbolizing a speed that's ridiculously fast, even surpassing the previously fastest Tesla S model, named "Ludicrous". The Tesla Plaid is the fastest production vehicle available, capable of accelerating from zero to 60 mph in just 1.9 seconds.

Approximately two years ago, my wife, Nancy, and I purchased the Tesla Model S with the Plaid aupgrade, opting for the Tesla FSD (Full Self-Driving) software package. We knew it was beta software, which indicated it wasn’t fully developed or entirely safe. To activate this beta FSD software, Tesla required us to achieve a safe driving score of 100 for 30 consecutive days. However, after a year, Tesla lowered this threshold to a score of 95, subsequently activating our beta FSD.

We regularly receive software upgrades to improve the self-driving feature. In the past month alone, we’ve received three such updates. Each time, we take our Tesla Model S Plaid out to assess the reliability and safety of the newly enhanced software. The latest software upgrade included the quote that headlines this article: “Tesla Full Self-Driving may do the wrong thing at the worst time”. Unfortunately, this has proven to be accurate. Nancy and I have experienced several “close calls”, such as nearly being rear-ended when our Tesla Model S Plaid FSD abruptly applied the brakes for no apparent reason. This strong language hadn't been used in previous software updates, though we were always reminded that we were dealing with beta software and advised to keep both hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

A recurrent issue is the inability of the cameras, lasers, and radar sensors to accurately detect road lines, traffic signs, construction indicators, and pedestrians’ intentions to cross the street or otherwise. Much of this difficulty can be attributed to poor road maintenance in South Florida. However, I believe our highway infrastructure is suboptimal in nearly all states, with construction signs and orange cones often placed haphazardly by highway workers.

Tesla's rationale for allowing Nancy, myself, and thousands of other Tesla drivers to navigate in a Tesla steered by an incomplete, potentially unsafe autonomous driving system, is the valuable data gathered each time the software narrowly avoids causing an accident. When our Tesla behaves unpredictably, such as stopping abruptly on the highway for no reason, we are obliged to disengage the FSD software immediately. Upon doing so, a message flashes on the display screen, asking, "Why did you have to disengage the FSD?" Frankly, we've been so shaken up by these incidents that we haven't yet reported the software glitches to Elon.

Wall Street has started scrutinizing Tesla Full Self-Driving, and the media have followed suit. This attention could adversely affect Tesla's sales and stock value, explaining the increasingly stern warnings about the autonomous abilities of Teslas within software updates.

Despite these setbacks, I still believe Tesla will soon refine their software to the point that it will outperform the average motorist in terms of driving skill and safety. I am confident that this milestone is less than five years away. But for now, Tesla Full Self-Driving isn't ready for primetime.

Monday, June 26, 2023

Who You Gonna Call?

No, unfortunately, the Ghostbusters can't handle car dealers, but the owner of the dealership, the general manager, and the department heads of their new car sales, used car sales, service, parts, and body shop departments can and usually will.

What's the biggest obstacle and frustration when you've had a problem with any company? You'll agree that it's the inability to communicate with someone who has the authority to make things right. If you've had a problem with Comcast, AT&T, Florida Power & Light, or any other utility company, you know what I mean. These companies and thousands like them force you to call, text, email, or chat with "tech support" or customer service. I can understand why huge international companies feel they must resort to this impersonal, highly time-consuming, and aggravating process. However, car dealerships are local and not too large to have human, empowered decision-makers available to their customers.

The trick is to obtain the necessary phone numbers BEFORE you finalize your vehicle purchase. Prior to signing on the dotted line and giving the dealership your money, you're a very important person in their eyes. After they have your money and you have their car, you're "just another customer". Sure, you can call the main switchboard at the dealership or email and text, but your phone calls might not be returned and emails and texts might be ignored.

The key is to get the personal cell phone number of the person who has the authority to make things right if you have a problem. Ideally, you should ask for the cell phone number of the owner/dealer or the general manager of the dealership. At the very least, don't buy a new car without having the personal cell phone number of the new car sales manager. The same applies to used cars, service, parts, and body shop.

When cell phones first came out, they were rare and expensive. NOBODY would share their cell phone with anyone except close friends and family. Some older folks still erroneously think of cell phones like we used to. Today, cell phones and their usage are inexpensive and have virtually replaced regular phones. Pay phones hardly exist anymore. The only reason anyone would refuse to share their cell phone with you is that they don't want to be bothered.

Companies teach their salespeople this little trick to get the names of prospective customers: "Hello, my name is George Brown, and yours is…?" Notice the long pause after George gives his name. He's smiling, looking into your eyes, and waiting for you to give him your name, which you usually will. The next time you're talking to a car salesman, and before you buy the car, ask to speak to his supervisor or, preferably, the owner or general manager. You can add, "I just wanted to thank him for the wonderful job you did in helping me find the right car." You can bet he'll run off and rush back with the highest-ranking manager he can find. "Mr. Brown, I'd like you to meet the owner of our dealership, Earl Stewart. Mr. Stewart, I’d like to introduce you to George Brown who’s buying this new 2023 RAV-4 Hybrid." Now you say, "Mr. Stewart, it’s a great pleasure to meet you. My cell phone number is 555-555-5555, and yours is...?" (Maintain eye contact, smile, and wait for him to give you his cell phone number. Hopefully, Earl Stewart says, "mine is 561-358-1474." (By the way, that's my real personal cell phone number, which I gladly share with all my customers.)

Please give this technique a try. You'll be much less likely to be stonewalled by your salesman or anybody else in the dealership when they know you have the personal cell phone number of their boss. If you do have a problem and the salesman doesn’t respond, one call to their boss is usually all it takes. One of the reasons my Toyota dealership in North Palm Beach is recognized as #1 in customer satisfaction is that all my employees know all my customers have my personal cell phone number. My employees also know about the six red phones inside our dealership that ring my cell phone 24/7 when any customer picks up the receiver."

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Car Buyers' Guarantee for an Out-theDoor Price

About the only retail product sold in the 21st century for which the buyer is refused an upfront, out-the-door price is the automobile. Car dealers sell their new and used cars and trucks today like horse traders sold horses in the 18th and 19th centuries... haggling. This is time-consuming, frustrating, and only skilled negotiators end up with a fair price.

Below is a legal document that any car buyer can require the car dealer to sign, which requires an out-the-door price guarantee. The dealer will sell the vehicle of the buyer's choice at the stated price plus government fees only. With this legally guaranteed information, you regain your rights as a buyer to shop and compare this dealer's lowest price with other dealers, just like you can when buying a house, a loaf of bread, or a TV set. This is one big reason that Amazon became the world's largest retailer—Jeff Bezos was the first to offer all prices on virtually all products for the shopper to choose from.


Dealership name agrees to sell this vehicle, VIN number/MSRP, for $Out-the-Door Price, which is defined as the total price, excluding government fees (paid to the federal, state, or local government), to Buyer's Name.

It is agreed that there will be no additional charges to the Name of Buyer, including dealer-installed accessories, dealer fees, junk fees, addendum labels, electronic filing fees, document fees, notary fees, tag agency fees, or anything that constitutes reimbursing the dealer for their costs or enhancing their profit.

The above-stated out-the-door price will remain in effect for [Fill in this blank for the number of days] days, during which the dealer will honor this price.

It is further agreed that violation of this agreement will constitute a violation of the Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act, which guarantees that both parties' legal fees will be paid for by the prevailing party.

Signatures: X For the Dealership's Authorized Signatory

Date: _________

X Customer

Date: _________