Sunday, March 11, 2007

Car Dealers Exploiting the Elderly

I use the term “car dealer” often in my columns and I want to make it clear that I am not trying to get personal. I could use the terms “car salesman” or “car sales manager”, but the dealer is the boss and I firmly believe the placard Harry Truman had on his desk, “The buck stops here”. The guy that owns the place is responsible for the actions of his employees. Just because he doesn’t know that there are some salesmen or managers taking advantage of his customers, is no excuse.

When I became a senior citizen I truly began to see the world in a different light. I have been a car dealer for over 40 years, but I have seen my own business through the eyes of a senior citizen for only the last few. One thing that has helped this awareness has been my relative new public persona, brought on by my TV commercials. Seeing me on TV (and also reading this column) precipitates a lot of phone calls, emails, and letters from seniors in Palm Beach, Martin, and St. Lucie counties. Some of these are very complimentary. Many of them are also calls for help or advice from those who were taken advantage of when they bought their car.

I get more calls from widows than any other single category. In my dealership last Friday, I was introduced to a widow in her seventies who had come in to buy a car with her nephew. She had never bought a car before. Her husband had always handled this responsibility. He passed away 2 years ago. She was very wise to bring along her nephew to assist her in her first car purchase.

I am learning as I approach 70 that I’m not quite as sharp in some areas as I once was. My memory is not as good and I am not as fast as I used to be. This is not to say that I am not as smart as I was when I was younger. In fact, I’m a lot smarter. There was a great article in the February 16 Wall Street Journal entitled “The Upside of Aging”. It explained how recent scientific studies have proven that even though certain mental abilities like memory and reaction times regress as we age, other more important mental abilities like judgment, empathy, vocabulary, and semantic memory more than offset the negatives. Semantic memory is the recollection of facts and figures from your field of endeavor or hobby and is most robust in seniors. If you would like to read this article, send me your email address or fax number and I will send it to you.

Buying the right car at the right price is no easy task. There are a lot of variables like trade-in allowances, monthly payments, discounts, interest rates, lease or buy, finance or pay cash, and all that I just mentioned has to do only with the cost of the car. What about which is the best make and model for you? This process should take lots of time in the study and preparation but too often purchases are made in just a few hours with little or no preparation.

The reasons why the elderly are so often targeted and exploited by car dealers (and other businesses) are many and complex. For one thing, there are just a lot of elderly people living in Palm Beach, Martin, and St. Lucie Counties. When a reporter asked John Dillinger why he robbed banks, Dillinger replied, “Because that’s where the money is”. Even though most senior citizens are smarter than ever, I believe that we are perceived by many as not being so smart. We are looked upon as easy prey. Also, I think that we pre-baby boomers grew up in a more trusting, family oriented time and we sometimes trust others more than we should.

In summary, if you are a pre-baby boomer like me, take extra precautions before you enter a car dealership. Do your homework carefully. Never, never make a rush decision. Do not buy that car on the same day you come into the dealership. Go home, discuss it with friends and family, and sleep on it. And if you call me, please call me before you buy the car, not after it’s too late.


  1. I do not consider myself elderly...I will be 66 on June 15th. But I have been researching cars for the last three months and have used the Consumer Digest as well as Edmunds, etc. I have narrowed my choice to three cars. The Camry, Sonata, and Accord. I am leaning toward the Camry, but I am so afraid to get soaked by the car dealer ship. I lease all my cars and I am definitely considering driving up to North Palm even though I live in Wellington. You have been in business for a long time and your blog speaks volume about what kind of dealer you are. I retired last June but the school still calls me to sub practically every day. That is why I am in need of a car.I plan on making my move in June. Any good lease deals by then?

  2. Mr Stewart,

    It's a shame that car dealers take advantage of the elderly. My step-grandfather is 82 and just got taken complete advantage of my a car sales agency out in Nevada. The sales people befriended him, he trusted them, talked like they were the greatest people around.
    In his old age he is too trusting, and still believes that if you shake on a deal, the paperwork will show the deal you shook on.

    Let's just say that 5 new cars later, about 12 different trades and, almost $200,000 of money washed in new car sales and trades where they would call him at home and bring cars down to him; we are now trying figure out what has happened in the past 3-4 months, and how much he was ripped off in on trade-ins, etc. As you said the boss of the dealership should know who his salesmen are doing business with, and how much business they are doing with that person.

    I just wanted to say your blog was great, and I'm glad other people realize that car salesmen do take advantage of older citizens.

    ~Upset in California

  3. I made a trade of my boat (estimated price between 8 and 10 thousand). I advertised it on CraigsList and received a reply for a trade for a 1960 Ford Thunderbird. The person brought the car to me and it looked in pretty good shape. The owner said the car had only surface rust, had transmission work, plus lots of other things etc. I have all the emails describing the above. However, I liked the car, registered it and tagged it. The right front wheel pulled to the right so I took it (within 3 days of the trade) to my mechanic to check the brakes and to his horror and mine also - the whole frame and undercarriage were rusted out - very dangerous to drive,fuel tank, brake line and power steering all leak badly. No work could be done and the car is basically worthless. Looks good on the outside - did originally check the underbody but could not see the extensive damage until it was on the lift. The other party refuses to deal with me and I've emailed, called and sent a registered letter which they should receive today. I feel due to my age (68) that I was taken advanatage of and I have lost over $5000 which I understand is a felony in the state of Florida. Please advise if this is something I should get an Atty about. Thanks for any advice you can give me.

  4. I am almost 70 yrs old and I bought and traded several cars until I ended up with this 2014 truck, low miles, very good shape but not what I wanted. As it turns out, I cant sell it because I am upside down, about $14,000.00. Payment is $600 a month and we cant afford it. We live on Social Security and we have talked to everyone and no help. They definitely took advantage of us. Probably be repossessed. Very disgusted.

  5. Dear Anonymous, I'm terribly sorry to hear that you were taken advantage of by a car dealer. If you would give me more details, I might be able to suggest your best course of action. You may email my used car manager, Ted Kabboush, at Give him all of the details on your truck...year, make, model, mileage, date of purchase, options and accessories, condition, color of exterior and interior. He will give you a good estimate of what it's wholesale cash values is.


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