I just learned last week that Florida State Senator, Ken Pruitt, has called for an investigation of the propriety of fees charge by dealers to car buyers that are not federal, state, or local fees. If you are interested in viewing the information posted on the official state Web site on this subject, click on http://www.flsenate.gov/Publications/2008/Senate/reports/Workprogram/pdf/workprogram.pdf and then click on “Commerce” on the left side of the page. I salute Ken Pruitt for this effort. Senator Pruitt, as you probably know, is the President of the Florida Senate, a very powerful position. You should feel very pleased that our State government has taken the first step toward making the dealer fee illegal in Florida as it is in several other states.
If you are a reader of my weekly column in the Hometown News, a reader of my Blog, http://www.earlstewartoncars.com/, or a listener to my weekly radio show [9 AM every Saturday on Seaview AM 960], you already know all about dealer fees. If not, dealer fees are profit for the car dealer disguised as an official fee. The disguise consists of naming this profit documentary fee, doc fee, dealer prep fee, pre-delivery fee, dealer fee, etc. Some dealers use a combination. These fees vary from as little as $500 to nearly $1,000. In fact, there is no legal limit on the amount of these fees. Theoretically a dealer could charge you $10,000 or more!
I discuss this in a recent television ad you can view at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JeIuFEMgWJs
Florida law currently has some regulation on dealer fees. The amount of the fee must be printed on the buyer’s order, next to the real fees, like sales tax and licenses. Next to the dealer fee must be printed “These charges represent costs and profit to dealer”. This statement is misleading because it says costs and profits. Obviously, when the dealer charges you money to cover some of his expenses, you are increasing his profits. The statement should be, “These charges represent profit for the dealer” period. You know how many pieces of paper are involved in buying a car…lots and lots. A car buyer cannot possibly read every document he signs [unless he is a retired lawyer with nothing but time on his hands]. In my experience, most buyers are not even aware that they paid a dealer fee. It is buried in the morass of legitimate local, state, and federal fees.
Another element of Florida law is that the dealer fee must be included in the price of a specific advertised car. This law is simply being ignored by many car dealers. If you doubt this, just pick up a copy of any local Florida news paper and read the fine print in the car ads. In my local paper, The Palm Beach Post, about half the ads do not include the dealer fee in the price. But, even if it is included, it’s still a “gotcha”. That’s because dealers will advertise just one, or maybe two, cars at that price. That number that you see next to the picture of the car is the stock number of one particular vehicle. You have two chances of buying that particular car…slim and none. In the first place there’s only one or two of these cars and in the second place the salesman is typically paid no commission for selling this car. How can you believe him when he says, “That car has been sold”? If you don’t believe him what is there you can do about it? The salesman will tell you that he can show you one exactly like it. The only problem now is that the dealer can legally add the dealer fee to the advertised price you are expecting because it was not the advertised car. Of course, that’s the whole idea behind the ad.
Another Florida law associated with dealer fees is that the dealer must charge every customer the dealer fee if he charges just one customer. This is a really stupid law that probably was well intended when it was passed. It’s stupid because it provides the dealer with an excuse when the occasional astute car buyer spots the fact that the dealer fee is really only more profit for the dealer and not an official fee. The salesman tells the objecting customer, “I’m sorry but Florida law prohibits us from removing the dealer fee from our invoice”. This is only technically true because the salesman can always decrease the price of the car by the amount of the dealer fee which is perfectly legal. This almost never happens because salesmen are not paid on the profit the dealer realizes from the dealer fee. They typically earn 25% of the profit on the car. If the salesman reduces the price of the car by the amount of the dealer fee, 25% of that amount comes out of his pocket.
Now, I have a confession to make. I know of only one other dealer in South Florida that doesn’t charge a dealer fee…Sawgrass Ford. Since I stopped charging a dealer fee several years ago my business has soared. I’m making less on each car but I’m selling a lot more cars. I have a huge competitive advantage over virtually every car dealer in Florida. My confession is this. I truly have mixed emotions [Like seeing your mother-in-law drive your new Lexus Ls 460 over a cliff] about Ken Pruitt and his Senate Committee succeeding in making dealer fees illegal. On the one hand, I know it’s the right thing to do because the dealer fee is a deceptive sales practice. On the other hand, banning the dealer fee removes a great competitive advantage.