My last column, “The Dealer Fee, Bestiality, and Politics” voiced my concern for the success of our efforts to end or better regulate the car dealers’ license to steal, the infamous Dealer Fee. What a difference a day (or two) makes!
On March 25th Daniel Vasquez, consumer reporter for the Ft. Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, wrote a great column about the Dealer Fee and its unfairness to the car buyer. You can read this column by clicking on www.SunSentinel.com and then enter “Daniel Vasquez” in search, and then “Little-understood fees can add to a new car's bottom line.” There was a huge, supportive email response to this column. Mr. Vasquez listed the email addresses and phone numbers for Senator Alex Diaz de la Portilla, the chairman of the Senate Commerce committee [Contact Senate Commerce Committee Chair Alex Diaz de la Portilla at: firstname.lastname@example.org call 850-487-5109 or 305-643-7200.]
On Thursday afternoon, April 3, I was driving my wife, Nancy, to Tampa for some minor surgery on her foot. Just before we arrived I received a call on my cell phone from Patricia Gosney, Senator Diaz de la Portilla’s assistant in Tallahassee. She told me that “somebody had showed the Senator a copy of my article” and she and the Senator were concerned because I had said that I was unable to contact him”. She asked me why I had said that and I explained that I had left several email and voice mail messages for the Senator and he had not returned any of them. Patricia did acknowledge that the Senator does receive “thousands” of emails and that it’s impossible to read all of them [One wonders, since most politicians do get lots of email, why they don’t let it be known that there will be no response or simply see to it that all emails are responded to?]. Patricia also told me that she was sure that I had not called the Tallahassee office. To which I responded that I’d called the Miami office and left unreturned voice mails. She said that she would look into that but she knows nothing about the Miami office. We agreed that from now on I would call Patricia in Tallahassee and she was kind enough to give me her email address which she told me she always responds to.
I asked Patricia to apologize on my behalf to Senator Diaz de la Portilla for expressing doubt about his strong support because of the breakdown of communications between us. Some of my concern was because of a conversation that I had with Senator Ken Pruitt’s Tallahassee assistant, Ann, about a week ago. She told me she would try to get some information on the progress of the Senate bill from the staff of Senator Diaz de la Portilla and when she did not get back to me, I assumed there was no progress. Ann had told me, that because there was no House sponsor of a sister bill, there was no chance of ever getting a law passed this year. Fortunately we now know Ann was mistaken.
The good news is that Patricia assured me that Senator Alex Diaz de la Portilla is solidly behind passing some legislation to better regulate the dealer fee. There is no longer a SB 954, the original shell bill for the Dealer Fee. The Senator has modified an existing bill, SB 2150 to include Dealer Fee regulations. And the really good news is that there is also a simultaneous House bill on this subject, HB 827. If you read my last column, you will know that his was why I was so concerned that there is no way we could get a bill through the legislature this year. Now we have a better chance.
Later that same afternoon, Thursday, April 3, shortly after the call from Patricia, Senator Jeff Atwater called me to assure me of his unswerving support of the anti Dealer Fee legislation. I hadn’t spoken to Senator Atwater in a long time. He explained how busy all of the legislators are and I know how busy Jeff is. I see his commercials on TV all the time. I like the one where he stares sternly at the evil insurance company executives and tells them how he will not stand still for their inhumane treatment of Florida’s insured. In fact, it reminds me a little bit of my TV commercial against the Dealer Fee.
Here is the language that was added to the existing bill, SB 2150 as of Thursday, April 3:
(6) "Advertised price" means the price as expressed in any statements that are transmitted orally, through written material, or through electronic means, or any illustration that is disseminated to the public or affixed to a motor vehicle and that is used in selling a motor vehicle or otherwise used to induce a person to enter into any obligation related to the motor vehicle.
And (a) The advertised price must include all costs, fees, or charges that the customer must pay, excluding, state and local taxes, tag fees, registration fees, and title fees.
And (b) When two or more dealers advertise jointly, with or without participation of the franchisor, the advertised price must include the highest price of the vehicles being offered consistent with paragraph (a), or specify the price for each vehicle, respectively.
And (20) Fail to attach a conspicuous label to the window of a motor vehicle specifying any charge for predelivery services if the motor vehicle under consideration by a prospective purchaser is available for physical inspection by the purchaser. The label must include the following disclosure: "This charge represents costs and profit to the dealer for items such as inspecting, cleaning, and adjusting vehicles and preparing documents related to the sale." This requirement does not apply to the sale of motorcycles.
If you are reading this on my Blog, you can click on www.sb2150c2.html. If you are reading this in Hometown News, paste www.FLSenate.gov in your browser and then enter SB 2150 in the bill search on the left. Then click on “sb2150c2.html”. All of the read words with the lines through them are redacted language from the previous, weaker Dealer Fee law and the green words are new language. The first part of the bill is not about the Dealer Fee. Near the bottom of the bill is where you will find the Dealer Fee changes and additions.
I’m very encouraged by what I read. Even though it’s obvious that there will be no attempt this year to make the dealer fee illegal or, unfortunately, even put a cap on it, these are major improvements. The first big improvement is in defining the word “advertising” [Kind of like…”it depends on what the definition of what the word is, is”] If this bill becomes law, dealers must include their dealer fee in prices quoted to customers by word of mouth, on signage, and on the Internet. That means when you ask a salesman what the price of the car is he would have to quote you the full price, including his dealer fee and only excluding tax and tag.
Also, when several dealers of the same make advertise the same cars in one ad [most commonly sponsored by the manufacturer or distributor], the price must include the “highest price” taking into account each dealer’s Dealer Fee. In other words, if there were seven dealers advertising in one ad with seven different dealer fees ranging from $389 to $999, the price must include $999. In my opinion, this will have the effect of eliminating price advertising of this nature. The dealers won’t like this one bit because it removes the only advantage the dealer fee offers them which is hiding it from the customer.
And the final improvement is the requirement that the each dealer’s dealer fee be posted on the window of the car with a statement that "This charge represents costs and profit to the dealer for items such as inspecting, cleaning, and adjusting vehicles and preparing documents related to the sale." I like the idea that the Dealer Fee must be posted on the window but I don’t like the language that is supposed to be a disclosure. The disclosure should be “This charge represents PROFITS TO THE DEALER”…short and simple…end of conversation! “Costs” reimbursed to a retailer by the customer are PROFITS. Using the word “costs” is a shrewd attempt to disguise what is clearly profit to the dealer and only profit to the dealer. Furthermore, every manufacturer already generously reimburses their dealers for “inspecting, cleaning, and adjusting new vehicles”. Charging the customer for this is “double dipping”. Even if the manufacturer did not reimburse dealers for this, what is the logic of charging a customer separately for a car dealer’s costs of doing business? If a dealer is justified in charging you separately [on top of the price of the car] for washing it first, why shouldn’t he charge you separately for the salesman’s commission, his advertising and why not his phone and light bill?
We need to keep the pressure on our legislators. We are making progress only because of your grass root support, the Florida voters. Nothing matters more to a politician than votes and nothing matters more to the media than what interests their audience. The media is giving strong support to our cause now. This is a Quinella that the politicians cannot ignore…the media teamed with the voter.
Call my NO DEALER FEE HOTLINE, 800 909-9879 and record your opinion against the Dealer Fee. Your recording will be sent to Tallahassee. Keep yourself up to date on our progress by reading my blog, www.EarlStewartOnCars.com. You’ll also find lots of information on www.EarlStewart.com, www.YouTube.com/EarlStewartToyota.com, and on my Saturday morning talk show from 9-10 which you can stream by clicking on www.SeaviewAM960.com. You can read media coverage of our work by clicking on www.EarlStewartToyota.com and then click on “In the News”.