TELL THE FTC: NO MORE CAR DEALER JUNK FEES!
We have until January 8th, 2024 to submit comments to the FTC about proposed rules to BAN CAR DEALER JUNK FEES. Please visit https://www.regulations.gov/document/FTC-2023-0064-0001 to be heard!
Monday, September 29, 2014
Car dealers make more money servicing your car than they do selling you one. The more service they sell you, the more money they make. Today’s automobiles are of far better quality and require far less maintenance than those of 20 years ago. Requiring less maintenance and repairs is a threat to the car dealers’ most profitable department. One way they can overcome this is to simply sell you more service than you really need by convincing you that it’s necessary.
Did you know that virtually every employee in a service department gets a percentage of the total amount of service he sells? The guy that writes up your service order when you drive in is on commission. They are service “salesmen” but they don’t like to be called that. Their title is usually “service advisor” or “assistant service manager”. The mechanic that fixes your car is on commission. The service manager that supervises the mechanic and the service salesman is paid on commission. After the service salesman sells you as much service as he can, the mechanic’s role is to find anything that needs to be fixed on the car that the service salesman or you were unaware of. He then calls the service salesman and tells him about the additional repairs you “need”. I recommend that you stick to what your car’s manufacturer recommends for maintenance in your owner’s manual. When your service salesman tells you what he recommends, be sure that the manufacturer recommends it too. There are some exceptions to this, based on certain local environmental conditions, but very few. Always question any service not recommended by your owner’s manual. When a repair is recommended that you were unaware of, get a second opinion from another service department, especially if it’s an expensive repair.
Now, don’t get me wrong; just because people are paid on commission doesn’t make them dishonest or uncaring. However, if there’s a “rotten apple in the barrel” he will take advantage of a commissioned pay plan to maximize his earnings. There are very few companies with zero “rotten apples”. A good company does its best to ferret out the rotten apples but it’s a constant battle. In fact, there are companies that have more rotten apples than not. When you have a department or company where everybody is on commission, it takes an awfully altruistic manager to fire a top-producer. The more his “rotten apple” sells the more money the supervisor earns. This applies also to the “supervisor’s supervisor, all the way up to the guy that owns the company. The higher up the ladder you go, the harder it is to identify these more passive, unseen rotten apples that “aid and abet” the front-line apples. The head guy usually has what many CEO’s insist on…DENIABILITY. You hear a lot about that in government scandals. The press always wants to know, “Who knew what and when did they know it?” Everybody remembers Watergate where the rotten apples extended from the bottom of the barrel all the way to the top. It took Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein over several years to follow the tracks all the way to the top of the barrel.
More often than not, there are people in all companies that are honest and caring for their customers. The point of this article is that you’re better served to look for that good person than only look for a good company. There is no surefire way to do this, but I can suggest a few methods. Clearly, you’re more likely to find a good service salesman in a company that has a good reputation. You find good companies by personal experience, recommendations by friends, and ratings by various services like Google (most reliable), Yelp, Dealer Rater, and BBB. If you read the reviews, often the individuals are mentioned. If you’ve dealt with this company before, others in that company, like the salesman sold you the car, can refer you to a particularly good service salesman. All manufacturers measure the customer satisfaction index of every service salesman. Insist on seeing these scores and find out how the service salesman ranks among his peers, both in the company and the entire region. Finally, always make an appointment to see that service salesman you’ve chosen. If he’s on vacation or not available for other reasons, wait for your service until he can see you.
Finally, when you find yourself a “good apple” for a service advisor, don’t keep it a secret. Tell all of your friends and tell the service manager and the owner of the dealership. When you do this, you’re doing your friends, the service advisor, the service manager, and the owner a great favor. You’re also spreading the word that treating customers with honesty and compassion is good for business.
Monday, September 22, 2014
(1) Be sure that you buy the right, type, make, and model vehicle for you. The best reference source for this is Consumers Reports magazine also available online. Even if you’re sure that you know the exact vehicle you want, be sure to take it for an extensive test drive…a minimum of a few hours. You may have owned several Chevrolet Impalas over the years and love them. The new model Impala may have some changes that you aren’t happy with. Never, never buy a vehicle, used or new, without driving it first. You would be surprised how many people make this mistake.
(2) Once you have chosen the type, make, and model you want, carefully choose the options and accessories you need. Always try to buy factory installed, rather than dealer installed, options. If you have no choice, be very careful that the dealer installed accessory is one of quality, is necessary and is worth the money you’re being charged. Dealer installed accessories normally have gigantic markups (200%+ is common) and are added to the car for only one reason…to increase the profit on the car you chose to buy. Some examples are nitrogen in tires, “protection packages” including paint sealant, fabric protection, emergency road assistance, etc., window etching, and pin stripes.
(3) Now that you know the exact vehicle you will purchase, you can calculate the exact manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) for that vehicle. Knowing the MSRP allows you to find the biggest discount from MSRP. Be very careful not to let a dealer substitute their retail price for the MSRP. This is a common trick in advertising when they refer to their retail price as “dealer list”, “list”, or “sticker”. Most dealers add “addendum stickers” alongside of the MSRP sticker. This is so they can inflate the markup of the true MSRP and make you believe you’re getting a bigger discount than you really are. The true MSRP is displayed on a federally mandated window sticker called the Monroney Label after Senator Mike Monroney. He spearheaded this law in 1958 to give car buyers a fair basis for comparing prices with several car dealers. If dealer “A” gives you a $500 discount, “B” a $1000 discount, and “C” a $2,000 discount you clearly get the best price from Dealer “C”. As simple as this sounds, car dealers will fight you “tooth and nail” to avoid giving you their best discount from MSRP. This is because this makes it too easy for you to buy the car at the best price.
(4) Rather than arguing with a car dealer about giving you his best price or discount, use the Internet. You can use a car buying service like www.TrueCar.com, Costco Auto Buying program, or simply request a price from several dealers via email. A helpful hint is to use a fictitious name and telephone number so that you’re not “hounded to death” by car salesmen. You can also create a different, free email address using Google G-Mail, MS Outlook, or Yahoo just for this purpose. The Internet is best for getting at least 3 competitive prices because car dealers know that they have just one chance at your business over the Internet. If they refuse to give you a price or give you too high a price they can’t win your business. When you choose what “appears” to be the best discount from MSRP, call the dealership and verify that it’s the “out-the-door” price with only state sales tax and state license and registration fees added. Another word of caution is that dealers often try to hide “dealer fees” by labeling them to sound like government fees related to your license plate and registration fees such as “electronic filing fee”. If the dealer has a dealer fee, doc fee, dealer prep or any other phony fee that is not levied by the local, state, or federal government, add it to the price he quoted you before you choose his price as being the lowest.
(5) Finally, never visit the dealer that you’ve chosen that has the lowest price without having shopped for the lowest finance interest rate with your credit union or bank and the highest price paid for your trade-in. You should check with at least 3 car dealers of the same make that your trade-in is. If you’re driving a Ford, visit the used car departments of at least 3 Ford dealerships. Tell the used car manager you have an “extra” car in the family and you will sell it to the highest bidder. Be sure you make it clear that you do not want to buy another car. Another good place to get a bid on your trade-in is CarMax.
If you carefully follow the 5 steps above, you will not be a victim of a car dealer. In fact you will get a very good price on the vehicle you buy, as well as a low interest rate on your financing and the highest trade-in allowance.
Monday, September 15, 2014
Resale value is the number one consideration that is most often overlooked by car buyers. All cars depreciate in value, but some hold their value a lot better than others. You might save a thousand dollars by choosing to buy one used or new car over another more expensive make and model. But if the make and model that cost $1,000 more, held its value by $2,000 more over the 3 years you owned the car before trading it back in, the “lowest priced car” was really $1,000 more expensive.
There are several ways you can check on how much cars will depreciate. A good one is to check the resale value of that same make of car that is 3 or 4 years old. You can also find this information on the Internet. Kelly Blue Book, for example is www.KBB.com. If you are thinking about buying a new 2014 car of a particular model and make, find out what a 2011 model sells for today. Compare other makes and models.
Maintenance and repair cost are the second biggest factors in measuring the true cost of a car. When a car has a relatively higher depreciation, one of the biggest reasons is probably because it is more prone to break down. Check Consumer Reports or surf the Web to find the projected repair histories of the cars you are comparing. Saving $1,000 on a particular make and model is not very significant when you are facing the cost of a blown transmission or engine. Does the manufacturer provide complimentary maintenance? This should be a factor to consider as well.
Big cash rebates and big discounts are not necessarily a good thing. First you have to ask yourself, why is it necessary for this manufacturer to giving me such a big cash rebate (I have seen them advertised as high as $11,000) to sell his car? You will generally find that the manufacturers of higher quality, higher demand cars offer fewer rebates and discounts. These are also the manufacturers of cars that depreciate less and cost less in terms of repairs. Big rebates and discounts also negatively affect a cars resale value. It’s what you could call “vicious cycle”. A car is hard to sell because of its high repair costs and high depreciation so the manufacturer pays a big cash rebate to sell it. The rebate lowers the value of the used car of that make and model because the price of a used car directly tied to the cost of that same new car.
You will be surprised how much the color of the car you buy can affect the resale value. Think about it. The color was very important to you when you bought your last car. It is just as important to the person who will be buying the car you trade in. The most popular colors are white, silver, beige, and black. If you have a “thing” for green, blue, orange, or another unusual color, it can negatively affect the resale value of that car by over $2,000. I’m not suggesting that you always buy a white car, but if you like white, silver, beige, and black you are going to get more money for that trade-in than if you like blue and green. Bright colors can be good for certain models. Red is a popular convertible color for example.
Be sure to check your cost of insurance before you make a final decision. Cars with side air-bags, highly rated in collision and rollover tests, relatively low cost of repair especially for bumpers, and non high-performance cars have much lower insurance rates.
Cars are no different than any product that you buy when it comes to the principal of “the cheapest product is usually not the best value”. You buy a quality pair of shoes, paying more than you would for a cheap, poorly made pair because they will look good and wear many times longer. Shopping for the lowest price is a very good idea, but only after you have chosen a car that has low depreciation, operating costs, and cost of repair.
Monday, September 08, 2014
In case you’re a little rusty on your Latin, “Caveat Emptor” means “Let the Buyer Beware”. This is something to keep in mind when you buy anything, but the danger of being ripped off when you buy new tires ranks right up there with buying and servicing your car.
Retailing tires is very important to, not only tire companies like Goodyear, Firestone, and Michelin, but independent retailers like Pep Boys and Tire Kingdom. In recent years car dealers have become very interested in selling tires too. The reason is that car customers too often don’t return for service and service is generally more profitable to car dealers than selling cars. Independent service departments and tire manufacturers’ retail service and tire outlets are taking away car dealers’ service business. Tires are something that you have to buy regularly for your car. Wherever you go to buy one or more new tires, the tire seller will take that opportunity to sell you additional services and products…you can bet your life on it.
Tires have become “loss leaders” for car dealers, tire factory service stores, and independents. When I say loss leaders, I don’t mean that you don’t end up paying the tire seller a profit on the tire transaction. What I mean is that the advertised price would result in a loss to the seller if he really sold it at that price. This is very similar to car advertising. Car dealers go through a great deal of thought and effort to advertise a price which is perceived to be lower than they will really sell you the car and tires sellers do the same thing. You can be sure that you can never buy a tire advertised on the Internet, newspaper, or TV for the price that you see.
To demonstrate this I chose one of the largest tire sellers in the USA, Tire Kingdom. I chose them because, as the leader, they set the pace in how tires are sold and advertised. Buying tires from other sellers, including most car dealers, will be at least as risky and often more so.
I sent in a mystery shopper to two Tire Kingdom retail tire and service outlets in Palm Beach County. My shopper responded to an ad for a special sale which is blanketing TV, newspaper and the Internet. The ad says that from August 1 to August 12 you can buy one tire and get the second one free. I watched the TV ad several times and it is literally impossible to read the fine print disclosure. By going to Tire Kingdom’s website, I was able to read the fine print, but the vast majority of respondents to this sale would come from TV and be clueless to the “gotchas” in the fine print.
The first revelation to my mystery shopper was that only certain makes and types of tires were eligible. No name brands like Michelin or Goodyear were available for this sale. Interestingly there was an inconsistency on this between the two Tire Kingdom stores we shopped. In fact, there were several inconsistencies between the stores on types of tires, prices and other procedures.
To me the biggest deception was that the tire buyer was required to purchase “road hazard insurance” and a wheel alignment. The prices on the insurance ranged between 14% and 18% of the total price of the tires and the prices of the wheel alignment ranged from $114.99 to $79.99. The advertisement didn’t say they are advertising a package deal for tires and road hazard insurance and wheel alignments. But the fine print (indecipherable on TV) disclosed this condition. Being required to buy a four wheel alignment is wrong for two reasons. Firstly, buying a wheel alignment should be your decision and not tied to the purchase of tires. Secondly, what if your wheels don’t need an alignment? You may have had your four wheels aligned two hours ago, just now run over a nail in the road, and now have to buy a tire.
BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE! The fine print also tells you that you must pay $1 per tire for the state tire tax. This is a real tax but it should be included in the quoted prices. There’s another fee you are charged which is a “tire disposal fee” which Tire Kingdom can charge you any amount they like. It’s not specified. The truth is that Tire Kingdom actually sells many of their take-off tires to used tire dealers for a nice profit. I do the same thing in my dealership and that profit off-sets my cost of having take-off tires hauled away and disposed of. And the final “gotcha” is the infamous “shop fee” which usually is 10% of the full retail price of the service invoice with a cap of $35. Now remember that there is no legal prohibition or cap on “tire disposal or shop fees”. Tire Kingdom imposes their own caps and prices on these rip offs. Other tires sellers are left to their own chutzpah and imagination to gouge you to limit of your tolerance.
BUT WAIT THERE’S STILL MORE! In the fine print is “No carry-outs”. I’ve seen this in some restaurants, but it’s an unusual term for Tire Kingdom and other tire sellers to tell you that before you can buy their tires at their advertised price, you must pay them whatever they want to charge you for mounting and balancing those tires.
I’ll end this article with constructive suggestions of how you can avoid these sorts of unfair and deceptive advertising and sales practices. Refuse to play the tire sellers games. Demand an “out the door” price for the specific brand and style of tires you want. Make it clear that it must include all federal, state, and local taxes, all fees like shop and tire disposal, all extra services like alignment, all extra products like road hazard insurance, and all services associated with putting the tires on your car like mounting and balancing. Ideally you should do this on the telephone and make it clear that you have only one check left in your checkbook and you will be filling it out at home for the total amount due, an out-the-door price. Of course, you should do this at least three times with three different tire sellers and buy them from the one who gives you the lowest price.