We have until January 8th, 2024 to submit comments to the FTC about proposed rules to BAN CAR DEALER JUNK FEES. Please visit to be heard!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Understanding Your New Car Warranty

When you buy your new car your salesman will tell you that it has a “bumper to bumper” warranty. The most common coverage is for 3 years or 36,000 miles whichever should first occur. “Bumper to bumper” warranty sounds like it means that everything is covered. Unfortunately this is not the case. For example, your tires are not covered at all by the car manufacturer but under a separate warranty by the tire manufacturer.

It can be tedious, but the only way to completely understand your warranty is to actually read it. All warranties now are required to use the word “limited” unless there are absolutely zero exclusions and this, to the best of my knowledge, is never the case.

Some of the most common items that are mistakenly believed to be included in warranties are tires, rental car coverage, maintenance, and faded or damaged paint from various kinds of air contaminants.

I don’t know why all car manufacturers choose to exclude tires from their “bumper to bumper” warranties. After all, they choose the tire manufacturer just like they choose the manufacturer of other components on your car which they don’t manufacture themselves like the sound systems. The owner of a car has an established relationship with the service department of the dealership because she is bringing her car back every 5,000 miles or so for factory recommended maintenance. In most cases, she doesn’t even know who the tire dealer is. It would be far more customer friendly for the manufacturer to allow her dealer to handle warranty claims on tires. My suggestion is to ask your dealer’s service advisor or service manager to “broker” the warranty claim on your tires on your behalf. The dealership is more likely to have an established relation ship with a tire store and they can be your advocate.

New car warranties virtually never provide for a free rental car unless the vehicle must be tied up overnight for repairs. All too often, car salesman will promise you a “free loaner” anytime your car is in for service. Verify this with the service department before you rely upon it. There are extended service contracts which you can buy in addition to your new car warranty which will provide rental car coverage.

A new car warranty covers only “repairs” not maintenance items. A very common request is that a front end alignment be performed under warranty. Your alignment should have been checked before your car was delivered. If your car goes out of alignment after delivery, it is usually considered owner’s maintenance. Brakes are another item often misunderstood as being covered under warranty. Brake wear is almost always a maintenance item. Only a mechanical defect in your brakes is covered under warranty.

Faded or pitted paint can be from defective or improperly applied paint or from external causes like industrial fallout or foreign substances sprayed in the air (crop dusters or insect control airplanes). Of course there can be a good argument made that paint should have resistance to a certain amount of air pollution. This type of claim may require the inspection by a factory representative to determine the cause. From my experience, certain colors of paint seem to have more problems than others. Red and white come to mind. Ask the factory service representative if they have experience problems with your particular color. Stand your ground if you feel that the factory should stand good for faded or pitted paint. Get a second opinion from your insurance adjustor. You may even have an insurance claim. If you have your car washed and waxed regularly and keep it garaged it is highly unlikely that you will ever have a paint problem.

The manufacturer’s representative can authorize repairs to your car when it is out of warranty. This is called goodwill. Oftentimes the service manager of the dealership can also authorize goodwill repairs. This is a subjective ruling and depends on how close to being under factory warranty you are, how regularly you maintained the vehicle according to factory recommendations, how many cars of this make you have bought, and how you present your request. A car that is out of warranty by just a few miles or weeks can usually be covered under goodwill. If you maintained your vehicle regularly with your dealer and have bought several cars from this dealer, the further out of warranty you can expect goodwill repairs. Presenting your case in a positive, courteous manner helps a lot. Service managers and factory representatives have high pressure jobs and are often confronted by loud, rude, demanding customers. Your claim may be absolutely legitimate, but your chances of success are enhanced by being nice.

Some manufacturers offer longer warranties than others. The amount of time and number of miles that a vehicle is covered is important, but the quality of the vehicle is more important. Sometimes manufacturers will increase their warranty coverage to sell more cars because the quality of their cars is in question. Quality trumps length of warranty and I would always advise buying the higher quality rather than the one with the longest warranty.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Open Letter to Car Manufacturers

True Customer satisfaction trumps sales volume

Dear car manufacturer,

Today all of the car manufacturers can’t stop talking about customer satisfaction, especially when it comes to satisfying the car buyer. They are aware, just as everyone is, that customers visiting car dealerships rank their treatment worse than just about any other retailer. The manufacturers have been aware of this problem for about 30 years. As a Pontiac dealer, I can still remember the first “CSI” surveys that were sent out. The surveys have changed quite a bit and the methodology has changed quite a bit, but essentially it’s the same. When somebody buys a car from a dealer, she is mailed a questionnaire, sometimes it’s emailed, and sometimes the customer is surveyed by phone. The same system is used for service customers. These surveys are scored for customer satisfaction and the dealerships are measured against each other. Typically a dealership is ranked numerically within his local market (about a 100 mile radius), region (geographic section of the USA like the Southeast) and the entire USA.

The problem has been that these surveys haven’t worked very well. Realizing this, the manufacturers have steadily increased the penalties to dealers with bad scores and rewards to dealers with good scores. The penalties can be quite severe, including a dealer’s franchise being terminated, putting him out of business. The rewards sometimes include cash, vacations trips, prestigious honor clubs and societies, and even priority consideration for another dealership location. Guess what? It’s still not working! The scores are getting higher and higher, but the customers are not getting happier and happier. How can that be, you say??!!

The dealers are finding ways to manipulate the survey scores to their advantage. The stakes are so high for a good customer satisfaction score, that “fixing the game” has become pretty much S.O.P. with many car dealerships. This is especially egregious because the honest dealers, who go about improving their scores “the old fashioned way”…treating his customer better, are made to look bad relative to those who are cheating on their scores. In fact, sometimes you actually see dealers who don’t treat their customers very nicely getting higher scores than those who do! As if this wasn’t bad enough, manufacturers sometimes “look the other way” when a large volume dealers has a “CSI problem”. In awards, contests, and honorary societies, the manufacturers sometimes award “discretionary” points to bring a large volume dealer’s percentage score up to an acceptable level. I don’t have to tell you how demoralizing this is to those honest dealers who earn their points fairly. This sends a dangerous message to all of the dealers when they see sales volume trumping customer satisfaction in the priorities of the manufacturers.

The fact is that the manufacturer’s focus on customer satisfaction surveys has intensified to the point where most manufacturers’ executives care more about the numbers than the customers. They tell the dealers to “get those numbers up” which doesn’t necessarily correlate with “treat your customers better”. In a recent Automotive News article, an independent survey company found that 36% of car buyers said the salesperson asked for a perfect score and were asked to allow the dealership to address problems and complaints internally, rather than report them to the automaker. There are also instances of offering a free tank of gas or other perk for a good survey or bringing the blank survey into the dealership for the salesman to fill out. One manufacture recently caught a lot of dealers who had furnished phony email addresses for their customers so that the customer satisfaction survey would come to the dealership instead of the customer’s home.

Here is my recommendation to the car manufacturers. You can keep the surveys, but let them be used only as an information tool for improving the way the dealers treat their customers…no penalties or rewards. Replace the surveys with the “proof of the pudding” for customer satisfaction which is how many customers who buy a car from this dealer come back to buy another from the same dealer? Also, what percentage of the customers return to that dealer for service after they buy their car? What more do you need to know? Customer loyalty is the bottom line, plain and simple. If you must use a survey, use an independent survey company who surveys the dealers’ customers when he doesn’t know who is being surveyed or when it’s being done. The hardest thing for a manufacturer to do is to make customer satisfaction to trump sales volume, not the other way around. The manufacturers will find, if they have the courage to do that, the will “have their cake and eat it too”.


Earl Stewart

Monday, February 09, 2015

Quick Reference Guide to Fine Print in Car Ads

If you look down at the bottom of virtually every car advertisement in your local newspaper, Internet or direct mail advertisements, you will see some fine print. Sometimes you literally cannot read the print because it is so small. There’s always fine print in TV advertisements too, but it’s so small and flashed on the screen so fast that it’s impossible to read. The disclaimers you read below were taken from the PB Post. I didn’t make any of these up. Basically what these disclaimers do is to totally negate the validity of all of the prices and payments the car dealers are advertising. The prices and payments are always much higher when you factor in the almost invisible fine print.

Combining a very short lease term with a high down payment: Nothing sells cars like low monthly payments. A car dealer can make a monthly lease payment as low as he wants by both reducing the number of months of the lease and increasing the down payment. I’m looking at an ad in the PB Post right now advertising an SUV for $19,999 or just $199 per month. In the fine print it says 27 month lease and $3,000 down plus a $799 dealer fee.

"Plus dealer installed options": The price you see advertised in the paper is not the full price. This loophole allows the dealer to tack on thousands of dollars in overpriced accessories to the price that was advertised.

"With approved credit": The lease payment or purchase payment you see advertised is based on someone with very, very good credit. Sometimes the ad will specify a minimum Beacon score of 750 or even 760. An almost negligible percent of people have a credit score that high. This payment gets you in the door and then they tell you your credit isn’t good enough to qualify for that payment.

"Advertised offer good on select in-stock vehicles only": Dealers often advertise just one car at a price below their cost. They don’t pay the salesman a commission if he sells that vehicle. The chances of that car being available for you to buy are “slim and none”. Even if the car was still there, the salesman would do everything in his power to sell you a different car that he could earn a commission on.

"Owner Loyalty Rebate": Manufacturers offer special cash rebates to current owners of their car. These rebates are not available to you if you don’t currently own that particular make of car. For example, if you own a Honda, and want to buy a Toyota, you don’t qualify for a Toyota loyalty rebate. That price you see advertised won’t be available.

"Conquest Rebate": The inverse of the Owner Loyalty Rebate. In this case you are required to trade in a vehicle of a different manufacturer than the dealership's. For example, if you wanted to buy a Mazda, you would be required to trade in a non-Mazda. Here's the crazy thing: many dealers indicate that they require BOTH loyalty and conquest rebates in the fine print! How is that possible?

"Price …plus, tax, tag, and fees": The red flag word here is “fees”. The fees these dealers refer to is a “dealer fee” which is synonymous for dealer profit. Most people think it’s a federal or state tax of some kind. It’s nothing more than more money for the dealer that is not disclosed in the price of the car.

"Offers expire date of publication or may be cancelled at any time without notice": This simply means that the prices, payments, etc. you have read have no validity whatsoever. The prices are not good tomorrow, but they aren’t even any good today because the dealer can cancel the offer without notice.

"Not responsible for typographical errors": This is just one more way for a dealer to explain why they can’t sell you the car for the advertised price…We don’t have to honor that price because it was a “typographical error”.

"Vehicle Art for illustrations only": This means that that car you are looking at with the really great looking wheels might not have those wheels on the one you buy. Or, maybe it doesn’t even have that sunroof you see in the picture.

"Minimum trade based on dealer list price": The dealer list price is not the same thing as the manufacturer’s suggest price. Dealers add markups to the Monroney label also known as MSRP or manufacturer’s suggested retail price. They label this markup (often on a sticker designed to imitate the official federal Monroney label). Dealer markups of $3,000 and much more are common on such “counterfeit Monroney” labels. In this case, the dealer has marked up the MSRP far enough so that he can offer a minimum $10,000 trade-in allowance.

My advice to you is to ignore all car dealers’ advertising. Most car ads are designed to “get you in the door” so that they can sell you some other car than the one advertised so that they can make more money. If you must respond to a dealer’s advertisement, please be sure you break out your magnifying glass and carefully read the fine print.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Open Letter to Florida Car Dealers IV


Dear Florida car dealer, this is the 4th letter I’ve written to you. The first asked you to stop charging your “dealer fee” on top of the price you quote your customers. The second asked you to advertise cars at a price you were willing to sell the car for and have an ample supply of. The 3rd asked you to accept the responsibility, and not blame others, for the fact that car dealers have a terrible reputation comparable to politicians and lawyers.

I’m looking at a used car ad about a special one-day sale in the newspaper that, by the time you read this column, will have taken place.

Here are some of the claims in this car ad:

Claim: The dealer is forced to sell used cars for $9 because he is overstocked.
Fact: If a car dealer was overstocked with used cars he would not sell them below his cost and no used car costs as little as $9. A car dealer can sell a junk car that won’t even run for $150 just for the scrap metal.

Claim: We can afford to sell used cars for $9 because we are a large volume dealer.

Fact: No matter how large a dealer is, he cannot afford to sell his product below its cost.

Claim: You are asked to pick out the used car you want and then “sit behind the wheel”. Only then will you be given  the discounted price.

Fact: This is a tactic invented by a promoter who charges dealers to put on these sales. This tactic is meant to instill irrational excitement in the mind of the potential buyers. The promoter will have a fast-talking pitchman with a bull horn trying to whip everybody into a buying frenzy. He goes from car to car “ripping” the old price sticker off and showing the new price. One thing that keeps people sitting behind the wheel of their chosen car is the hope that it is a $9 car.

Claim: The General Manager of this dealership states, “I mean, a quality used car for as low as $9? That’s irresistible!”

Fact: There is no such thing as a quality used car for $9. You would be lucky to find one for as little as $5,000.

Claim: “After 1PM Saturday, all cars will return to their usual prices.

Fact: You can buy any used car from that dealer (except the two $9 cars) for the same price that they were advertised for in that sale.

You know that all the claims in this car ad are false and so does virtually everybody that reads this column. Unfortunately there is a minority of car buyers who are unable to pick up on this deception. These are the buyers who will flock to this kind of a sale. I know what I’m talking about because I put on this very kind of sale many years ago. I’m not proud of this. We had overflow crowds, people actually arguing over who could sit behind the wheel of the car to find out what the discount would be. We would sometimes sell 50 or more used cars during the one day of this type of sale...More than we would normally sell in 2 weeks. The people who flock to these sales are the very young, the uneducated, minorities who have difficulty with English, widows or others who have never bought a car before, and generally those most vulnerable member of our society.

So, you say. If these sales are so successful, why do you warn me not to “underestimate the IQ of my customers”? Here’s why. Far more people read your ad than the poor souls who succumb to your deception. For every person who fell for your ad, there are probably ten people who read your ad and understood how misleading it was. How many of those will you ever sell a car to? What does an ad like that do for the image of car dealers in our community? Ads like these and the sales practices encountered by those who are fooled by these ads make a car salesman the butt of as many jokes as you hear about lawyers and politicians.

I don’t ask you to stop running these kinds of ads out of the “goodness of your heart”. I am asking you because it’s simply good business. Your image is important and the only reason you are doing OK now is that most other car dealers don’t offer a better alternative. But, as Bob Dylan said, “The Times, They Are a Changin’”.


Earl Stewart

Cc: Pam Bondi
Warren Buffet
Ted Smith
Adam Putnam
Jeff Atwater
Rick Scott
Andy Gardiner
Steve Crisafulli