Monday, October 15, 2018

How to Choose Your Car Dealer

If you’re lucky enough to have found a car dealership that treats you ethically, honestly and gives you fair prices on vehicles, maintenance, and repairs, congratulations. You’re in the minority. Buying, leasing, repairing, or maintaining a car is an unpleasant and stressful experience for most customers. For proof of this I cite the Gallup annual poll on Honest and Ethics in Professions, conducted every year since 1977. Car sales people rank at or near last for the previous 45 years. Check it out

There’s a reason for car dealers lagging all other retailers in honesty, ethics, and transparency. Car dealers advertising and sales tactics are “frozen in time” from the last century. Other retailers have all had to evolve and improve to survive with the advent of the internet, Big Data, The Cloud, the knowledge explosion, Google, A.I., etc. All of this gave birth to the educated and demanding consumer of the 21st century. When the modern consumer is treated badly by a retailer, he chooses another retailer that will treat him nicely and fairly.

It doesn’t work that way with car dealers because most of them don’t treat their customers ethically and honestly. Why? Because they are a “protected species”. Every car dealer has a contract with manufacturer that allows him to sell and service cars just about any way he chooses. The only exceptions to this are that the car dealer mustn’t commit a felony and must meet his minimum quota of sales. Every car dealer also has a protected market area, protected by state law and by the manufacturer’s franchise agreement. All fifty states have laws on the books to protect the car dealers from competition and from the manufacturers. In Florida, a car dealers franchise agreement is “perpetual” …it never expires. Car dealers and their lobbying organizations rank right up there with the NRA, Big Insurance and Big Auto influencing our legislators and regulators. If you’re a politician, you better treat car dealers right or you won’t be elected.

Finding a car dealer that will deal honestly with you and give you a fair price is tedious and time consuming, but it’s worth the effort:

1. Check out their consumer ratings on Google, Yelp, Dealer Rater, and the BBB. Don’t just look for the highest ratings but read the individual reviews. A 3-star rating with a thoughtful comment is often more informative than a 5-star. Five stars are suspicious because “nobody’s perfect” and 1 star can be biased in the other direction. If there are very few reviews, don’t put much weight in the score. You should find a dealer with at least 100 reviews.

2. Check out the dealer’s Facebook page and read the posts. Ask your friends on Facebook what they think about various car dealers. The social media is a powerful too, but you must be careful. Use Instagram and Twitter also. 

3. All car dealers are rated by their manufacturers for customer satisfaction, both in sales and service. Some manufacturers rank their dealers by the loyalty of their customer that return for sales and service. This is absolutely the best way to measure customer satisfaction…do most of the dealer’s customers come back to buy another car and to have their car serviced. Ask the dealer to see these scores; if they won’t show them to you, choose a different dealer.

4. For South Florida Car buyers, I’ve compiled a list of recommended and NOT recommended car dealers. You can check this out Please be warned that you still must exercise caution buying from a “Good Dealer”. I grade these dealers “on the curve”. A more accurate title for the list would be “Better Dealer Worse Dealer List”. 
I’ve been mystery shopping car dealers weekly in South Florida for the last 11 years. This is where we get most of the input to score the dealers we have on this list. If you’re considering buying a car from a South Florida dealer, there’s a good chance that I’ve sent in a mystery shopper. You can read these shopping reports at

6. Use a dealer approved by or These are the two best third-party car buying services. The dealers using True Car and Costco are certified and supposed to provide you with an honest, transparent price. Unfortunately, some of them don’t measure up and you should exercise caution even when dealing with a TrueCar or Costco certified dealer.

Finally, you should remember that good dealerships have some bad people working there and bad dealerships have some good ones. If you’ve done your research and chosen a dealership but are unhappy with a sales person or manager, ask for someone else to assist you. We’ve sometimes encountered sales people in our mystery shops that apologized for dishonest advertisements and warned the mystery shopper not to overpay on a car.

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