OK, you’ve just bought that new or used car and the pressure is off…right? WRONG! The next step for the car dealer is to get you into the “box”. You won’t hear this word mentioned. It’s inside car dealer slang for the F&I office or the business office. This is the place that you sign all those papers making the sale legal and final. But in addition to that, it’s also a very important profit center for car dealers. In most car dealerships it’s the most profitable department. It’s not uncommon for car dealers to make over $1,500 in “the box” on each car they sell. AutoNation, the world’s largest auto retailer makes over $2,000.
The auto manufacturers put a lot of pressure on their dealers to sell more new cars. Dealers have minimum quotas that they must meet or exceed. If they don’t, they can be penalized by losing large cash bonus rewards. To ensure that they don’t lose these bonuses, dealers are being forced to price new cars so low that many dealers are losing money in their new car departments. This puts even more pressure on car dealers to make up for the lost new car profits by increasing their finance department’s profits.
Here’s how that profit is generated. First, and usually foremost, is making money on the interest they charge you. Essentially, they make money on “the spread” just like banks make money when they loan it. For example, a car dealer will borrow money from Bank of America for 3% and loan it to you for 5% or whatever interest rate they can convince you to accept. The second way they earn that big profit in “the box” is by selling you “products” which are added to the price of the car you just bought. There are many products and some of the most common are extended service warranties, maintenance plans, road hazard insurance, GAP insurance, window etch, and LoJack.
The way you should protect yourself on the interest rate is to have already shopped your own bank or credit union and two other banks for the best interest rate you can qualify for. Never go into “the box” without knowing what the best rate other banks or credit unions will allow you. The best way to protect yourself against the products they will try to sell you is to completely understand each product. Do you want or need an extended warranty on your new car? If this product costs $1,900 for example, how long are you going to keep the car and how long are you likely to be driving it when it’s out of the manufacturer’s warranty? Ask the same questions of each product they try to sell you. If you’re unclear on the merits of a product, don’t commit. You can always go home and think about and seek advice from friends and advisors. If the finance manager tells you that you must decide immediately, just leave. He’s not being honest.
Another important tactic is to never go into “the box” alone. If it’s just you and the F&I manager [often called business manager], and there is a dispute over what was said, it’s just your word against his. Also, having a friend or advisor present will usually be a deterrent to any attempted deception.
These are some of the kinds of deception you should be on the lookout for. Tying the sale of a product, like an extended service contract, to the interest rate or the bank’s willingness to approve your financing is illegal. But this practice happens all too often behind the closed doors of the “the box.” The F&I manger may tell you that the bank “requires” you to buy the extended warranty, GAP insurance another product to protect the bank’s collateral. This is simply a lie. Another common form of deception is to not disclose the products or interest rate, and have you sign the contract without reading it. There are many documents to be signed after you buy a car. Buyers are often in a state of euphoria now that they have bought their dream car and are in too much of a hurry to sign everything and drive their new car home. The car dealer is required by law to give you a signed copy of the installment sales contract. Be sure you carefully read it, and be sure have a copy. If you don’t get a copy, you may find that you signed a different contract than the one you read.
Extended service warranties, GAP insurance, and other insurance products are regulated in Florida unlike many other states. This affords you some degree of protection like being able to cancel an insurance product if you did not use it. You can do this in 60 days for a 100% cancellation. You don’t get the cash back and your monthly payment won’t go down, but the amount is taken off the principal amount you are financing through the bank. You can cancel insurance products after 60 days, but the cancellation is not pro rata and you pay a large penalty.
If you remember nothing else from this article, please remember this one thing. Don’t hurry the process of financing your car and signing the papers. Don’t let the car dealer encourage you to sign anything you don’t understand. Time is on your side because it will allow you to think and to consult with others who can help you make your final decision. I get a lot of calls from victims of “the box” and the one thing they all have in common is that they let themselves be rushed into signing the documents so that they could drive their dream car home that same day.