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Monday, December 14, 2020

Lowest Price on a New Car at End of the Month: Old Wives’ Tale, Urban Legend, or Fact?

This question is on the top ten list of most common questions I’m asked. The answer is “Yes”, you usually can save money when you buy new car at the end of the month. You also can save money on used cars, but not nearly as much.

The caveat is not to wait until the end of the month to begin your search and do your research. Be sure you’ve done your due diligence in choosing the right car for you and gotten competitive out-the-door bids from at least 3 dealers. You should have checked TrueCar and Costco pricing as discussed in my previous two blogs. If your reading this in my newspaper column, you can access all of my blogs at

Once you’ve gotten your best price on the specific car you intend to buy, you should “sit tight” until the end of the month. You will be “deluged” with warnings by car salesmen that this price won’t be good unless you buy the car now; or, this car will be sold if you don’t buy it right now. Ignore these threats. Toward the end of the month recontact the dealer that gave you his best out-the-door price. In case you don’t know the definition of an out-the-door price, it’s THE PRICE YOU WRITE YOUR CHECK OUT FOR, HAND IT TO THE SALESMAN, GET IN YOUR NEW CAR AND DRIVE IT HOME. Don’t accept anything less just because they say it’s an out-the-door price.

Here are all the reasons you can get a much better price at the end of the month. (1) All car salesmen are paid on a monthly commission based the number of cars they sell in each month, and there are usually bonuses at the end of the month. (2) Sales managers are paid the same way. (3) The auto manufacturer pays the dealership end of the month bonuses. (4) Both manufacturers and dealers pour on their advertising at the end of the month which increases the competition between dealers. (5) Car dealers and auto manufacturers are “insanely competitive (I know because I’m insanely competitive…just ask anybody who really knows me.) Competition is your best friend when you’re buying a car. The end of the month is a perfect storm of competition between auto manufacturers and between car dealers. (6) Auto manufacturers and car dealers generate their financial, profit and loss statements monthly. They place huge emphasis on making their net profit forecasts. The typical car dealership will sell more new cars in the last 10 days of the month than he did in the first 20. (7) I’m writing this article on December 14 and you’ll be reading before the end of the year. THE END OF THE YEAR IS LIKE THE END OF THE MONTH “ON STEROIDS”. It’s the perfect time to buy your next new car.

A final word of caution on not venturing into a car dealership at the end of any month without having done your due diligence. The same factors that I just described can work against you, if you’re not fully prepared. Because car dealers want to sell you a car so bad at the end of the month, they’re likely topromise you anything they must, to make it happen.

Monday, December 07, 2020

TrueCar: Almost as Good as Costco to Buy Your Next New Car

In my previous column, I recommended as the “Your Best Bet for a Low Price”. You can access that column at is almost as good as Costco. When you use TrueCar carefully and diligently, you’ll get a fair, low price. When you use the Costco Auto Buying program, you’ll probably get a lower price, but not by much. This is because Costco contractually requires their certified dealers to give Costco members a lower price than they have sold the same car to anybody else.

So, why am I even mentioning TrueCar? It’s because (1) TrueCar’s program is easier to understand and use, (2) dealers’ hidden fees and extra dealer installed accessories are more clearly added to the bottom line price, (3) TrueCar offers many more certified dealers to choose from, (4) TrueCar gives your market price comparisons of what other buyers of the car you are buying paid, (5) TrueCar doesn’t require a $60 annual membership fee, and (6) perhaps most importantly, you can transact a TrueCar purchase entirely online. Costco requires you to go into the dealership.

I just mystery-shopped, online, TrueCar for a new 2020 Ford F-150 XLT with an MSRP of $46,525. I used a factitious name and email address. No phone number is required. I was able to get quotes from 42 Ford dealers, but I chose only to get final prices from two within a reasonable distance, Wayne Acres Ford in Greenacres, FL and Grieco Ford in Delray, FL. The lower of the two was Grieco Ford with an $8,299 discount from MSRP plus $1,459 in dealer fees and dealer installed accessories for bottom line price of $39,685. This price also included all factory incentives. All I’d have to pay in addition to drive my new F150 home were government fee…sales tax and license/registration.

I could probably have gotten a slightly lower price if I’d pursued this with some of the other 40 TrueCar certified Ford dealers available to me. However, TrueCar showed this price to be an excellent one based on actual transaction prices from their database. To be a TrueCar certified dealer, you must agree to allow TrueCar to access your computer database which reveals the actual transaction prices on all the vehicles you sell. In the last 30 days, my price was well below the average price…there were 4 sales of this F150 at a “high” price, 4 at a “fair” price, 8 at a “great” price, and 7 others at an “excellent’ price like mine.

It took me about 10 minutes to go through the above process. If I had been a real buyer, I could have gotten the lowest price from 42 Ford dealers, and it would have taken me an hour two. Compare this with driving from dealership to dealership, shopping dealer websites online, making phone calls, and there’s no comparison. As I said at the beginning of this article, don’t use your real name or email address and there’s absolutely no reason to give dealers your phone number. The harassment from car salesmen if you shopped 42 Ford dealerships and gave them your real contact information would be ENORMOUS. You can easily obtain a free email address from Google, Microsoft Outlook, Apple/iCloud, and AOL.

If you really want a super-low price and don’t mind spending a little more time,use Costco and TrueCar. Remember, that you’ll rarely see two car dealers quote you the same price on the same car. The more dealers you check and the more prices you compare, the lower the price you can get. Comparing at least threedealers is necessary, and you’ll realize a large savings from this. As you shop and compare more than three, the amount of the savings decreases incrementally. The Internet which spawned online car buying and third-party car buying companies like Costco Auto and TrueCar makes it possible to shop and compare as many dealerships as you want to. Furthermore, you’re doing all this from the comfort and privacy of your home.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Costco Auto Buying Program: Your Best Bet for a Low Price

This is not the first article that I’ve written on Costco’s auto buying program, but because I receive so many questions about it, I thought it useful to write another column on the subject.

Click on Costco Auto Program and navigate through their recommended process for buying a new or used car. You must be a Costco member, but this costs only $60 for the basic membership. I promise you that you’ll same many times this cost when you follow their instructions to buy from their dealers. Costco has new and used car programs, but I recommend you use only the new. Their used car program requires only that their dealers discount their list price to Costco members. The dealers with the highest asking prices for their used cars offer the discounts, but dealers with low prices can’t.

Carefully follow these recommendations for purchasing your car through the Costco Auto Program:

  • When you put in your zip code, you’ll be shown the nearest authorized Costco dealer. You should find other authorized dealers in your market so that you can compare prices, especially on those that add extra non-government fees, like Doc fee, Electronic Filing Fee, and Tag-Agency Fee to the prices on their “Members-Only Price Sheet”. Costco requires that these be itemized separately on the Member-Only Price Sheet but ARE NOT INCLUDED IN COSTCO MEMBER-ONLY PRICE. 
  • Dealer installed accessories like window tint, floor mats, protection packages, nitrogen in tires, stripes, etc. are SUPPOSED to be included in the Costco Member-Only Price Sheet at NO CHARGE TO COSTCO MEMBERS. Be sure to verify that these items aren’t added later for additional charges. 
  • On the Costco Website you will be offered the Costco Auto Program Price Verification. It’s VERY IMPORTANT that you check this box giving the Costco Auto Program permission to obtain a copy of your purchase agreement from the dealer. If you’re not contacted by Costco and suspect a problem, call Costco immediately at 800 755-2519.
  • Deal Only with the Costco Authorized, Trained Contact(s) at this Participating Dealership. Call the authorized contact and make an appointment. NEVER deal with another salesman that’s not listed on the Costco website. 
  • Insist on seeing the official Member-Only Price Sheets (two of them) to verify the price you’re given. One price sheet if just for the car you indicated online that you want to buy. The second price sheet shows all of the cars the dealer offers for sale. The prices are indicated by an amount below or above invoice. A high percentage of cars are usually shown at hundreds of dollars BELOW invoice, because invoice is not the true cost of the car to the dealer.
  • Insist on seeing the dealer’s factory invoice on the car you’re buying. You can then verify the amount under or over invoice the dealer has promised Costco they will see this to their members for. 
  • Before you sign on the dotted line, be sure that the check you’re writing to the dealership is for the total amount you have to pay plus government fees only…sales tax and license/registration paid directly to the state department of motor vehicles. This amount should be for the amount, under or over invoice, shown on the Costco Member-Only Price Sheet. Dealer installed accessories must not be charged to you, and should not alter the amount below or above invoice you’re charged.

If you believe all the above is very complicated, I totally agree with you. I’ve had many, long discussions with the Costco Auto Buying program about why they don’t simply give you their price online for what you can write your check out for…an out-the-door price. But, with that said, if you do carefully follow the above procedure, you can buy your next new car for a very low price.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Legal Advice When Buying a Car

I’m not a lawyer and I don’t even play one on TV, but I’ve learned a lot from my lawyers, the plaintiff’s lawyers, and my customers in the last 52 years I’ve been a car dealer. I don’t get sued much anymore, but back before I became a “Recovering Car Dealer” I did. There’s something to be said for “The Law School of Hard Knocks”. One thing is that you tend to learn your lessons well and rarely forget. Here are five tips which, if followed by you, can make your car buying experience a lot safer.

  • Get all promises in writing. Car salesman love to talk, and most of what they have to say is targeted to induce you to buy the car. Be sure that all relevant promises and comments are written on your vehicle buyer’s order. Not quite as good, but better than verbal, is a confirming email or text from the salesman. Some examples are, “after you buy this car, I’ll be sure you get a free service loaner whenever you bring it in for service”, “Bring your new car back next Friday and I’ll give you a free set of floor mats” and “the blind-side warning sensor is standard on the car we ordered for you”. Probably the most promise by the salesman to get in writing is “this is the out-the-door price plus government fees only.”
  • Always bring a friend (witness) when buying. When I have an important meeting or negotiation, I always make sure I have at least one more person in the meeting than the other party. You’ve heard the expression, “He said-she said”. This means that a judge won’t find for one party or the other when both claim something different was said. Furthermore, a car salesman is less likely to make false promises in front of a witness. 
  • Get a signed copy of all documents you’re asked to sign. Be sure you get thesebefore you drive the car home. Ideally, you should read these documents, but in reality, no one does, including me. It’s virtually impossible to read and/or understand all the documents (especially with fine print), that you’re asked to sign. I believe that lawyers created these lengthy, voluminous documents unnecessarily and on purpose so that we require their services. Remember that you won’t see any legal documents until after you think you’ve bought the car. You probably signed another document called a “worksheet”, and the salesman and manager might have shaken your hand and thanked you for buying the car, but it’s not official or legal until you sign a lot more documents in the F&I or business office (also called “the box”). There is one very important document you’ll see before you go into “the box” and that’s your credit application. Be sure that you get a copy of that. 
  • Get the cell phone numbers of the salesman and key managers. I’ll guarantee that the salesman will almost insist that you give him your cell phone number. Before, you do that, insist that he give you his number, and tell him you want his manager’s cell phone number too. While you’re at it ask for the cell phone numbers for the service manager and general manager. You’d be amazed at how hard it can be to contact anyone in a car dealership AFTER you’ve bought and paid for your car. Even if they don’t answer the phone, you can text your message. This is a matter of record and legally binding. Also, when they know you do have their cell phone number, their likely to be more careful about making promises they can’t keep.
  • Ask the F&I/Business manager to delete the Arbitration Clause on the Vehicle Buyer’s Order. Almost every car dealer includes an “arbitration agreement clause” in their purchase contract. You may have bought lots of cars and never seen, but it’s there in the fine, voluminous print. This clause says that you agree not to sue the car dealer for any reason. In other words, it says that you want to waive your right to a judge and jury of your peers, one of your most precious rights as an American.

Whether you want to “stick to your guns” on all these recommendations or not, just using some of them is better than none. Also, by merely asking you’re signaling that dealer that you’re alert and aware. Too many car-buyers are too timid and afraid they’ll offend the nice car salesman or his manager. These are the customers that are most likely to be taken advantage of.

Monday, November 09, 2020

Open Letter to all Florida Car Dealers


Dear fellow Florida car dealer,

I started in the retail auto business in 1968, about 52 years ago, and I have seen a lot of changes in the way we dealers sell cars and the expectations of our customers. My remarks in this column are made sincerely and with a positive intent toward you and your customers. I am not trying to tell you how to run your business; I am suggesting a change that will reward both you and your customers.

Virtually every car dealer in Florida adds several charges to the price of the cars he sells, variously referred to as a “tag agency fee”, “do fee”, “dealer prep fee”, electronic filing fee etc. These extra charges are printed on your buyer’s orders and programmed into your computers. It’s regulated in many states including California. You charge this fee to every customer and it ranges from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. Florida law requires that you disclose in writing on the buyer’s order that this charge represents profit to the dealer. Florida law also requires that you include this fee in all advertised prices. You rarely, if ever, do this.

The argument that I hear from most car dealers when I raise this issue is that the dealer fee is fully disclosed to the buyer on his buyer’s order. But most car buyers are totally unaware that they are paying this. Who reads all the voluminous paperwork associated with buying a car? The few who notice it assume it’s an “official” fee like state sales tax or license and registration fee. Those few astute buyers who do question the fee are told that your dealership must charge this fee on very car which is not true. These astute buyers are also told that all other car dealers charge similar fees. This is almost true, but, as you know, my dealership does not. When my dealership is mentioned, many of your salesmen say that “Earl Stewart hides his fees in the price of the car he advertises”. Of course, we charge no such fees but, if we did, they would be included in our advertised and quoted prices. This gives our customers the ability to shop and compare our honest, total, out-the-door price. You sneak your dealer hidden fees in after the your customer buys the car.

The reason you charge these fees is simply to increase the cost of the car and your profit in such a manner that it is not noticed by your customer. This is just plain wrong. Dealers will admit this to me in private conversations, and some will admit that they have considered eliminating the fee as I have, but are afraid of the drastic effect to their bottom line. By being able to count on an extra $999 in profit that the customer is not aware of or believes is an “official fee”, you can quote a price below cost and end up making a profit. Or, if the price you quote the customer does pay you a nice profit, you can increase that by several hundred dollars.

This “extra, unseen” profit is even better for you because you don’t pay your salesmen a commission on it. That’s being unfair to your employees as well as your customers. When the rare, astute buyer objects to the dealer fee, the right thing to do would be to decrease the quoted price of the car by the amount of the dealer fee. This would have the same net effect of removing it. The salesman won’t permit this because he will lose his commission (typically 25%) on the decrease in his commissionable gross profit.

If you don’t know me, I should tell you that I don’t profess to be some “holier than thou” car dealer who was always perfect. Although, I never did anything illegal, when I look at some of my advertising and sales tactics 20+ years ago and more, I am not always proud. But I’ve evolved as my customers have evolved. My customers’ expectations, level of education, and sophistication are much higher today. Your customers are no different. As I began treating my customers, and employees, better I discovered that they began treating me better. Yes, I used to charge a dealer fee ($495), and when I stopped charging it a few years ago, it was scary. But I did it because I could no longer, in good conscious, mislead my customers. Just because everybody else was doing the same thing did not make it right.

Now here is the good news. My profit per car did drop by about the amount of the dealer fee when I stopped charging it. But when my customers realized that I was now giving them a fair shake and quoting the complete out-the-door price with no “surprises” the word spread. My volume began to rise rapidly. Sure, I was making a few hundred dollars less per car, but I was selling a lot more cars! I was, and am, selling a lot of your former customers. My bottom line is far better than it was when I was charging a dealer fee. You can do the same!

Why am I writing this letter? I’m not going to tell you that I think of myself as the new Marshall that has come to “clean up Dodge”. In fact, I’m aware that this letter is to some extent self-serving. Lots of people will read this letter to you and learn why they should buy a car from me and not you. And, I am also aware that most dealers who read this will either get angry and ignore it or not have the courage to follow my lead. But maybe you will be the exception. If you have any interest in following my lead, call me anytime. I don’t have a secretary and I don’t screen any of my phone calls. I would love to chat with you about this. My cell phone number is 561 358-1474. (Do you have the courage to give your personal cell phone number to your customers and the public?)


Earl Stewart

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Nominate Your Favorite Car Dealership: "Best Of" 2021 Awards

What better way to find out the best and safest place to buy or service your next car than to find out what others’ experiences has been? What better way to help others, than by sharing your own experience?

Your nominations for Best Of 2021 will be accepted up until November 11. Just click on this website, You can nominate candidates in these categories: Best Auto Dealer Service Department, Best New Car Dealer, and Best Used Car Dealer. Please be sure to nominate a dealership for each of these.

The most reliable measure of any company are the rankings given it by its customers. This is especially true of car dealerships because no other retail business can match car dealers for deceptive advertising and unfair and deceptive sales practices. If you have experienced a car dealer that you can trust to buy or service a car from, it’s your “civic duty” to share his name with others.

After all the nominations have been made (deadline November 11), voting will begin in December. Be sure that your favorite car dealer is nominated.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

How Can I Learn the Dealer’s Cost on a Car?

It’s almost impossible for you to determine the true cost of a new car. This might sound crazy, but many dealers don’t know the true cost of their cars. The manufacturers and distributors invoice their dealers for an amount when they ship them a car that is almost always several thousands of dollars more than the true cost. It’s fair to say that in virtually every case the “invoice” for a new car is much higher than the true cost. By true cost, I am referring to cost as defined by GAAP, generally accepted accounting principals.

You probably have heard about “holdback”. That is an amount of money added into the invoice of a car ranging from 1% to 3% of the MSRP which is kicked back to the dealer after he has paid the invoice. In some cases there are two holdbacks…one from the manufacturer and one from a distributor. Some manufacturers include the cost of regional advertising in the invoice which offsets the dealer’s advertising costs. Another common charge included in invoices is “floor plan assistance”. This goes to offset the dealer’s cost of financing the new cars in his inventory. Another is “PDI” or pre-delivery inspection expense which reimburses the dealer for preparing the car for delivery to you. I could name several more, depending on the manufacturer or distributor. Some of these monies that are returned to the dealer are not shown as profit on dealers’ financial statement and some are. Technically a dealer could say that the cost he showed you reflected all the profit (by definition of his financial statement), but the fact would remain that more money would come to back to him after he sold you the car. To me (and the IRS) that’s called profit.

Besides holdbacks and reimbursements for expenses, you must contend with customer and dealer incentives (usually referred to as customer cash or dealer cash) when trying to figure out the cost of that new car. You will probably be aware of the customer incentives, but not the dealer incentives. Most dealers prefer and lobby the manufacturers for dealer rather than customer incentives just for that reason. Also, performance incentives are paid to dealers for selling a certain number of cars during a given time frame. These usually expire at the end of a month and are one reason why it really is smart to buy a new car on the last day of the month.

Last but not least, remember the “dealer fee”, “dealer prep fee”, “doc fee”, “dealer inspection fee”, electronic filing fee, tag agency fee, etc. which is added to the price you were quoted by the salesman.. It is printed on the buyer’s order and is lumped into the real fees such as Florida sales tax and tag and registration fees. Most dealers in Florida (it is illegal in many states) charge this fee which ranges from $500 to $3,000. If you are making your buying decision on your perceived cost of the car, even if you were right, here is up to $3,000 more in profit to the dealer.

Hopefully you can now understand why it is virtually impossible to precisely know the cost of the new car you are contemplating buying. Most often the salesman and sales manager is not completely versed on the cost either. Checking the cost on a good Internet site like or is about the best you can do. Consumer Reports is another good source. One reason that Internet sites don’t always have the right invoice price is that different distributors for cars invoice their dealers at different prices.

Do not decide to buy a car because the dealer has agreed to sell it to you for “X dollars above his cost/invoice”. This statement is virtually meaningless. You are playing into the dealer’s hands when you offer to buy or he offers to sell his car at a certain amount above his cost. As I have advised you in an earlier column, you can only be assured of getting the best price by shopping several dealers for the exact same car and getting an “out the door” price plus tax and tag only.

Monday, October 19, 2020


Back in the day when I was an evil car dealer, I had a monthly “Slam Dunk Club” for my salespeople. To join the club, you had to make at least a $4,000 profit on a customer. This is about three times the normal profit. The salesman got a $500 bonus on top of his 25% commission of $1,000. He also got a gift certificate to Ruth’s Chris steakhouse with his significant other for a free dinner. Some of my salesmen would “score” slam dunks every month and some several. Others rarely did.

You should know that no two customers pay the same price for the same car in the same car dealership in the same time frame. Each customer pays the highest price his or her salesperson can “extract”. When a Toyota dealer looks at his financial statement at the end of the month and sees his profit per new Camry was $1,500, it doesn’t tell the full story. That $1,500 is the average of all the Camrys he sold with profits per car sold ranging from as much as $10,000 to as little as $100.

You’d think that a car dealer would want all his salespeople to sell all his cars for very high profits like $4,000 or higher. You’d be wrong. The reason is that all people aren’t equal when it comes to education, intelligence, experience in car buying, and negotiating skills. A smart, highly skilled negotiator would never pay a car dealer a $4,000 profit; if the salesman wouldn’t budge on the price, the car dealer would lose a sale. He would rather have a lesser profit than no sale at all…” a half a loaf is better than none”. Dealers study each salesman’s profits on all the cars he sells each month to be sure that he has some very high profits and some very low ones. This is a “healthy pattern” because it ensures the dealer that this salesman is making as much money on each customer as that customer as that customer’s negotiating/buying skills will tolerate. If a dealer sees that a salesman’s monthly profit pattern is in too narrow a range, he’s “not asking for all the money” and/or “he’s walking customers at too high a profit”. Car dealers all believe that you can’t ask for too high a profit on a car because you can always reduce the price before the customer leaves. Most car dealerships instruct their sales people to “start the asking price at above MSRP”.

Those readers of this column who’re familiar with my weekly radio show, EarlOnCars, Saturday mornings 8-10, know about my weekly mystery shopping report. [Tru Oldies 95.9 FM & 106.9 FM WIRK-HD3] My undercover shopper visits a different car dealership each week and goes through the motions of buying or leasing a car. I report everything that happens, naming names and dealerships, and we add that dealer to our “Recommended List” or “Don’t Buy from this Dealer List”. You can read all the mystery shopping reports in my archive at The latest shopping report was my inspiration for this column. You can click on this link to read the entire report.

The salesman who greeted the mystery shopper made every attempt to get my shopper to BUY TODAY, even to the extent of taking the new Camry home to show her husband and even to the husband’s workplace. This, of course, is to be sure that the buyer doesn’t have time to shop and compare the price he quoted. He quoted her an out-the-door price of $28,804. The salesman and the manager assured her that this was a very low price and guaranteed that it was lower than any of the competitive Toyota dealers would offer.

When my shopper refused to listen to them and wouldn’t make a buying decision that same day, they asked her to wait a minute and they’d be back with a lower their words “an even sweeter deal”. They came back with an out-the-door price on the same new Camry of $23,254! THIS PRICE IS $5,550 LESS than the first price they gave her. My mystery shopper left the dealership at that point.

This was, tactically, a very poor way to “sales manage the deal”. A savvier sales manager would have negotiated the price down slower, in small increments. When you drop your price too fast, you can scare the prospective customer away. The customer will think, “if he can drop the price $5,500 this fast, how much more can he drop the price?” The price was a very low price, only about $100 profit to the dealership…a GREAT price. The dealers only hope of increasing his profit was to charge her a high interest rate in the finance office and/or sell her warranties, GAP insurance, and maintenance plans. Or, sneak in some hidden fees on the real papers she signs, because all she’s been shown so far were “worksheets”, not legal documents.

Of course, the best protection against being “slam dunked” is to never buy a car on the first day you begin shopping and always get competitive out-the-door prices from at least three different car dealers.

Monday, October 12, 2020


I’m very excited to announce a major enhancement to our Earl on Cars weekly radio show andwww.EarlOnCars blog. Effective immediately, we’re forming a cadre of volunteers, an army of educated, informed listeners to Earl On Cars radio show and readers of www.EarlOnCars blog to assist car buyers who need help avoiding being taken advantage of (ripped off) by car dealers.

I’ve often said on our radio show that I know, to a great extent, “we’re preaching to the choir” by offering advice to our listeners. Many have been listening to “Earl on Cars” radio and reading blog for years. They often call and text the show with great advice and suggestions. We’re going ask this vast, untapped, new source of wisdom and expertise in car-buying to volunteer to help the less. We’re asking those informed and educated listeners and readers to volunteer to help those “less informed” in car buying skills.

If you consider yourself an educated consumer when it comes to buying a car, and are willing to volunteer your services, please text us at 772 497-6530 or call us any Saturday morning between 8 and 10 at 877 960-9960. We’ll screen those that we don’t know as to their ability to help others in car-buying. You can choose your level of commitment by being accessible via only email, text, phone calls, or in person accompanying those in need to the car dealership.

We’ll post the names and contact information of all qualified volunteers online at, and announce them regularly on our Saturday radio show. Of course, I and all members of our Earl on Cars team will be readily available to our volunteers for advice. Since we’ve expanded our radio snow online to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Periscope and Instagram, we’re reaching all over the United States (and beyond). We’d love to have volunteers from as many locations as possible.

Monday, October 05, 2020

Competition is Car Dealer’s Kryptonite

Every week, for approximately the last 20 years, I’ve been writing a blog like this to help my readers buy a car without being ripped off by car dealers. I’ve also written a book on the subject (Confessions of a Recovering Car Dealer, available on Amazon) and I have a two-hour, weekly radio show on the same subject.

This morning, as I sat down, brainstorming this week’s topic, I began to think that I’m “over-complicating” things for my readers. This column will follow the KISS principle of communications…KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID! Car dealers are very powerful and smart at what they do, but they have a weakness, just like the one Superman had…KRYPTONITE! Kryptonite saps all the strength from Superman. COMPETITION saps all the strength from Car Dealers.

All new car dealers, selling the same make of car, pay the same price to the manufacturer as all other dealers. A dealer selling 1,000 cars per month pays the same price per car as the dealer selling 10 cars per month. All new Hondas are the same, as are all new Fords, Chevy’s, Toyotas, etc., and all with identical costs. They’re like the commodities gold, silver, and copper…an ounce of pure gold should cost the same no matter where you buy it. The only difference between new cars and other commodities like gold and silver, are that other commodity prices are readily available to buyers while CAR DEALERS WON’T TELL YOU THEIR TRUE PRICES until you’ve bought the car.

But you can render a car dealer helpless and unable to resist giving you an honest price with CAR DEALER KRYPTONITE…aka COMPETTION. When a car dealer knows that you’ll be getting out-the-door prices from at least two other car dealers for the exact same new car you plan to buy, YOU LEAVE HIM NO CHOICE BUT TO GIVE YOU HIS LOWEST PRICE.

It’s truly that simple, but it’s not easy because the car dealer will try every trick in his bag to avoid giving you his lowest price. I always recommend buying your car online and avoiding face-to-face contact during the buying process. Car dealer are pros and masters of intimidation and manipulation. They can’t practice this as effectively via email or text. I’d also minimize the use of the telephone. Make it crystal clear in all your communications with the dealer that you want their out-the-door price which is the amount you can write your check for and drive the new car home.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Minimize the Risk of Servicing Your Car During the Covid Pandemic

One of the most frequent questions I get on my radio show [Earl Stewart on Cars, Saturdays 8-10 AM EST 95.9 FM, 106.9 FM;] is “How can I be sure I’m servicing my car properly when I’m afraid to drive my car into the service department for fear of Covid?”

Following are some tips to be sure that your car is getting the right care and not expose you to the Covid virus:

- If you’re concerned about maintaining your car’s warranty, call your dealership’s service department and explain your concern. All makes recommend that you follow the recommend service in our owner’s manual, but it’s very, very rare that warranty repairs are denied because of being late or even missing a recommended service. To do so would require proof that neglect specifically caused a repair…running low or out of oil for example. Call your service department and explain your concern and they’ll likely understand your delaying a service. Also, most service departments provide for “pick-up and delivery” service at an additional charge. The single most critical thing you should watch is your oil level. You want to be sure your oil level doesn’t drop far enough to cause engine damage. I you can’t do this yourself, please have someone do this at lease every 6 months or 5,000 miles.

- Online Owner Forums: Every make car has large numbers of owners who “gather on the Internet” to trade ideas and problems. If your car has a particular problem, noise, rattle, fuel consumption or anything at all that is worrisome, the odds are almost 100% that some people in a chatroom have discussed it and offered solutions. For example, you might have 2016 Honda Accord that stalls at stoplights. Just Google, “2012 Honda Accord stalling at stoplights” and you’ll be amazed at the amount of useful information you’ll see.

- Another way to learn if you have a serious or minor problem, is to describe it carefully to the service advisor or technician that normally works on your car. You can do this by phone, text, or email and be sure to include pictures and audio recordings from your smartphone. Given a good description, especially with audio and video, a good tech can usually give you a diagnosis by phone.

- If your “Check Engine Light” comes on, it’s usually nothing serious. In fact, about half the time it’s because your gas cap isn’t tight enough! Almost all “check engine light” warnings are related to excessive emissions, and this is rarely a serious problem requiring immediate service. You can decode your “check engine light” yourself with a code-reader. The highest rated and best seller on Amazon is the Autophix OBD2 Scanner Enhanced OM126P for $49.99, free one day delivery. Rick Kearney, the technician on my radio show, recommends Auto Zone, Advanced Auto Parts, and O’Reilly’s for a FREE code check. Don’t go to Pep Boys, they’ll charge you.

- If you must take your car to a service department, ask them ahead of time to describe their precautions against Covid. EVERYONE should be PROPERLY wearing a mask, social distancing should be being enforced, hand sanitizers and hand washing stations should be readily available. Your car should be DE sanitized before it’s returned. The tech who was inside your car and the person that returns your car should be wearing masks. Especially careful companies are testing their employees (and even their family members) for Covid periodically.

One thing to remember is that you and your family’s lives are far more important than buying or servicing your car. This pandemic will pass, things will greatly improve, and the day will come when you can safely service and buy a car again. Better safe than sorry.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Template for Buying a Car Online Avoiding Dealer Deceptions


On my radio show, “Earl on Cars”, I feature a mystery shopping report of different South Florida car dealerships. Every week (for over 17 years) we’ve visited different car dealers, pretending to buy a car, and reporting on live radio what really happened. We name the dealerships and those salespeople we dealt with. In the past we’ve responded to “too good to be true” advertisements and exposed the dealers’ deceptions. We thought that, by showing you the “tricks up dealers’ sleeves”, we could help you avoid them. Now, we think we’ll try a different approach, more beneficial to you. We’re demonstrating the best way to buy the car of your choice at a low price without deception. All our mystery shopping reports are available online at 

Below are the mystery shops of four Ford dealerships in South Florida. The very best way to get the best price on the next car you buy is to compare your out-the- door price on the same car with at least 3 car dealerships. Competition is your best friend and car dealers’ worst enemy. Below is a clear example of exactly what you should do the next time you buy a car.  


9-17-2020 Mystery Shop: Multiple Ford Dealers: Mullinax Ford, Al Packard Ford, Wayne Akers Ford, and Advantage Ford Report: 

 I began my mission with a Google search: “Ford dealers near me”. On the search results page, the four closest Ford dealers were Mullinax Ford in Lake Park, Advantage Ford in Stuart, Al Packard Ford in West Palm Beach, and Wayne Akers Ford in Lake Worth.  

My next step was to visit each of their web sites to find my desired vehicle: a new 2020 Ford Explorer XLT with an MSRP of $38,170. Three listings had links that were labeled to imply that clicking it would reveal a price for the listed vehicle. Wayne Akers Ford’s read, “Get Today’s Price”; Mullinax’s said, “Get Today’s Out-the- Door Price”. Al Packer’s was “Get Today’s PACKER e-Price”. Only Advantage Ford’s listing implied the online price was the price; their link read simply, “I’m Interested.” 

 In every case, the links opened “lead forms” - forms on which I was supposed to provide my nameemail addressphone number, and any comments or questions. I learned my lesson from last week’s mystery shop and the deluge of phone calls that I received (and am still getting) taught me.  I put in all zeroes for my phone number, and only gave my email address. Next time, I won’t use my personal email address, but another I can get free from Google, MS Outlook, Yahoo, etc. Where possible, I indicated that I only wanted to communicate via email. In the comments sections, I stated that I wanted to receive an out-the-door price on the listed Explorer, with an explanation of all fees. Since the prices weren’t revealed by clicking the “Get My Price” buttons, I assumed that I would be receiving emails with their best prices.  

1. Advantage Ford Online I submitted my form, then for the heck of it, I tried their online chat, but their chat appeared to be nothing but another way to get me to give more personal information. I asked the chat agent about the Explorer, and the agent offered to get me the info, but then said she couldn’t find it, so she needed my email and phone number for her “team” to contact me. I gave her my email and waited. A few minutes later, I received an email from Jelisa with a price and sparse details. My price was $38,886, but the out-the-door was $42,636.99. This supposedly included all taxes and fees, but there was no itemized breakdown. No MSRP was indicated, but I was given a VIN. I searched their website for the VIN and identified a 2020 Ford Explorer XLT with an MSRP of $42,310… not the vehicle I wanted a price on. 

 2. Wayne Akers Ford Online. I got the fastest response from Wayne Akers. I received an email from Sabrika explaining that the Explorer I inquired about had been sold. She included two out-the-door quotes for two other Explorers… both quotes were sparse on details. No itemized breakdown of fees. No details about options or anything else. One was a used 2020 Explorer with an out-the-door price of $41,225. The only indication that it was used was the “U” at the beginning of the listing. I confirmed it was used by searching the VIN on their web site. The other one was another used 2020 Explorer with an out-the-door price of $37,704.  

3. Al Packer Ford Online. As I did with Advantage Ford, I tried Al Packer’s chat service. It was an identical experience. No help from the chat agent, who just wanted to collect my contact information. I did receive a few emails from Joe, though. The first one didn’t have a price quoteit was just an introduction. The next one was just as helpfulHe wanted to know if I had any questions about the Ford Explorer that I was interested in. I never got a quote. 

 4. Mullinax Ford Online I submitted my inquiry on Mullinax’s website. I received an auto response like Al Packer’s, but right after that, I received a price quote. This quote was the only one I received on the actual car I inquired about: a new 2020 Explorer XLT with an MSRP of $38,170. I emailed back to get an itemized breakdown and waited for a response. After 30 minutes, I still had no response, but I made up my mind to choose Mullinax anyway - they were the only one to quote me on the specific vehicle I wanted. They also had the lowest top line price - $33,833 and the promised No Dealer Fees. 

Mullinax Ford On-site Experience Inside the showroom, everyone wore masks. I asked the receptionist for a salesperson and said that I preferred a female associate if possible. I was told there was only one female salesperson and she was busy with a customer. Instead, she summoned Brian. Brian offered me an “air handshake” and chuckled. I told him about the Explorer and that I had received a quote online. He pulled up the vehicle record on the computer, then reported that it had just been placed into their loaner fleet. He said he had a different one to show me if I agreed. I said okay, assuming I was about to be switched to a more expensive model. Instead, I was surprised that he took me to the twin of my desired vehicle: same year, make, model, trim, and MSRP. Brian scanned my license with his phone, and we drove the vehicle out of the parking garage for a test drive. When we returned, Brian asked if I was ready to make a purchase today. I replied I would if the numbers looked good. We went inside. I was asked to wait while Brian got the sales figures. He returned with a worksheet with an itemized cost breakdown. The MSRRP was $38,170. Then Brian applied a $1,087 discount and a $3,250 rebate to get to a selling price of $33,833 (same as my online quote). He added $2,411 in taxes (the sales tax should have totaled $2,079.98, though I did not catch this at the time). He also added $311.50 for Tag & Registration. That was it. No other fees. I asked Brian if it was okay if I grabbed some lunch and thought things over. Brian did not seem to have a problem with that. He handed me my paperwork and said he’d look forward to my call.  

Epilogue What this mystery shop teaches us is that it doesn’t matter how sophisticated or methodical a consumer’s approach is, getting an out-the-door price quote is like pulling teeth. Despite the fancy web forms and chat services, the online experience can be just as frustrating as the traditional showroom visit. However, Mullinax stood out over the others. Except for the slow (no) response for the price breakdown over email and the incorrect sales tax calculation (this was either a mistake or a small hidden fee of $331. Because Mullinax advertise “No Dealer Fees”, they may rationalize that calling the hidden fee something else makes it OK)Mullinax came closest to a modern 21st century car buying experience we hoped to get. TrueCar average for this model is a bit lower than Mullinax’s selling price, coming in at $33,421 before dealer fees. However, with dealer fees averaging over $1,000 in our area, it’s likely that Mullinax has a lower actual price.