Monday, December 15, 2014
You can tune us in any Tuesday afternoon from 4pm to 6pm on JVC Broadcasting’s, “900 The Talk of the Palm Beaches”. That’s 900 on your AM dial. Our first show is Tuesday, December 16 and if you read this blog in time, we encourage you to listen and call the show with your comments and questions. You can stream the show live by following this link Stream Earl & Nancy LIVE.Our show is live, but it will be recorded for replay on Sundays from also from 4 PM to 6 PM. I’m excited to say that our show will also be simulcast live in Long Island, NY on 103.9, LI News Radio. Nancy and I will be off the air for the holidays, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, but back on again Tuesday, January 7.
Nancy and I would like to thank the new owners of Seaview Radio, John Caracciolo, and Vic Canales for allowing former Seaview and current JVC General Manager, Chet Tart, to reinstate our show and expand the hours and frequency. But wait there’s more! “900: The Talk of the Palm Beaches” has ten times the power of our old Seaview station. The new signal for Earl Stewart on Cars reaches north to Vero Beach, south to Pompano, and west to Ft. Myers. We will reach, literally hundreds of thousands more listeners!
Furthermore, we are adding an entire new dimension to our show with Rick Kearney, a Certified Diagnostic Master Auto Technician. Rick knows “everything” about the mechanics of automobiles. He can answer all of your questions about problems you have with your car or truck, how to be avoid being ripped off by a mechanic or service department, and how best to economically service your vehicle.
For those of you who have not listened to our radio show in the past, we offer something similar to this blog and newspaper column, but more and “live” so that you can call us and answer all of your questions. You may be in the process of buying a used or new car and need advice on how to find the lowest price, what makes and models are best for you, or which car dealers can you trust the most. You may have already bought a car and would like to share your purchasing experience, good or bad, with Nancy, me, and our radio audience. You might wonder if those “extra services” that the person you take your car to are really needed or if the price they are charging you is fair.
Someone once said that buying and servicing a car is like having a root canal without the anesthetic. We would like to offer you some advice that will not only act as an anesthetic, but actually turn the buying an servicing of cars into a pleasurable experience. If you listen to Earl Stewart on Cars, you will hear me quote Jim Press, the former CEO for Toyota for all of North America and the first non-Japanese to sit on Toyota’s board of directors, “The way you treat the customer when you do not owe them anything, like how you treat somebody who cannot fight back—that is the ultimate test of character.” This sums up Nancy’s and my ultimate goal which is to ensure that all car dealers and service departments in South Florida understand the truth of this statement.
Posted by Earl Stewart at 11:36 AM
Monday, December 08, 2014
This is the Florida law that is supposed to regulate the Dealer Fee: “The advertised price must include all fees or charges that the customer must pay excluding state and local taxes.” The law also requires that the Dealer Fee must be disclosed to the buyer as follows: “This charge represents costs and profits to the dealer for items such as inspecting, cleaning, and adjusting vehicles and preparing documents related to the sale.”
This law is very weak and almost never enforced. When enforced, it isn’t enforced by the letter of the law; it is done so as to “accommodate” the car dealers. The law is “weak” because it requires only that the dealer fee be included in the “advertised” price. The word “advertised” is narrowly interpreted to mean a specific car shown in a newspaper, TV, radio, or online ad, but, what about when you get a price on the phone, online, or from the salesman? You don’t find out about the Dealer Fee until you’re in the business office signing a bunch of papers. The dealers get around advertisements very easily by including a “number” in the fine print. This number is their stock number that designates one specific car. When you respond to the ad, this car is no longer available (sales people are usually not paid a commission for selling the “ad car). The advertisement might say “many more identical cars are available.” It’s true that identical cars are available for sale, but they are not available for sale at the sale price because they are not the advertised stock number car. If you buy one of those “exact same cars” you will pay from $700 to $2,000 more.
The reason I’m told that the law is rarely enforced is that the Florida Attorney General’s office is understaffed and too busy enforcing other Florida laws. I’m also told that Florida car buyers don’t file very many complaints against car dealers for violating the Dealer Fee law. I don’t believe that there can be too many other infractions of the law that take more money annually from consumers than dealer fees take from car buyers. Just one car dealer selling 1,000 cars a year and charging a $1,000 dealer fee is taking a $1 million annually from car buyers. Most car dealers in South Florida well a lot more than 1,000 cars annually and many charge more than $1,000 dealer fee. I believe that the reason more complaints aren’t filed on the dealer fee is because most car buyers don’t know that they are being duped. They either don’t notice the fee or assume it’s an official federal or state fee. Dealer often tell their customers that all dealers charge it and that it’s required by law.
The Attorney General also “accommodates” the dealers by not interpreting the law the way it was intended. For example, the law says that the dealer fee must be included in the advertised price. The Florida Senate has ruled that the law requires that the fee be “included” rather than “specifically delineated.” But the Attorney General allows car dealers to advertise car prices without including their dealer fee in the price if they mention their dealer fee in the fine print. They also allow car dealers to simply state in the fine print that they have a Dealer Fee but not even mention the amount. To me they are simply allowing the car dealers to break the law.
Lastly, the required disclosure of the Dealer Fee on the vehicle buyer’s order or invoice is confusing, misleading, and incorrect: “This charge represents costs and profits to the dealer for items such as inspecting, cleaning, and adjusting vehicles and preparing documents related to the sale.” It should not say “costs” because any cost that you pass along to the customer in the price of a product is pure profit. A dealer can pass along his utility bills, sales commissions and advertising if he wants to and call it a “dealer fee”. It should not say “inspecting, cleaning, and adjusting vehicles” because all car dealers are reimbursed by the manufacturer for “inspecting, cleaning, and adjusting vehicles”.
So, what should you do when you are confronted by a car dealer with the “Dealer Fee”? Besides “LEAVE”, here are some suggestions that may help you:
(1) Make it clear from the very beginning that all prices you discuss must be “out-the-door” prices. This way you don’t care if the dealer fee added up front because you will shop and compare their bottom line price with at least 3 competing car dealers. Ideally you should require that they include tax and tag in that price. If you don’t they might try to slip in something they call the “electronic filing fee” or “e filing fee” and trick you into believing it’s part of the license tag and registration.
(2) The dealer will often tell you that all car dealers charge Dealer Fees and that they are required by law to add the dealer fee on every car they sell. Simply tell them that you know this is not true and you can cite me and other car dealers like Mullinax Ford who do not charge a dealer fee. Print out a copy of this article, show it to them, and tell them that you know that there is no law that says he must charge you a dealer fee.
(3) As long as you and the dealer understand that the out-the-door price is the price you will shop and compare with his competition, you don’t need to be concerned whether there is a dealer fee showing on the vehicle buyer’s order. To be competitive, the dealer can simply reduce the price by the amount of his Dealer Fee and the bottom line is what you are comparing.
(4) Be aware that dealers usually do not pay their sales people a commission on the amount of their dealer fee. In fact, dealers often misinform their sales people just like they do their customers. The salesman who tells you that the all dealers charge Dealer Fees and that the law requires everyone pay a dealer fee may actually believe it. Sale people who understand that the Dealer Fee is simply profit to the dealer will be resentful of not being paid their 25% commission on it. A $1,000 dealer fee costs the salesman $250 in commission.
(5) When you respond to an advertisement at a specific price for a specific model car, object when the dealer adds the dealer fee. Unfortunately, the law allows him the loophole of claiming that the ad car is a different stock number, but you might be able to shame him into taking off the dealer fee. If you raise a “big enough stink”, the dealer would be smart to take off the dealer fee than claim that technicality, especially if you were to advise the local TV station or newspaper.
I hope that these suggestions help you and I hope that you will file a complaint with the Florida Attorney General, Pam Bondi. If enough consumers (who are also voters) let our elected officials know how they feel about the Dealer Fee, it will bring positive results.
Posted by Earl Stewart at 9:56 AM
Monday, December 01, 2014
I’ve been writing articles on why nitrogen in your tires is a waste of money for several years, but It has had very little effect on the number of car dealers that are selling it to their customers. The “Nitrogen Lobby” must be very powerful because we still have no federal or state legislation to curtail this. Selling nitrogen generation equipment and tanks of nitrogen to car dealers is very lucrative and, even more lucrative is the money car dealers make selling nitrogen to their customers. One large volume car dealer charges $398 for nitrogen in the tires of every vehicle he sells. The cost of nitrogen is about “25 cents” per application. If you feel you absolutely must have nitrogen in your tires, Costco will give it to you “free” which is exactly what nitrogen in your tires is worth.
I don’t recommend that you even accept free nitrogen for this reason. It’s widely accepted and recommended that you should have your tire pressure checked in your tires at least monthly. We do this free for our customers and automatically do it at every service visit. When you are sold or even given nitrogen, it comes with a sales pitch that nitrogen will remain in your tires for a much longer time than air which is not true. Click on this link to Consumer Reports article, www.NitrogenInTiresWastesYourMoney.com. If you believe the sales pitch, you’re less likely to check your tires inflation every 30 days. You may have a slow leak in one tire from a nail or screw, uneven wear from misalignment, or even a defective tire. Being “over confident” because you paid money for nitrogen may cause these problems to go undetected. Consumer Reports estimates that 1lb of nitrogen will escape from your tires every 3 months vs. 1 month for air. Remember that air is 78% nitrogen. I’ll bet the salesman that sells you nitrogen “forgot” to tell you that.
Be prepared for a great sales pitch on nitrogen. You’ll be told that NASCAR uses nitrogen in the tires of their race cars, NASA used nitrogen in the tires of their space shuttle, and that airlines uses nitrogen in airplane tires. All of this is true, but so what? A race car going 200 mph for hours and hours around an oval track subjects its tires to extremely high temperatures. 100% nitrogen gas does expand less under extreme heat condition than 78% nitrogen gas (air). The space shuttle tires go from zero atmospheric pressure in outer space to regular pressure at sea level. Airliners also have extreme pressure variations from 30,000 feet to the ground.
To be perfectly fair, I must say that some car dealers that are selling nitrogen have “drunk the Kool Ade” from the nitrogen generation equipment industry. Some car dealers actually believe that nitrogen is good for your tires. But those who do know must know how much they’re marking up that 25 cents worth of nitrogen they’re selling you! The argument for nitrogen can be persuasive. In fact, when the concept was first introduced, before the Consumer Reports study, I actually considered adding nitrogen to my customers’ tires. But, in an abundance of caution, I decided to test the claims about nitrogen myself. Over a six month period I used pure nitrogen in 50% of my rental car fleet and regular air (78% nitrogen) in the other half. Guess what! There was no measurable difference between the pure nitrogen and air filled tires in the fuel economy, tire wear, or inflation pressure after 6 months. We did check the tires every 30 days for slow leaks from road hazards, uneven wear from misalignment or other reasons, and we rotated and balanced the tires every 5,000 miles.
Finally, I’ll tell you why I was so careful to be sure there was no advantage to nitrogen. My dealership has a “fee tire program”. Everybody who buys a Toyota from me, new or used, receives free tires (maximum of $700 per set) for as long as they own their car. The one requirement is that they bring their car back to me for the factory recommended service and we replace only tires from normal wear, not road hazards, underinflating or misalignment. I give away over $100,000 worth of tires every month, well over a million dollars per year. BELIEVE ME, if I thought I could get longer wear from a tire for “25 cents” worth of nitrogen, I would! I look at the tires on my customers’ cars as “belonging to me” because I incur the cost of replacing them when they wear out.
Posted by Earl Stewart at 11:14 AM
Monday, November 24, 2014
Obviously it is more difficulty for an individual to make a profit by selling her own trade-in than it is for the dealer. That is one of the main consideration you must consider before deciding to sell your old car yourself. Most people run an ad in the local paper and/or online to advertise their trade. If you do this, you need to know what to ask for your car and I recommend consulting www.kbb.com. This is Kelly Blue Book’s Web site and will tell you about what your car is worth wholesale and retail. Another way to determine this is to ask dealers for your make of your car what they will buy it for. This will establish the wholesale value. CarMax is a good company to consult if there is one near you. Once you establish the wholesale, you should consider a markup of less than what car dealers are asking. When deciding how much profit you want to make, remember that you are losing the sales tax reduction that you earn when you trade your car in. On a $20,000 trade, that amounts to $1,200. If you can make a $2,100 above wholesale, you are ahead of the game by $1,000. This takes a lot of work and you will be dealing with a lot of “tire-kickers” and people who cannot afford to buy your car. I very strongly advise you not to extend credit. Require full payment in cash. Set a time limit on how long you will try to sell your car. Remember that your used car is depreciating every week and your cost of advertising will climb. I wouldn’t suggest you hang on to your old car for more than a month.
Ebay is a good alternative to advertising your car in the newspaper. A lot of car dealers use Ebay to retail used cars and it is very effective. There are schools on how to retail merchandise on Ebay and Ebay has tutorials. There are also a lot of books at any bookstore on this subject. There are companies who will do all of the work for you and you only pay them a fee if they are successful in selling your car. If the dealer you are buying your new car from sells cars on Ebay (most do), you can ask him if he will post yours Ebay along with his cars for a fee.
If you fail in your attempt to retail your old car, remember to be careful to maximize the amount you get from your dealer as trade-in. Often times dealers will attempt to trade a car in for below wholesale. Be sure you have a firm handle on the true wholesale value of your trade. You can get bids from other dealerships to purchase your car for cash and you can check with www.kbb.com. If you are buying a car from a dealer franchised to sell a different make than your trade-in, be wary. This dealer will likely be unable to offer you as much as a dealer who is franchised to sell the make of your trade. People looking to buy a used Toyota are more likely to visit a Toyota dealership than a Chevrolet dealership. That is why it’s important to get bids from other dealerships before accepting the trade-in offered by the dealer you’re buying your new car from.
Posted by Earl Stewart at 11:15 AM
Monday, November 17, 2014
(1) If you’re financing the car through the dealer, there’s a chance that your financing has not been approved based on the same terms, interest rate, and down payment you agreed to. If you bought the car on a weekend or after 5pm, most banks and credit unions are closed. Even if you bought it earlier during a weekday, it can take a day or more for a bank to do a thorough credit investigation and approval. If your credit is later turned down or the down payment, interest rate, or terms modified, you will be faced with the embarrassing necessity of returning the car and resigning a contract that will result in you paying more money than you had agreed to.
(2) Most cars, surprisingly, are purchased on impulse with emotion overcoming logic. The 2nd largest expenditure the average person makes in their life is for their car. This decision should be made with logic, not emotion. Logic dictates that one should spend several weeks studying the pros and cons of the many different vehicles available. The Internet offers a wealth of information. Should you lease or buy? Should you buy a late model used car or a new one? Which dealer offers the lowest price? Which dealer offers the highest price for your trade-in? Which bank or credit union offers the lowest interest rates and terms and down payment acceptable to you? You should never buy a vehicle without an extensive test drive.
(3) The dealer may be insisting that you take delivery immediately because he knows that this is the best way to force your emotion to overcome your logic. When you take your new vehicle home and show it off to your friends, family, and neighbors, you’re far more likely not to change your mind. Because you’ve left your trade-in with the dealer, you’re not going to be checking prices with other dealers. Taking you out of the market by keeping your trade in has a slang term among dealers…you’ve been “de-horsed”. Taking that new car home the same day also has a slang term…you’ve been “puppy-dogged”. Have you ever gone puppy shopping with your family and brought home a warm, cute, and cuddly puppy? What are the chances you’ll return her the next day because the price was too high?
(4) A legally binding contract must have “offer and acceptance.” Taking your car home completely binds the acceptance of the contract, if you signed one, and makes it far less likely that you will be able to get out of the deal you made.
(5) Unscrupulous car dealers will spot deliver cars knowing that the lender will not approve the low interest rate, low down payment, and longer terms that you have agreed to. They’re relying on the fact that you’ll fall in love with your “new puppy” and that you’ll brag to your family, friends, and neighbors how about the low price, low interest rate, etc. that you negotiated. When you get that call from the finance manager at the dealership a few days after delivery that you must come back to “take care of a little more paperwork”, you won’t hesitate. When you get there, you find out that you have to come up with a lot higher down payment, a much higher interest rate, and tell you that you have to buy an extended warranty because “the bank requires it”. Your monthly payment goes way up and so does the dealer’s profit. The dealers have a slang expression for this too…it’s called the “yo-yo delivery”.
If you find yourself in the position of being told to return your purchase because the bank requires a higher interest, higher down payment, or shorter terms be sure that you understand that you have no obligation to sign a new contract and keep the vehicle. Your contract is null and void. There’s even an argument to be made by you and your lawyer that the first contract is valid and that you can keep the car at the original terms agreed upon. You may have signed a paper, typically referred to as a “Recession Agreement”, which purports to require you to return the car if the bank refuses to honor the contract as written. There are financial penalties if you don’t. This was common practice with all Florida car dealers for many years but court decisions, case law, has made this a very questionable practice. I hope that this never happens to you but if it does and you decide you want to keep the car under the terms of the original finance contract, I recommend you hire a lawyer.
Posted by Earl Stewart at 9:48 AM
Monday, November 10, 2014
We give our mystery shoppers code names to protect their real identities because most car dealerships listen to my weekly radio show. This shopper’s code name is “Agent K”. Agent K told the sales person who greeted her that she was responding to the advertisement for a new Kia Soul for only $179 per month. The salesman led her over and showed her the advertised car and as they walked over to the car he said “the advertising for this car is not all true”. Interestingly, a comment like this from car salespeople is not unusual. The sales people don’t write the advertisements and are not responsible for the sales tactics of the dealership they work for. Many are apologetic and do not like to have to explain unfair and deceptive advertisements to their customers. They are the ones that have to face angry customers when they find out that the advertisements aren’t true. Jobs are hard to come by these days and I can almost understand why someone might compromise their ethics to put food on their family’s table.
The salesman explained that the advertised car was a stick shift. He also explained that she would have to make a cash down payment of $4,000 and make monthly payments for the next six years and three months. Furthermore, she would have to have a credit Beacon score of at least 750 to qualify for the 2.79% interest rate they used to calculate the low payment.
The salesman asked Agent K if she would like to take a demonstration ride in the new Kia Soul but she responded “no” because she had already test driven one at another dealer. She didn’t tell him the real reason she wouldn’t test drive it was because she didn’t know how to drive a stick shift. Of course, this is the exact reason that car dealers advertise cars that don’t have automatic transmissions because 99% of car buyers don’t want to buy a stick shift and most have never driven one.
Another thing that the car salesman did not tell Agent K was that there was only one car available at the advertised price. This was not clearly disclosed in the advertisements but indicated only in the very fine print by a “stock number”. The stock number for this bait and switch car was 130940 which is probably the last six digits of the VIN. The only way I was able to view this number was by looking on the Internet ad, printing it out, and then using a magnifying glass to read it. It is literally impossible to read the fine print on the TV advertisements and impossible to hear the disclosure on the radio advertisements. The fine print on TV appears only for a second or two as a blur on the bottom of the screen and the radio audio disclosure is deliberately obfuscated by speeding up the sound track and lowering the volume.
The reason that car dealers use a stock number in the fine print is so that they can abide by the Florida law that requires that the dealer fee be included in all “advertised” prices. This anemic law resulted from the powerful lobbying of the Florida Automobile Dealers Association, FADA. This means that a salesman can quote you a price on new car in person, on the phone or via email without disclosing that there is an extra charge (without limit!) that he can legally add after you have agreed to buy the car. A car dealer must only tell the truth about the full price of his cars when he advertises that specific car.
The Kia dealer in West Palm Beach has three dealer fees totaling $971.45. He doesn’t name any of them “dealer fee”. Florida law allows dealers to name this extra, hidden profit anything they choose. This just makes it easier for the car dealers to hide this hidden profit from their customers. The Kia dealer decided to name one of his dealer fees “delivery fee” and it is $699.95. He probably chose this to make the customer believe that this was for inspecting, washing, and adjusting the new car. What most customers don’t know is that these costs are actually paid for by the manufacturer. His second dealer fee he chose to name “document and handling fee” and in the fine print on his buyer’s order says it’s “preparation, processing and handling of the documents required in registration, filing and licensing of the vehicle” and this extra profit to him is $218.55. This West Palm Beach Kia dealer does have expenses for processing and handling documents. He also has expenses for his monthly utility bills, sales commissions, and lease payments for his building, not to mention his deceptive advertising. But businesses are supposed to include all of their expenses in the prices of the products they sell. They are not supposed to tell you the price and then make you pay their expenses on top of that price. The third dealer fee this Kia dealer chose to name Electronic Filing/Private Tag Agency Fee which amounts to $64.95. He does pay a company to process his tag work but he doesn’t pay them $64.95. It’s $10 or $15 and then he marks it up and adds this to his profits.
You’ll notice that all of the dealer fee names have something in common. They all end in “fee”. This is by design because the word fee has an official sounding sound about it. This is to lead you to believe that all of these fees are federal, state, or local taxes or fees. One way to detect real fees from additional profit to the dealer is by whether or not the dealer charges you sales tax on that amount. He is required by law to pay Florida sales tax on the full, true selling price of the vehicle which must include his all of his profit and expenses except for tax and tag.
Just as an aside, I’ll also mention that this dealer marks up the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, MSRP, sticker on all of his cars by $2,999. He places this addendum label next to the official Monroney sticker and calls the extra markup “Regional Market Value Adjustment”. This is actually reduction from a few months ago when his “Regional Market Value Adjustment” was $6,999! Dealers do this so that they can offer inflated discounts and trade-in allowances. This practice is clearly in violation of spirit and intent of the federal law mandating that a Monroney label be placed on every new car to afford buyers a common basis for comparing prices.
I hope Pam Bondi, Florida’s recently reelected Attorney General, reads this article. I think I know how she would feel if a relative or friend of hers were victimized by this dealer or one of the other Florida car dealers, most of whom use the dealer fee and the “phony Monroney” to overcharge their customers. Maybe she would join me in mystery shopping some car dealers to learn how Florida car buyers are being victimized and then do something about it.
Posted by Earl Stewart at 12:32 PM
Monday, November 03, 2014
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.
Posted by Earl Stewart at 10:31 AM