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Now browsing: Hometown News > Business Columns > Earl Stewart

Earl Stewart
This Week | Archive

An open letter to Florida's Attorney General
Rating: 1.2 / 5 (5 votes)  
Posted: 2013 May 17 - 08:53

Dear Ms. Bondi,

Thanks for working so hard to protect Floridians from being taken advantage of by those individuals and businesses that would deceive us to unjustly enrich themselves.

I know that your responsibilities are enormous and that your resources are limited, especially given the current fragile state of Florida's economy. I fully understand why you must choose your objectives carefully and then focus those limited resources in your fight against crime and unfair and deceptive businesses and individuals.

I respectfully suggest that you consider the deceptive advertising and sale of automobiles by Florida car dealers as one of your focused targets. Speaking to advertising, the easiest way for you to learn how prevalent deceptive car advertisements are would be to go online and read the auto classifieds in any major Florida newspaper. Viewing the e-editions of newspapers will allow you to also read the fine print which is helpful in discovering the almost universal "bait and switch" nature of these advertisements.

The TV, radio, and direct mail advertisements are arguably even more deceptive. The TV and radio "fine print" disclosure is nonexistent, because it cannot be read or heard by anyone even with the sharpest eyes and hearing. The car dealers don't even try to legitimatize many of their direct mail advertisements because they know they fly below the radar of the regulators since they can specifically target all recipients.

Speaking to deceptive sales practices, I consider myself an authority on this because I have been "mystery shopping" car dealers in South Florida weekly for several years. I send in a mystery shopper who purports to be responding to an advertised used or new car.

In the vast majority of these hundreds of shopping reports I've discovered unfair and deceptive sales practices. In many cases salespeople will openly admit to the shopper that the advertisement is a lie and that its sole purpose is to get people to come into the dealership.

Probably the most common violation is the failure to disclose the "dealer fee." In recent years most dealers have begun charging customers for their "electronic filing fee," marking up their cost for tag and registration by as much as $300-$400. This new version of the dealer fee most often not disclosed on vehicle buyer's orders as is required by Florida law for the dealer fee although it is a dealer fee by another name.

A car purchase is the second most expensive purchase a person makes and, unlike a home purchase, the purchase is made about every four years. For most Floridians, nothing else requires a higher percentage of their earnings than their cars. If I'm right, and most transactions involving car purchasing in Florida includes deceptive advertising and sales practices, this should be a priority item for your office to regulate.

For many years I have attempted to persuade the Florida Automobile Dealers Association, FADA, to regulate themselves. Although the chairman and president of FADA are receptive to this, they have been unable to get agreement from the executive committee and directors. I have suggested that FADA ask dealer volunteers in the various markets around Florida to monitor advertising and investigate consumer complaints.

If a dealer was found to be engaging in unfair and deceptive advertising and/or sales practices, FADA would send him a warning letter. If he ceased and desisted from these practices that would be the only action taken. If the dealer did not, FADA would notify your office and you would take whatever actions necessary to bring this car dealer into line.

I think it is in the best interest of Florida car dealers to regulate themselves, but there must be some "teeth" in that regulation. I believe if you wrote Larry Morgan, the chairman of FADA, and Ted Smith, the president, asking that FADA consider some self-regulation and submit that plan to the Florida Attorney General's Office for approval, this might get the "self-regulation ball" rolling.

Please call on me any time I can be of assistance. My cell phone number is (561) 358-1474 and my email address is earl@estoyota.com.


Earl Stewart

Earl Stewart is the owner and general manager of Earl Stewart Toyota in North Palm Beach. The dealership is located at 1215 N. Federal Highway in Lake Park. Contact him at www.earlstewarttoyota.com, call (561) 358-1474, fax (561) 658-0746 or email earl@estoyota.com. Listen to him on Seaview AM 960, FM 95.9 and FM 106.9, which can be streamed at www.SeaviewRadio.com every Saturday morning between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m.

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