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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
It pained me, but did not surprise me, to read that automobile-related complaints once again topped the list of consumer concerns (Automobile-related complaints top the complaints list once again - Aug. 12, Susan Salisbury). Sadly, automotive sales people are also ranked among the lowest in regards to honesty and ethical standards.
So, as a car dealer who has literally written the book about how to avoid getting ripped off when buying or servicing your car, I would like my readers of the top 10 things not to do:
(1) Don't believe automotive ads. Often the extremely low price or discounts apply to only one car or to a very select group that you won't fit in. It is best to just ignore these ads.
(2) Never buy a car on impulse on the first day you start shopping. There is something about a new car that excites people and appeals to them on an emotional level. Go home and think about it this major purchase. Research the model of car you looked at and the price on the Internet. You should take at least a week or two in the decision making process before you buy a car.
(3) Don't trade your old car in to the dealer you buy from without shopping its value. The dealer can make it appear that he is giving you a lot of money for your trade by taking some of the high markup on the new car and showing it as part of the appraisal value. Check Kelly Blue Book (kbb.com) and Edumnds.com on the Internet. Get at least three bids from other dealers of the same make for your trade. Make the purchase of the new car and the sale of your trade two separate transactions.
(4) Don't use the dealer's financing without checking with your bank or credit union. Shop for the best price on your financing just like you shop for the best price on your trade-in and the best price on new your car. Oftentimes credit unions, which you don't have to be a member of, have the best rates.
(5) Don't believe it when they say "This low price is good today only". This is one of the favorite ruses used by car sales people and dealers. In 99% of the cases, you can buy that car for the same or an even lower price later. The only time that you can't is when factory incentives expire on a certain date, typically at the end of the month. If that is the claim, demand to see the written factory incentive by the manufacturer.
(6) Don't agree to "Make me a written offer with a deposit and I will submit it to my manager." This is to get you psychologically engaged in the buying process. Once you have signed a buyer's order and written out a check, you will remain in the dealership for a while and are more likely to buy. The salesman knows that. Insist on getting their best price on the car you have selected. You should never make the first offer. Once you have their price, compare it with at least 3 other prices from other dealers on the same make and model.
(7) Never agree to "take this new car home and see how you like it." This is the famous "puppy dog" technique so named because once you take a puppy dog home overnight, who has the heart to return it the next day? You, your neighbors, and friends will see that shiny new car parked in your driveway. It sure looks good! How can you explain to anybody that you didn't buy it?
(8) Don't commit to "buy the car if you can get my monthly payments below $___.__" Most of us tend to think in terms of our monthly budgets. We might feel that we can afford a new car as long as it costs us less than $350 per month, but there is a big difference between $350 per month for 36 months and $350 per month for 72 months. I recommend that you finance a car for no more than 42 months, preferably 36.
(9) Don't believe "You have my word on that." Be absolutely sure that every promise or commitment made to you by your sales person is in writing and signed by a manager. No exceptions!
(10) Don't accept that "All dealers charge a dealer fee and we can't remove it from the invoice." In fact, all dealers do not charge a dealer fee. I don't. But unfortunately most do charge this "gotcha" ranging from $495 to $1,000. It is true that Florida law (which should prohibit dealer fees entirely) requires that the dealer fee appear on all invoices. If you charge just one customer a dealer fee, you must charge everybody. The state legislators, in their infinite wisdom, decided if a car dealer is going to take advantage of even one buyer, he must take advantage of all of the buyers ... never discriminate. But the loophole in this stupid law is for you to demand that the dealer reduce the price of the car by the amount of the dealer fee, making it a wash.
All of this information and much more is contained in my book, "Confessions of a Recovering Car Dealer." I donate 100 percent of the sales of the book to charity as I make my living selling cars, not books. Many local groups have used this as a fundraiser, by having me speak at their meeting and receiving all of the proceeds from the books purchased that day by their members and guests. You can purchase my book on www.Amazon.com.
I know I will never win a popularity contest among other car dealers, but I am ashamed of the ethics of our industry and am dedicated to doing everything I can to change it.