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Even rocket scientists know Jack Squat Diddly about buying, leasing or servicing an automobile...
- Neural Surgeons and Astronauts - 0; Car Dealers - 10; Go Figure!
R. Rand Knox

Dealing with the Dealer
Giving the Dealer the Dealer's Treatment
Alternative Dealing Strategies

(Pick one or more, if you dare... very car-fully,
test drive a few dealers before settling in for closing the trunk on a deal)

CAUTION! Do not finance vehicle purchases through the dealer. Just don't do it. Financing through dealers is a cash cow for dealers who often add two, three, four or five percent or more to the interest fee charged by the lending company. This is called dealer reserve, and it works like a kick-back to the dealer, often at great extra expense to consumers. Bad credit consumers are especially susceptible to this dealer reserve which is often undisclosed by the dealer. Often dealer financing staff are trained to tell consumers they will get for the consumer the "best" financing rate available, without telling them that the dealer will mark up the lenders interest rate to milk the deal. If you must finance through a dealer, make sure to find out the lending company's interest rate, and the dealer's reserve or markup interest rate. And negotiate this along with the price of the vehicle.

  • The Virtual Car Deal: (Aren't they all?) Buying or leasing a car over the internet is generally equivalent to buying from a dealer or broker and usually the price quoted will be the manufacturer's invoice (usually more), which as you may know by now has been padded and usually includes a 3%, 5% or higher percentage "holdback" for the seller be he or she an authorized dealer, broker, or virtual retailer-dealer.
  • The No-deal Deal or Lease:
    This is the least expensive (in most cases) of the various types of car deals.
    Just don't buy it. Go carless. Imagine how much interest the $15,000 to $45,000 or more in car and loan fees will earn if wisely invested and compounded over several no-deals, especially when factored over a life-time of car ownership and operation costs. Just don't buy it. This type of deal pays dividends to the consumer which otherwise would be spent on insurance, loan interest, and repair bills, and gas.

    A lifetime of average car ownership at 20,000 driving miles per year could cost over $550,000 plus, not including external costs such as war for oil, etc.

    Make your government give you an income tax deduction for not owning and not driving a car, or for limiting the use of your car.
    Make your government make the IRS reward carlessness, and to encourage and promote public and private investments in public and alternative transportation to wean society of its addictive dependence on the private automobile.

    The MSRP (Window Sticker Price) Deal.
    If you pay the MSRP, why not leave a big tip too, while you're at it? This is the least consumer friendly of the various car deal strategies. If you or anyone you know pays the window sticker price on any new car (including so called "value priced" or no-dicker deals), check out the following more enlightened and consumer assertive car deal strategies. Remember, MSRP also has been derisively, but accurately referred to as the "manufacturer's suggested rip-off price." The government requires the manufacturer to post the MSRP on each new car, and dealers are only too happy to comply in posting this inflated price on the window for every sucker, er., consumer to see.

    Don't Buy It! Don't Pay It!
    Negotiate non-negotiable "value-priced" or no-haggle deals too. Just knock-off an appropriate percentage from the manufacturer's invoice price which is often referred to as the dealer's costs (obtainable for a nominal free from Consumer Reports Pricing Service, AAA or other automobile pricing service) and walk until the dealer talks. If negotiating pricing is not a customer service, then what is? Are you being serviced or served?
  • The Bidded or Low-bid Deal:
    The low bid deal is one in which a final competitive low price is requested from four or five dealers individually (make sure you specify in writing that you are negotiating for a new and defect free vehicle -- if you are). This can be done in person by visiting the dealerships, by phone or by fax or mail. Get the dealer's commitment in writing. Be wary of low-ball pricing which some dealers will try merely to lure you back to work you over or to anchor you to the dealership.

    The consumer may choose to buy from the low bidder, or negotiate a lower price with the low bidder, or the next lowest bidder, etc. Generally dealers will shun bidding wars, but skillful consumers may be able to work a better deal using this method. Dealers working through a manufacturer's regional sales representative many be able to bid up a low bid by sharing information informally or inadvertently between dealers within a region or through the manufacturer's representative, so the low bid may not really be the best deal possible.

    Moreover, several dealerships of the same make and model of vehicles in a geographical area are often owned as a dealership "group" by a single dealer or company. Bidding prices between "dealerships" owned by a single entity obviously comes with a big CARveat Emptor. Time was when independent dealers kept manufacturers from retailing their products directly to the public. Dealers become the middlemen (persons) ostensibly as a means of preventing price-brand monopolization by a manufacturer. The more recent "dealership or automotive groups" make it more likely that consumers will pay more for a vehicle than if there were dealerships competing for the sale of the same makes and models of vehicles in a region or area. The dealer has always been the inflationary middle person in the delivery of vehicles to the consumer, increasing the cost to consumers. The dealership groups are but another method of controlling prices and minimizing competition in the marketplace. Consumers need to know who they're dealing with and be prepared to shop, compare and negotiate accordingly.

    Typically in low bid deals, the dealer has not worked for the consumer in negotiating a better deal by negotiating a lower and fairer manufacturer's profit. Better to make the dealer negotiate a lower manufacturer profit for you as part of the dealer's commitment to customer service and satisfaction.

    Although it may not be worth the paper its written on, request that the dealer disclose all known defects, damage or repairs in writing before negotiating price or new or used cars. If there are none, have the dealer put this in writing, too.
  • The Brokered Deal.
    This is where a consumer purchases a car with the assistance of an independent car sales broker. Ahh, another middle person fee. A fair or good negotiator should be able to do as well or better dealing directly with the dealer and pocket the broker's fee. Avoids the hassle of dealing with dealers (worth something!), but at a cost that could be saved by dealing direct with the dealer if you don't get fleeced in the process. If you have deal broke red, consider deducting the broker's fees from the final price. Brokered deals generally don't include negotiated dealer or manufacturer's profits which means consumers pay more for this deal type than necessary. The broker is another middleman which passes additional costs on to the consumer.
  • Negotiated Dealer Profit Deal.
    This is the deal of conventional popularity and vogue. Popularized about ten years ago (earlier for industry insiders), this deal strategy assumes that consumers cannot negotiate below the price set by the manufacturer's invoice (so-called dealer's costs). If you do not know about this kind of deal, do some reading before buying your next new car. Consumer Reports in, "Dealing with the Dealer," reported that on average, consumers were able to negotiate a dealer profit of between 2% and 4% above the "dealer's cost" as represented by the manufacturer's invoice price to the dealer.

    You may be able to do better than this by negotiating not only the dealer's take on the deal, but by also negotiating the manufacturer's profit as well. The manufacturer's invoice price (sometimes referred to as the dealer's costs) includes in many cases a hold back fee of 3% to 5% or more which is paid to the dealer by the manufacturer in addition to the consumer negotiated dealer profit upon sale of the vehicle.

    Not bad for five minutes (if you're lucky) of often sloppy dealer paperwork. Keep in mind that the manufacturer pads its invoice price to the dealer with huge profits and hidden value subtracted costs such as anti-consumer litigation fees, industry serving anti-consumer advertising and other hidden costs not directly related to production of automobiles. Go after the manufacturers' profit too -- its the economical thing for consumers to do. When enough consumers ding the dealer and manufacturer on profits, the price of vehicle will fall to a fairer consumer-valued market price. The test here for most consumers is to hang tough on negotiating the lowest price for every vehicle, and avoid being bluffed into paying more than any vehicle is worth.

  • AutoBuyology's CARveat Emptor,
    "Negotiated Manufacturer's Profit Deal."

    The "All New and Improved" car deal negotiating strategy! Expect this strategy to catch on (with consumers) and become popularized as the negotiated dealer profit deal strategy has over the past ten to fifteen years.

    Similar to the dealer profit negotiated deal. Assumes consumers can do better than merely negotiating the dealer's profit above the manufacturer's invoice. Consumer negotiates the manufacturer's profit on all new car deals, even so-called "value priced' and "no-haggle" deals, similar to negotiating the dealer's profit.

    Instead of negotiating the dealer's profit up from the manufacturer's invoice, negotiate the manufacturer's profit down from the manufacturer's invoice or what is often referred to as dealer's costs. Its just that simple. Remember that most manufacturer's invoices include a 3% to 5% or larger dealer "holdback", which is reimbursed or paid to the dealer upon sale of the vehicle. This can be as much as five hundred to a thousand dollars or more depending on manufacturer's invoice price. Not too shabby for five minutes of often sloppy paperwork after several hours of haggling.

    So do you really want to give the dealer an additional 2% to 4% or more on top of the 3% to 5% holdback the dealer is going to get from the manufacturer anyway, especially knowing that the manufacturer has additional profits and other consumer value-subtracted costs built into its invoice price to the dealer? Huh?

    And, how do you suppose manufacturers are able to offer rebates to consumers (we've seen $4000 to $8,000 rebates offered in some TV ads [read the small, fast moving print] and "sales incentives" to dealers on top of the hidden manufacturer's holdback"? Precisely, by inflating sticker pricing. Overly eager consumers pay a high car deal ding fee by buying new models too soon after they are shipped to the dealers early in their model release year, instead of being patient and consumer savvy by waiting until later in the model year just before the new models are released or after the new models are released. The longer the models linger on the lot, the better the bet that the "market price" will come down to a reasonable consumer value price.

    Go Figure!
    Do the math...!!!

    Remember, the manufacturer's profit is merely everything you pay for the car in excess of the manufacturer's costs to make it. This means that the manufacturer has paid all of its overhead costs, including excessive executive salaries, advertising and inflationary production costs, then added a standard industry profit percentage on top of all of these costs. The manufacturer's actual costs for making the vehicle can be as much as or more than 1/2 less than the manufacturer's invoice price to the dealer ("dealer's costs"). Everything above the manufacturer's direct and indirect costs (overhead) for making a vehicle should be negotiable.

    Consider that the manufacturer may be inefficient and its production costs may be way out of line with what it would be if it had to go head to head with another manufacturer in direct competition in producing the same model of vehicle. Unfortunately this cannot be done due to patent protection and trademark laws which prevent intra-brand competition. And consider whether the manufacturer is making enough vehicles or limiting the number of vehicles to affect demand and pricing. Consider also whether dealer representations about availability may also be designed or tailored (edited) to effect demand and pricing. Hinting that a product is in limited supply tends to have a peaking effect on consumer interest, and is a subtle sales manipulation trick to increase demand.

    Be patient. Even experienced business professionals fall for this sales ruse. If the dealer or manufacturer is not able to sufficiently supply the market, perhaps it would be better to deal with dealers and manufacturers who plan and manage their product lines and supplies better in the interest of lower consumer oriented pricing.

    Also, be careful with invoices. Sometimes dealers conveniently confuse invoices and may produce the dealer's invoice, not the requested manufacturer's invoice, or may pad the manufacturer's invoice by adding so called "regional advertising" which the manufacturer has already factored into its invoice price to the dealer. This is known as double-dipping, and is a clever price inflating trick used frequently by car dealers to milk consumers, er., deals.

    It is best to obtain the manufacturer's invoice from library references or from Consumer Reports, AAA or other car pricing service for a very worthwhile nominal fee. Then milk the dealer and the manufacturer.

    Remember, the manufacturer has built all of its overhead (20% of the cost of an average automobile is estimated by industry experts to go the existing cumbersome distribution system -- some manufacturers are reported to be negotiating to buy up some dealerships and distributors in order to control prices and sales quality more closely -- but don't hold your breath for any savings to be passed along to consumers), including excessive executive salaries, golden parachutes and pensions, industry-serving, consumer beguiling advertising, litigation costs for shoddy product design or negligence, and costs for lobbying congress to delay, kill or water-down consumer and environmental protection and safety laws into its invoice prices, and a hefty ding-dong profit factor to boot --er.,--ding the consumer. Yepsiree, you and I are paying for all of this and the bank is whistling all the way to the bank too. Obtain a certified itemized accounting of these costs and deduct them from your final offer. If the dealer or manufacturer is unwilling or unable to provide you with a certified itemized accounting of its per car production, overhead, and profit costs, estimate them and deduct them from your final offer and walk until the dealer talks. Practice your walking skills on a few dealers before settling in for a deal.
  • The Consumer Protected Car Deal.
    (EVEN BASEBALL REQUIRES UMPIRES) Requires the majority of car consumers to demand fairness in car sales and service practices consumer protection laws of their state and national governments as merely another layer of security or as a check on unfair, manipulative and fraudulent sales and service practices.

    Defines fairness and regulates the sales and repair of new and used cars actively and comprehensively to protect the economy, consumers, and fair industry practitioners from unscrupulous practitioners. Wouldn't it be nice if all that consumers had to be concerned about in car deals was negotiating the price, and not the hundreds of other pitfalls experienced thousands of times a day across America? Wouldn't it be nice if the issue of price was the only risk of purchasing a car?

    When was the last time you wrote your local, county, state and national government representatives and officials and demanded laws and ordinances with enforcement funding to clean up the inflationary sleaze factors in the automobile industry? When are you going to get around to it? Pen the date on your calendar, and write that letter. Now! And follow it up with additional letters and phone calls and by voting out unresponsive public officials. (Even Baseball Requires Umpires). Only 4% of cheated consumers file complaints. No wonder this industry thinks it can get away with dinging customers. It can, and it does. You and I have permitted this situation to continue unanswered.
  • The Lease Deal.
    Be Very - CARveat Emptor - Wary! If you do not know about "CAP COSTS, " find out before dealing for a lease. Negotiate the capitalization costs (basically, the cost of the car) the same way consumers negotiate the dealer and manufacturer negotiated profit deals before signing lease agreements. Don't forget to negotiate the manufacturer's profit on lease deals too. Don't pay for manufacturer's costs such as advertising, liability litigation, congressional lobbying and political activity, , new car depreciation (shine costs), etc. Negotiate who pays for maintenance and negotiate the purchase option price at the end of the lease too.

    Negotiate Everything.
    Carefully! Lease dealers are being pushed by dealers because they make huge profits on them, and they are usually a bad deal for consumers. Be especially careful about buying a car through a lease, which means leasing a car for a period of time and then buying the vehicle with a payoff price. These lease deals are notoriously unfair and full of consumer pitfalls.

    A Toyota consumer recently paid $26,000 in a lease/purchase deal for a $12,000 Toyota. Yep, even Toyota dealers will help you make your next new car purchase or lease mistake. Be careful of the bait and switch ruse, where dealers advertise a low purchase price, only to hard-sell a lease when you get to the dealership. Make the dealer disclose the lease rate (interest rate on the lease) and make sure he does not inflate the cost of the lease by the value of your trade-in. These are additional notorious dealer practices which cheat consumers out of thousands of dollars. Make your government clean up the sham factor in new car deals and leases. Don't lease unless you know what you're doing. Avoid leases if at all possible. They are very anti-consumer and very pro-industry.

    Many major car brands have been advertising "no money down" leases of purchase deals. However, after consumers have been sucked down to the dealer by these ads, they find that the fine print in the unreadable TV advertising fine print includes substantial up-front or out the door costs (dealer or manufacturer ding dong deal factors). If this happens to you, merely deduct the dealer's and manufacturer's consumer ding factor from your final offer and walk until the dealer talks. And report them to your local district attorney.
  • Consider not buying a vehicle the dealer or manufacturer is unwilling or unable to make available for at least a thirty day pre-purchase or pre-lease trial use period, by rental with option to buy if possible. It is unrealistic to expect to be able to make an informed purchase decision for such an important "investment" (:-), based on merely a fifteen minute test drive in the presence of commission-hungry dealership sales staff.

    Consider negotiating a thirty, sixty, or ninety+ day return clause in your purchase or lease agreement, or better yet, request to rent the vehicle at fair market rental rates, with an option to purchase at the end of the thirty day rental period, with the rental fee applying to the negotiated purchase price of the vehicle. For such an important and expensive purchase decision, this is not an unreasonable expectation or request. In fact it is unreasonable to expect consumers to make such an important decision based on fifteen minutes of test driving. Consumers should not have to request this service, it should be automatic if customer service means anything. So consider demanding it. You are paying for it.
  • Avoid Dealing With Low Level Dealer Sales Staff. Respectfully request to deal directly with the sales manager -- be careful, as low level sales staff may try to pass themselves off as managers. By dealing with the sales manager who has authority to negotiate pricing without conferring with higher management, consumers stand a better chance of avoiding being "flipped and turned" endlessly between several sales staff which is a dealing trick from way back designed to keep consumers off guard and confused. The sales manager should know without having to consult with anyone else the lowest price the dealer can sell the vehicle for without having to resort to the traditional games and tricks of the deal. If you find the manager playing games, practice guerrilla car consumer walking skills. Beat feet. Reverse the ding factor in car dealing. Ding the dealer, always courteously and with a smile, of course. Firm handshake, eye contact and effusive and glowing congratulatory remarks all-around. If the salesperson is smiling or high-fiving his or her fellow sales folk when you drive off the lot, you likely got unsafe car deal sex treatment. (:-)(-:)

    Regardless of which car deal strategy you use, learn as much as possible about SYSTEM SELLING before negotiating for another new or used car deal or lease. System Selling is the standard dealing techniques that dealers use to size up a consumer, determine what motivates the consumer, and fixing an emotional attachment between a consumer and a specific new car, and getting a consumer to engage in oral commitments by asking seemingly innocent questions and focusing consumer attention on vehicle styling, new features, new car smell, fresh upholstery, etc.

    Use this technique to your advantage -- reverse roles and develop a consumers "SYSTEM BUYING" techniques on the dealer and sales staff. Keep in mind, the dealer and manufacturer want your money more than you want any car, or else why would they go to such great trouble in scheming up manipulative advertising and sales tricks to get you in the door so they can work their "customer service" System Selling techniques on you? Indeed, keep in mind, the dealer is in the business of self service not customer service. Consumers are merely an inconvenient obstacle between the dealer and the consumer's money.
  • Dealers typically inflate used car prices as much or more than 30% expecting to settle for no less than about 15% to 25%. Savvy Guerrilla Auto Consumers shift the dealer ding factors into reverse and low or high ball the dealer in the opposite direction by an equal amount. Find reverse in the Great American Car Deal and after checking the rearview mirror, put the peddle to the mettle of the consumer driven car deal.

Considering leasing your next new car?
Don't, but if you do, consider getting a copy of:

The Reality Checklist for Vehicle Leasing (First!)

  • download at - or:
  • send $1.50 & SASE to
  • Consumer Task Force - Reality Checklist for Vehicle Leasing
  • POB 7648
  • Atlanta, GA 30357
  • (don't get dinged on "Cap" costs, maintenance costs or early-out costs....many have! (:- (. Negotiate all of these costs and make sure to obtain the rate of interest on the lease and all particulars including the value and credit of trade-ins, rebates and negotiated credits in writing...leasing forms are especially tricky on purpose (no customer service here -- just dealer self-service.) Dealers usually make between 3% and 10% more than the MSRP (window sticker {sucker} price) on lease deals. CARveat Emptor! A Toyota dealer recently leased a $12,000 Toyota to a customer for $26,000. Be Very CARveat Emptor.

    When leasing (generally not advised, dealer wins, and consumers lose) your next new car, be careful to have the dealer quote in writing (have it notarized) the rate of interest you are paying on the lease and specify in writing the credit for any trade in or rebates and other negotiated deal credits. Many states do not require such disclosures which are required on direct loans, and dealers have been ripping off customers on credits for trade-ins and rebates or other negotiated credits. Two thousand or more auto consumers in Florida reported being leased vehicles they though they were and intended to purchase outright. Hum, must be more of that good-ole customer service the automobile industry brags about in its advertising (:-). Dealers have been stealing commissions of 3% to 10% or more than the highly inflated MSRP (Window sticker sucker price) on many vehicles because of slippery lease agreement forms and non-disclosures of important consumer information. Make your government clean up this cesspool. CARveat Emptor. And, until it does, employ your Guerrilla Car Consumer maneuvers.

    Customer service and satisfaction often seems like a "self-service" island in the car sales and service drive-by convenience stop. The National Automobile Association (NADA) works to protect the interests of dealers by lobbying Congress and state legislatures on behalf of the industry, and you and I, J. Q. Consumer, pay for it with every car we buy. Ding. Ding. Ding. Mr. and Mrs. J. Q. Public are left to fend for him or herself, as best he or she can -- a decided disadvantage, unless perhaps you purchase vehicles more often than the average car consumer does at five to eight year intervals and are well practiced in the chapter and verse of the seemingly endless list of tricks of the Great American Car Deal.

    The challenge (trick) for consumers is to turn consumer protection into a lifespan team sport where all consumers understand the importance of wise and considered (conscious) consumer choices and decisions and to make purchases in consideration of the net results and effects that personal purchasing decisions have on others and ultimately on themselves in return down the road. Consumers are an important force in a consumer driven economy. Wield the power judiciously, but pay less! Demand better quality and don't pay extra for unreinforced plastic bumpers or side impact exposed fuel tanks.

    If your state requires license plates on both the front and back of the vehicle and the vehicle is designed to receive only one plate, ask yourself what else the manufacturer may have forgotten. If the dealer provides license plate mounting frames, request generic plate frames without the dealer's name and phone number on it if possible, or request that the dealer pay you for driving around advertising his or her business on the back and front of your car. This may seem like a small or insignificant issue, but it speaks volumes about the relationship of customers to dealers and vice versa and about reversing the roles of consumer and dealer in the marketplace.

    Dealers install monogrammed or engraved license plate mounting frames at consumers expense because they work as advertising, letting others know where you got your vehicle, and the consumer picks up the costs of this advertising service. You may not want to advertise to every kook and stranger in the world where you got taken on your last new car mistake, er., deal. The dealer should not assume that you wish to assist the dealer in advertising his or her dealership, and should request your permission to install the dealership's monogrammed license plate mounting frames. You can buy the likely dealer explanation that by advertising he sells more cars keeping prices down if you want to, but you'll pay for it.

    By requesting generic plate frames consumers assert the proper consumer demeanor and relationship to the dealer and the industry. And by all means, if a dealer mistreats you, do not drive around with the dealer's name and phone number emblazoned on the front and rear of your car. You can paint or tape over the name of the dealership in some cases (avoid over-sparing). Remove the plate frames and replace them with generic or other engraved plate frames available from your alma mater.

    Perhaps the only legitimate use of the dealer's license plate frames is when they are accompanied with ready to apply (RTA) self-adhesive lettering or signs indicating the nature of any mistreatment accorded the consumer by the dealer or manufacturer. In such a case, the accompanying message should be obviously related to and reflective of the dealer's name and phone number and located near the license plate frame. Driving around with the dealer's monogrammed license plate frames on your car is generally reflective of a non-assertive unguerrilla-like car consumer working for the dealership for no remuneration -- stupid, very stupid. Does the dealer drive around with your name on his vehicle advertising the value of your consumership, for free?
  • Even Baseball Has Rules And Requires Umpires:
    We just received an e-mail for a well intentioned but misguided guy. He said that he once worked for a dealer after college before taking employment in writing. He said the first thing the dealer did was to call him into the dealer's office and warn him about lying to consumers. I wonder why such a concern exists. Actually, I have a pretty good clue. Bamboozling customers is a historic tradition in car dealing.

    The dealer's sales staff salary based on minimum wage plus commissions scenario contributes to a tendency to cheat. Yes, folks, Time Magazine (July 24, 1994) reported that dealers blame "competition" for cheating. They blame the manufacturers for over dealerizing the marketplace -- so dealers have to cheat to make a killing? "Good Guys Finish First?" Gee, I wish we were making this stuff up.

    Wake up and smell the exhaust from this industry. There is no good reason why this industry should not be better regulated and managed for the health, safety and welfare of consumers, our economy and for the industry itself.

    The industry should be first in line to support a Fair Car Sales and Service Practices consumer protection Act. But, they will need consumers help in getting jump-started, boosted or pushed in the right direction. So push!
    Get this jalopy started!

CARveat Emptor - Tricks of the Great American Car Deal©
(email -
© copyright 1995-2012, R. Rand Knox, All Rights Reserved.
Not for use, reuse, sale, resale or fee unless so licensed or
released by R. Rand Knox in writing.
Happy motoring, wheeling & dealing
-- virtually and really.


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