Get Over It: Car Dealer Rip-Offs Abound

Frank Williams
by Frank Williams

Scared of car dealer scams? Detroit News writer John McCormick says chill. In an editorial entitled "Afraid of shopping for a car? Get over it;" McCormick chronicled his recent car buying experience. The automotive scribe claims it's no biggie; car dealers are populated by "courteous, knowledgeable and professional" sales staff. While we're all glad Mr. McCormick's had such a wonderful experience securing a new whip, the chances of anyone else emerging with similar satisfaction makes Powerball look like a safe bet.

As expressed here in numerous articles and comments, buying a new car ranks just above root canal surgery on most people's "Things I'd Rather Take a Stick in the Eye Than Do" list. (At least the root canal is endured under the influence of pain-numbing pharmaceuticals.) While I've yet to see a car dealership with a large banner proclaiming "Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here," I'm sure you could buy a car in at least one of Dante's circles of Hell.

Car dealer profiling? Hardly. A few months ago, the mailman delivered an envelope bearing the logos of several GM divisions along with the words "Urgent Recall Notice." Although I don't currently own a GM vehicle, I've stabled several in the past. From time to time, I receive a recall notice from GM with a check box to inform them I no longer own the vehicle. This one was different. It was from a dealer– Bill Heard Chevrolet– and said I should call the dealership for important information concerning my vehicle (without specifying which one). I threw it in the circular file.

On Monday, The Georgia Office of Consumer Affairs filed suit against Bill Heard Chevrolet Company for "false and deceptive advertisements." And no wonder: there was no recall. The mailings were a ruse to get recipients to call Heard, so sales staff could flog rubes another car or a service contract. Heard attorney J. Matthew Maguire Jr. admitted that the faux notices were "inappropriate," but insisted that an independent advertising firm mailed them without Billy Boy's approval.

Folks, this ain't no nickel and dime operation. Heard operates 15 stores in seven U.S. states, with a claimed annual turnover of $2.5b. And this is hardly the organization's first brush with the law; the Georgia lawsuit chronicles 16 years of consumer complaints. The website lists 193 complaints against the Heard chain, from overcharging to high pressure sales tactics to removing the federally-mandated window sticker.

Heard's scams are literally the tip of the iceberg. Underneath this obvious deception lies a world of dealer deceit: hidden last minute extras added to the finance contract, "yo-yo financing" (calling the customer back for a deal redo), falsified credit reports, raising payments after completion, over-charging for "etching" (extra security marking) getting customers to sign blank paperwork, sweetheart deals with local lenders (hidden kickbacks) and more.

Clearly, what McCormick (and gullible buyers) can't see CAN hurt them. And yes, John it's true: Detroit's equally prey to this capitalistic cancer. According to the non-profit public interest organization Public Citizen, "Evidence from recent litigation, industry insiders and consumer complaints show that these practices are not restricted to a few areas or dealerships. Further, it is very likely that deceitful trends are spreading as more and more dealerships become part of major conglomerates."

If Mr. McCormick somehow believes these unscrupulous dealers are the exception to the rule, perhaps he should listen to Nat Shulman. A couple of years ago, the former owner of Best Chevrolet in Hingham, MA and columnist for Ward's Dealer Business served-up a brutally frank assessment of automobile dealer dishonesty.

"If dealer new car profit margins keep getting squeezed by Detroit so that the majority of dealers are losing money in their new car departments, these types of consumer rip-offs will continue to appear. True, they will happen in dealerships with questionable ethical standards, but who among us is immune from desperate measures when we're losing our butts every time we sell a new vehicle?"

At least McCormick got one thing right: "Part of the art of having a relatively happy car buying experience is some knowledge of the process. Take the time to research the procedure — easily done through a variety of Web sites — and you will feel much more comfortable when you step through the doors."

If you want that "relatively happy" experience, we recommend that your pre-visit research should include a Google search of the term "car dealer rip-offs." As for "getting over your fear," forgeddaboutit. Given the shady schemes bilking millions of American car customers out of billions of bucks each and every year, anyone who isn't afraid of shopping for a car will eventually learn that ignorance is the most expensive kind of bliss.

Click here to read Mr. McCormick's article

How much do you trust the average automobile dealer?

Click here to vote

See poll results

Frank Williams
Frank Williams

More by Frank Williams

Join the conversation
2 of 53 comments
  • Nino Nino on Jul 16, 2007

    I'm reading some of the comments here and I don't understand. Why would anybody allow themselves to be mistreated in any way? This idea of waiting 7 months for a car and then accepting to pay $1,000 more than agreed, just encourages the notion that these tactics work. Why would we expect them to change? Research is the key, but as has been stated, a positive, friendly attitude doesn't hurt. Above all, don't waste the salesman's time asking for test drives of cars you're not going to buy. And by all means, be prepared to walk away regardless of how much you wanted that car. In all of my car buying experiences (numbering in the hundreds), I've never dealt with a dealership or salesman that I felt was disrespecting me. But I also treat them with respect and appreciate their professionalism. It takes less than 5 minutes to realize who you're dealing with.

  • Nino Nino on Jul 16, 2007

    For what it's worth, I have a few car salesmen that I have been friends with for over 30 years where that friendship started out on the showroom floor.

  • Loser What’s next, simulation of the “Hemi tick”?
  • Ajla There's a melancholy to me about an EV with external speaker-generated "engine" noise and fake transmissions. It feels like an admission from the manufacturer that you're giving something up and they are trying to give back some facsimile of it. Like giving a cupcake scented candle to someone on a diet. If I was shopping for an EV I'd rather go to a company enthusiastic about it rather than apologetic.
  • EBFlex More proof of how much EVs suck. If you have to do this, that means you are trying to substitute what people want...and that's ICE.
  • Akear The only CEO who can save Boeing, GM, and Ford is Alan Mulally. Mulally is largely credited with saving both Boeing and Ford. The other alternative is to follow a failed Jack Welch business model. We have all witnessed what Jack Welch did to GE, and what happened to Boeing when it was taken over by GE-trained businessmen. Below is an interesting article on how Jack Welch indirectly ruined Boeing.
  • ChristianWimmer The interior might be well-made, but the design is just hideous in my opinion. It’s to busy and there’s no simplistic harmony visible in it. In fact I feel that the nicest Lexus interior ever could be found in the original LS400 - because it was rather minimalistic, had pleasing lines and didn’t try to hard. It looked just right. All Lexus interiors which came after it just had bizarre styling cues and “tried to hard” if you know what I mean.