Goodbye to Fahrvergnügen

Volkswagen has managed to destroy it’s credibility, along with any remaining Fahrvergnügen left in the brand, after getting caught rigging cars to display false emissions test results on its “clean diesel vehicles”. Fahrvergnügen has been replaced by the sorties of F-bombs VW customers are dropping in reaction to the blatant deception that they are now victims of.

“It’s ugly, but it gets you there.”

Such an iconic brand over the decades, VW created those cute, self deprecating print ads for the Beetle in the 1960’s. The appeal of those ads were in their honesty. “It’s ugly, but it gets you there.”, “And if you run out of gas, it’s easy to push.” and “Presenting America’s slowest fastback.” are a few examples of the funny yet truthful captions used to describe the humble VW Bug.

VW has succeeded in ruining it’s reputation as it now faces perhaps the largest corporate scandal in automotive history. Volkswagen has also struck a powerful blow to the integrity of the entire automotive industry. Unfortunately, we’ve been down this road with other automakers all too recently.

We’ve been down this road with other automakers all too recently.

In 2014, Hyundai and Kia paid hundreds of millions of dollars in damages for inflating MPG fuel economy claims on 1.2 million new vehicles. Was Hyundai trying to gain an edge over the competition with these exaggerated claims? Of course, they were guilty of deception, too.

General Motors badly mishandled a faulty ignition switch problem by not admitting that engines in affected cars could shut off while people were driving. If they had been forthcoming and immediately recalled these vehicles, many accidents, injuries and fatalities may have been prevented. It was the length of time spent covering up the problem that was so dishonest.

Furious are the folks now stuck with these forsaken diesel vehicles.

Giant auto supplier Takata Corporation was found responsible for producing faulty airbags that caused the largest automobile recall in history. Possibly affecting up to 30 million vehicles built by numerous carmakers, it is unclear how long Takata knew that these airbags were defective. Ironically, it was the individual carmakers that initiated these recalls while Takata was stalling.

The Environmental Protection Agency may try to penalize VW up to $18 billion for cheating emissions, while consumer lawsuits are piling up at a fast and furious rate. Furious are also the folks now stuck owning these forsaken diesel cars and for good reason.

Say goodbye to Fahrvergnügen

When will there be a fix to get emissions on these cars in compliance and how will this impact engine performance and fuel economy? How much will these affected vehicles diminish in value now that they are regarded as tainted merchandise?

These are all questions without answers until such time as VW can figure out what can be done to mitigate the damage caused. Meanwhile, say goodbye to Fahrvergnügen, the thrill is gone.

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To Buy or Not to Buy. Lease is the Question.

When it comes time to replace a car, people question whether to buy or lease the next vehicle. Determining what’s best really depends on priorities and lifestyle. Only completely honest answers to hard questions about budget, wants and needs can determine the right choice.

Generally speaking, for most of us buying a new vehicle and keeping it for a number of years will cost less than leasing a new one every 3 years or so. So, why would anyone consider leasing?

Here are a few reasons why leasing might make sense for you:

Affordability
When budget dictates payment this is the lowest new car option in the short term. Not making the large down payment of a car loan but still having a lower payment makes this a more affordable choice. Leasing allows many the ability to drive a more expensive vehicle at a comparable level to the loan payment of a cheaper model.

No expensive repair bills
Leasing a car covered over the entire duration by a manufacturer’s comprehensive warranty does eliminate worry and repair costs. Just plug the lease payment into your budget and set up your monthly auto pay.

Potential tax advantages
Some business usage may qualify for income tax write-offs.

That New Car Smell
Oh, that smell. You can’t bottle that new car smell! Well, actually it can and is bottled and you can just go out and buy one. But, we all know it’s not the same, and you’ll just be masking the smell of old french fries that fell beneath the seat months ago.

Pride
The pride of driving a new car every 3 years or so with all the latest style, luxury, and tech features is a compelling reason for many drivers. It feels good. You deserve the best, but you can’t afford it. Lease away!

On the other hand, buying might make better sense for you, and here are a few valid reasons:

You are practical
You want to drive a quality vehicle that offers comfort, reliability, safety and value. You don’t need to impress anyone with a new car parked in your driveway. You’ll maintain the vehicle and drive it as long as you can. The longer you own the car the greater your reward in cost savings vs leasing. Pamper that ride or drive it like you hate it. You own it.

You drive low miles
For those who drive less than 10,000 miles per year, buying and keeping your vehicle for just 6 years will cost less (even with repairs and maintenance) than leasing the same vehicle for 3 years twice in a row. That’s just math working for you on this one.

Eliminating car payments
In the case above, when purchasing a vehicle it is typically paid off in 5 years. If the owner drives 7,000 miles a year over 5 years it will have only 35,000 miles. Purchasing has left the owner with a low mileage vehicle and no car payment as well as the full value of the vehicle. Again, thank you, math.

You can’t resist making modifications
If you’re the sort of car owner that likes to tinker, or just send your car to the shop for modifications, you gotta buy that car. Like most any type of lease, the owner wants the property back the same way it was delivered. If you want to do a custom sound system or you want to bump up that horsepower, don’t even think of leasing!

Fear of commitment
Leases are very, very costly to break, therefore you need to have confidence in your commitment to the vehicle over the full lease term. Job situations and life changes sometimes require people to drive more miles or change to a different type of vehicle. If you aren’t absolutely sure that you can commit to it, don’t lease.

Now you’ve got some things to consider, which should help you arrive at an educated decision for your future car purchase…or lease.

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Thinking out of “the box” at the car dealership

When purchasing a vehicle, every car buyer will find themselves in the office of the dealership individual whose job it is to complete all their necessary paperwork. They will collect funds, arrange financing and offer you various after sale products and services for your car.

The person you’ll meet with usually has the title of Finance or Business Manager, and their office is referred to as the finance office. For years, the slang term used in the car business for this office has been “the box”, and “boxing a deal” is slang for signing up the customer when delivering a car.

Many of today’s Business and Finance managers cringe when they hear it referred to as “the box” because of the negative connotations from the past. They don’t want to be associated with the sleazy “box” man stereotype who tried to lay away customers with finance payments loaded with high profit extras like “croak and choke” (credit life and disability insurance), extended warranties and rust proofing packages.

Though today’s version of finance manager is much more friendly, professional and eloquent, the one thing that hasn’t changed is their goal of making profit. They’re well trained in picking up the gross on your deal and want to see your new vehicle’s tail lights as you leave. Often more “back end” profit is generated in the finance office than on the sale of the vehicle itself.

Part of my role as an independent car buying advocate for my clients is to sit with them in the finance office during their delivery process. This is such a great vantage point for me because I am constantly exposed to (and entertained by) a variety of sales approaches. I prepare my clients before we get into the finance office on what they can expect before hand.

This is why I suggest you think out of “the box” before you wind up in there with that deer in headlights look. Be ready to consider the many finance and lease terms, incentive choices, extended service contracts, gap insurance, maintenance plans, tire and wheel insurance, and cosmetic protection options etc.,  that will be thrown at you.

You may have done your homework on car prices but don’t allow yourself to be blindsided at this portion of the transaction or costly mistakes will happen. The next time I’ll address the topic of new and used vehicle service contracts, their value and the latest sales tactics I’ve witnessed.

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Getting Your Vehicle Ready for Summer Driving

Summer is a popular time to embark on family driving trips. Whether or not you’re planning one of these mobile adventures this year, here is some practical advice that might just prevent some unexpected mechanical problems from ruining your driving plans this season.

Hot summer weather causes your engine, cooling system, transmission, electrical, and air conditioning systems to all work harder under intense heat and pressure. Compounding this demand by weighing your vehicle down with passengers and cargo leaves little room for deficiencies. Any marginal vehicle components are more likely to fail under these taxing conditions. Hilly or mountainous driving will also require your vehicle to be in top condition to handle these extra demands.

Especially after such a severe winter, it is important that your vehicle has clean fluids, filters, and that all systems are in sound working order. Good tires and brakes, belts and hoses, wiper blades and battery are a must. Additionally, you will want to make sure those pesky dashboard warning lights are all off and check that all it’s exterior lights go on.

Before an extended driving trip it is always a good idea to take your vehicle in for any required maintenance according to the manufacturer’s schedule. For your safety and peace of mind, most dealers’ service departments and good repair shops will give your vehicle a  no cost inspection while it’s in for an oil change or other service.

Even if you’re not planning a major road trip this summer, but driving a safer, more reliable and better performing vehicle is important to you, here is something to consider.

Your dentist and physician always stress the importance of routine dental and health care. This same preventative maintenance philosophy works just as well for your car.

Today’s vehicles can withstand a lot of abuse, but eventually machines will break if not maintained properly. I suspect that many of you may have gotten away with doing very little maintenance on your vehicles without any consequences, in fact some owners brag to me about it, however, over time you probably won’t be so lucky.

In a popular 1970’s TV commercial for Fram oil filters, the mechanic working under a car overhauling the engine says to the viewers, “you can pay me now, or you can pay me later.” The advertiser’s point being that spending $4.00 to replace an oil filter regularly can save you the expensive cost to rebuild an engine due to neglect.

In my opinion, this is just good common sense. In fact, the best advice I can give to anyone who owns a vehicle and plans to keep it a long time is simply this, do all of the recommended factory maintenance on time and use a high quality gasoline brand of the required grade. The small extra cost of caring for your vehicle in this way is an investment that will reward you with many trouble free miles over the years.

As for those of you planning a family road trip this summer, please drive safely, be nice to each other, and enjoy your adventures together!

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Careful Deliberation Makes for a Better New Car Purchase

A lot more goes into getting a good deal on a new car than just finding the lowest price. Most important of all is correctly choosing a vehicle to best suit your needs, desires and budget. Getting this right will require devoting time to researching your choices and giving careful thought to what your top vehicle priorities really are.

Dividing the car buying process into individual stages is a great way to avoid becoming overwhelmed. It also allows you to proceed at your own pace and contemplate every decision as you progress. Following these steps purposefully will help you achieve better results and eliminate the stress of trying to accomplish too much at once:

Plan ahead. The more time you devote to planning your purchase the better decisions you’ll make. Consider when the time may be right to replace your old car before investing more money in it or risking a sudden breakdown that could force a snap purchase. If you’re leasing, start exploring your options at least 60-90 days before lease end. Prioritize the features that you want your next vehicle to have. Narrow your focus to specific makes and models by setting parameters for price, body style, size and MPG range. Planning ahead will allow you to recognize and take advantage of the best incentives and market opportunities.

Do your homework. The Internet has a wealth of product information and reviews at your fingertips. Learn about vehicles using third party websites like Edmunds, Cars.com and AOL Autos. YouTube has professional reviews of most vehicles that will give you an overall impression of what they offer and how they drive. Manufacturer’s websites have comprehensive information on all of their models. Use these resources to discover which models interest you.

Form you own opinions. Plan to see and drive the vehicles you’re interested in to find ones you like best. Pay attention to the small details in addition to how the cars drive and handle. Are there any blind spots, do the seats feel supportive, is the shoulder belt comfortable? There’s no need to get any pricing at this point. Your sole mission is to determine your one or two favorites.

Familiarize yourself with the market. Search for deals and incentives that are being advertised on your desired model(s). Read the fine print disclaimers in dealer’s newspaper ads. Discover how advertised prices often have specific incentives applied even though you may not qualify for them. Visit websites and forums that share what other consumers are paying for comparable vehicles. Research your trade in value if you have one.

Shop for the right deal. When you are ready to buy, avoid getting Internet quotes from dealers, as they are frequently unreliable. You’ll need to visit dealerships to get real pricing. Ask for itemized pricing with taxes and fees and your total delivered price. Shop and compare, repeat if necessary. Don’t allow anyone to pressure you. Be patient, sometimes dealer’s offers will improve while you are deliberating. Buy only when you are completely satisfied with your deal. Do business with a reputable dealership that you feel comfortable with, it’s always more important than saving a few dollars elsewhere.

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Vehicle Mystery Reports

Over two years ago, I posted the article shown in italics below, to emphasize the unreliability of Vehicle History Reports. Well I’m sorry to say that not much has changed since then. Inconsistencies in these widely used overrated reports are just as prevalent today as they were at that time.

I’d rather refer to them as Vehicle Mystery Reports, a more befitting description of their dubious content. The negative implications from many of these reports are costing consumers a pretty penny, even when the reality is that their vehicles are fine.

Case in point, I recently helped clients who wanted to replace their two year old compact SUV with only 11,000 miles on it. Unfortunately, it was involved in two separate parking lot mishaps, each one involving only minor damage to a bumper. As a result police reports indicating accidents appeared twice on this vehicle’s history report.  Dealers appraised it’s trade-in value at over $5000 less than if  “no accidents” had appeared on the report.

Conversely, I often see dealer’s trade-ins come in with significant unrepaired damage on them at the time their owners purchased new cars. Yet many of these car’s history reports are clean and indicate “no accidents”.

What I stated two years ago at the end of that post still holds true, “Vehicle History Reports are still a useful screening tool, but until they provide better reporting and more detailed information records, consumers should beware not to completely rely on their accuracy.”

Unfortunately, the companies selling these reports are more interested in revenue than accuracy, so until that changes, consumers will continue to suffer the consequences.

Beware of Vehicle History Reports

Vehicle History Reports (VHRs) are a useful screening tool for potential used car buyers, unfortunately they have their own sets of issues and limitations. Their accuracy is only as good, or not as good, as the various sources reporting the data where human error is often involved.

As a car buyer’s advocate and consultant I always recommend that my clients check the VHR on any car we consider. It’s a cost effective way to eliminate any rebuilt, salvage titled, major damaged, stolen, flood, lemon history or odometer rollback vehicles right from the start. Simply avoiding these vehicles is my main purpose for using any VHR. Some companies also provide the added benefit of title guaranties and other protections in the event that they missed reporting something major on a car you bought after purchasing their report.

Sometimes though, a VHR may reflect negatively on a perfectly good vehicle that has not been branded in any of the above categories. For instance, an accident showing on the VHR may have only involved refinishing a bumper damaged in a minor fender bender. That doesn’t make it a bad vehicle. Or maybe the emission testing facility incorrectly entered the mileage as 74,000 instead of the actual 47,000. I recently saw the DMV erroneously input the mileage at 331,000 miles on a car’s title while it actually had 31,000! These mistakes create odometer conflicts that show on VHRs. While discrepancies can often be cleared up with proper documentation submitted to the VHR company, in most cases it can mean a lot of trouble for the owner of that vehicle who usually finds things out when going to sell or trade their vehicle. In the case of an accident report there is no way of knowing it’s severity without a professional inspection of the vehicle, but you might as well paint a Scarlet Letter A for accident on it’s hood.

Sometimes, cars with a clean VHR actually have had major repairs, but if there was no police report or insurance claim, they can be missed. A prudent step is to have a vehicle inspection performed, even if the vehicle has a clean VHR, as a second line of defense in protecting your money.

Unfortunately, any accident report on a VHR is negatively impacting the wholesale used vehicle value to a much greater degree than ever before in many dealer’s eyes. This is due to the growing popularity and usage of VHRs as well as the weight that they carry from the cautious consumer’s view.  An accident blemish on the VHR actually discourages many new car dealers from keeping that trade in on the lot because once people see the VHR they will usually pass on that vehicle. Any accident check mark on your own vehicle’s VHR will lower your trade-in value when the time comes. Keep that in mind before you submit a claim to your insurance company the next time you swipe the side of your car on the garage.

Vehicle History Reports are still a useful screening tool, but until they provide better reporting and more detailed information records, consumers should beware not to completely rely on their accuracy.

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Impulse Car Buying – One Buyer’s Remorse

Yesterday I received a distressful phone call from an attorney friend of mine needing advice regarding an impulse car purchase gone wrong made by a co-worker of his only two days before. I thought it would be appropriate to share this story and revisit the topic of buyer’s remorse I posted a couple years back.

The victim in this case is an intelligent individual who was having repairs of over $1500 performed on her well loved older car, a vehicle she had every intention of keeping, at least for the time being. That is until she decided to kill some time and wander down the street to a different dealership and take a peek at a model she was curious about. Long story short is that she became excited after test driving the car and before day’s end took delivery of a used one on the dealer’s lot, a low mileage 2011.

The damage done, however, was self inflicted by the victim who regrettably comitted multiple avoidable errors. Besides overpaying for the car, the next day she noticed that it also was hail damaged, something the dealer didn’t disclose. After a bitter dispute the dealer would not “unwind” the deal, and though some concessions were made, she is stuck with the car.

There are many lessons to be learned from this but the most important point I can make is worth repeating from the previous post:

“Car buying is largely an emotion driven experience for most of us whether we are aware of it or not. Unfortunately, too many people fall prey to their emotions and impulsively make poor buying decisions, falling in love at first sight with the wrong vehicles. Some careful deliberation can help you select the right vehicle and prevent regret.”

“Consider your purpose on the initial visit to any dealership as solely fact finding. Make a deliberate decision that you are not going to buy anything at this point. You are there to see and touch the vehicles, obtain information and perhaps test drive the models you may be considering. Allow plenty of time so you don’t feel rushed.  Taking a one step at a time approach will help you from buying impulsively.”

The ultimate irony here is that the person this happened to knew better. She was kind enough to refer me to relatives of hers who used my services twice recently with great results. She also told me her intention was to hire me before making her next purchase. Now we’re both sorry she didn’t.

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Choosing the Right Dealership to Buy From

Why is car shopping such an unpleasant experience for most consumers? There are certainly many different answers to that question but I’d like to focus on one specific area here regarding dealer practices and reputation. I’ll point out some things to watch for that may help you avoid both a bad deal and buying experience.

After you’ve done some research about the makes and models you’re interested in take the time to check on each dealer’s background before visiting their showroom. What is their Better Business Bureau rating and how have they dealt with customer complaints? Run a Google search to see if they have lots of negative press or feedback on Yelp, eBay or similar sites.  What do people you know have to say about their previous buying experiences at the dealership? Have they been in business for long? You’ll weed out many potential dealers by just investigating these few things.

Some of the worst dealers to deal with are the ones running low ball print, TV and radio advertisements. When it sounds too good to be true don’t allow yourself to be fooled. Their full page ads have the lowest prices of any of their competitors and are often misleading because they’ve applied every possible incentive available to arrive at the ad price. Realistically, no one qualifies for all of these, so unless you are in the military, a recent college grad, qualify for owner loyalty, currently lease, and so on – your price will be much more than advertised – especially when they add on for freight, prep, accessories, etc. 

The thing about those low ball ads is they do bring people into the dealership and that is what these dealers want. Now they will play all the games with numbers that people hate. They will manipulate customers in every way possible. So when you see ads for new cars at 50% off don’t be fooled and let your curiosity lure you in.  Avoid these dealers because they will waste your time, abuse your dignity and try your patience. In my view the loudest and most obnoxious TV and radio spots generally mirror the types of dealerships that run them.

Another way to spot a disreputable dealer is simply by how you are treated when you visit their dealership. Overly aggressive salespeople who push you for a commitment to buy or ask you questions about your credit right at the start are demonstrating undesirable dealer practices. You are going to be pressured until you buy unless you walk away. My advice is if you are uncomfortable at all, just leave, you don’t need to explain.

So how do you know when a dealership is the right one to buy from? Keep these questions in mind:

Do you know any previous customers of the dealership who are satisfied with their purchase or service experiences? Knowing people who have done business first hand with a dealer can give you the most insightful and honest feedback.

Has the dealer been doing business for a long period of time? Being in business a long time does not make a dealer reputable, however, it is easier to determine the reputation of a long standing business. Make sure their Better Business rating is no less than an A.

Have the dealership employees you’ve encountered worked for this dealer for a long time? Employees who have worked a long time for a dealership are generally happy with the dealer and are being treated fairly which is a good indicator of how that dealership treats it’s customers.  

Did the dealership sales staff treat you with courtesy and respect on your visit to the showroom? This is basic stuff but you need to be listened to and responded to appropriately. Salespeople who do this well are what you’re looking for, avoid the ones with their own agenda, who want to push you around while not listening to what you say.

Did the sales staff seem to care whether they earned your business or did they give you the impression they were ready to take their next customer if you weren’t ready to buy right then? A very telling sign about salespeople is if they loose interest when they can’t close a sale on the spot. Consider yourself lucky if you see this happen to you. Leave and don’t come back. 

To sum up, reputable dealers should instill a good comfort level about doing business with them. They will usually inform you of the various awards bestowed upon them from their manufacturer, things like high customer satisfaction scores or elite dealer status. Achievements like this are good indicators of legitimate dealerships and do require higher effort by dealer staff in maintaining certain customer standards.

The bottom line is that you’ll need to do some homework before doing business with any dealer. Research their reputation, read their reviews and look up their ratings, learn from other people’s mistakes, and find out what you can from people you know. Ultimately you must be the judge and trust your instincts about the people you are dealing with, otherwise look for another dealership to buy from.

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“No Hassle Pricing”…..more Smoke and Mirrors?

“No Hassle Pricing” sounds like a great idea to people in the market for a new or used car. Who wouldn’t want to avoid all the back and forth haggling when making a vehicle purchase? Most people will agree that trying to get a good price on a car is a daunting task. So the prospect of such a consumer friendly approach as “no hassle pricing” promises to provide a less stressful path to legitimate savings.

As a consumer’s advocate, and professional car buyer, I’m afraid I have to disagree with that notion. Pulling back the curtains reveals this selling approach as another marketing strategy that leads naive buyers to part with more of their money. By preying on their fear of being taken, retailers have these customers convinced that they will spend less, when in fact they will not. Let me illustrate this with a couple of examples of this you are probably familiar with.

A large national retailer of predominantly used vehicles advertises their one price, no hassle pricing strategy as a major reason to buy from them. Yes, it’s a less intimidating approach to buying because there’s no haggling. However, the fact is their one price is actually much higher than the negotiated prices on comparable vehicles you could buy at any number of local auto dealers, if you’ll do the work.

Another marketing approach using “No Hassle Pricing” that consumers routinely fall for are buying services endorsed by trusted third parties. Haven’t you visited a national warehouse club with a shiny new car displayed outside the front door promoting member’s only savings? Prearranged no hassle pricing is offered for members at “hand selected” local dealers.

Yes, and these dealers were hand selected only because they’ve paid the warehouse clubs for these sales leads. This pricing is no better than pricing anyone walking into their showrooms on their own could obtain, and often the exclusive pricing is higher. You see, the dealerships are actually motivated to make more on the warehouse customers to compensate for the cost of these sales leads. Undervaluing trade allowances and exploiting every other profit making opportunity still takes place, and buying service members are not immune. This illusion of exclusive treatment planted in the customer’s mind is smoke and mirrors marketing at it’s finest. The real winners here are only the warehouse clubs (and other third parties endorsing buying services) and the auto dealers. 

Generating profit is what auto retailers do best. Their biggest challenge is getting potential buyers into  showrooms and onto their used car lots. “No Hassle Pricing” is just another method to get more people to come in to what they perceive will be a safer environment to purchase a vehicle. Consumers are naive enough to believe it because they are intimidated by the haggling process. The bottom line is you’ll end up paying less if you don’t mind being hassled.

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Important Information for Car Buyers: Read Before You Buy!

Here’s some important advice if you don’t want to overpay for a new or used vehicle:  Never negotiate your purchase based on the monthly payment that is being offered to you.

The only thing that you first need to determine is the selling price of the vehicle. Even if you want to lease, this will still apply. Once that is done, and only then, should you get a trade -in value if that applies.

Other factors, such as the interest rate, number of months of the loan or lease, your remaining loan balance on your trade, or your amount of down payment should not be used to determine the selling price. The dealer has too many ways to lower your payment yet still pad their profit by manipulating these and other factors. Too many consumers focus solely on whether the monthly payment will fit in their budgets and wind up paying thousands of dollars more than they should.

A very simplistic example of this is lowering the payment by extending the number of months of the loan. The problem here is that you’ll be paying more in interest cost and also risk owing more for than the car is worth when you are ready to trade it in. They don’t need to reduce their profit to offer you a lower your payment, but it’s a way to get you to say yes to a selling price that’s likely much higher.

Dealers would prefer to avoid negotiating price if they can get a commitment from you based on one of the other factors mentioned above.  Another example is: ” Would you drive the new car home today if I can deliver it without needing any money down and keep your payment amount under $500 per month?”. In this case if you said yes, that allows them the flexibility of applying incentives, charging more for their car, or using higher interest rates, just to name a few ways to increase their profit. By negotiating the price first, and then addressing interest rates, etc., you may have kept that payment well below the $500 amount you agreed to.

The takeaway here is to focus on the price first and then determine the best finance options, etc. Consumers need to realize that payment buyers will almost always pay more profit and dealers just love them for that.

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