In a previous article, I asked readers to share their bad experiences working with automotive dealers so we can make the public more aware that reforms and real competition are needed to keep them honest. Now, it’s time to start sharing those stories.
Dealer Add-On Ripoffs
Today’s story is one that happens almost every time a dealer sells a car. Instead of giving customers a menu of things they can add to the deal and information about each of them, a car buyer must go through a barrage of sales pitches AFTER they agree on buying a vehicle and the (usually too high) price.
Jim Colleran of Roanoke, Virginia, told us about his experience buying a vehicle at Haley Toyota:
“It started with the person who explained the auto manual, who then attempted to sell me numerous types of undercoating. I couldn’t believe it was happening. I declined. Then I went to see the finance person. He attempted to sell everything up to and including term life insurance. I admit I did get insurance on the remote, although of course I didn’t ever use it. I was shocked that this dealer would actually attempt to add these worthless add-ons.”
This is an issue that we don’t really need to fact-check on, because anyone who buys a vehicle knows it happens. The number of things a dealer can add on after the sale can easily add up to tens of thousands of dollars, and can drive up a car’s payment considerably.
Even more sadly, many of these dealer services are overpriced. Things like window tinting, bolt-on aftermarket accessories, entertainment system upgrades, anti-theft etching, anti-salt undercoatings, seat protectant, and other things seem sensible when you are buying a new car or a used one in great condition. After all, you want to protect your “investment” (very few cars do anything but lose value in normal times, and are thus usually not investments). So, many buyers go for these add-ons.
But if you were to go to local businesses and get prices on most of these upgrades and service plans, you’d find that you can get them for cheaper, often far cheaper, than the dealer is charging you for them. Plus, you can add these things to the car over time as you can out of spare money instead of tying up your debt-to-income ratio with them.
Why do they keep doing this? Because customers go for it enough that it’s profitable to annoy us to death with a gauntlet of fear-based sales pitches. And, it’s somewhat convenient to do a “one stop shop” and get these things done by the dealer before you drive off (or soon after for some things). This convenience factor looks great until you check around and find out that you’re paying far too much for most of the things dealers offer.
For example, cloth seat protectants are readily available in aerosol cans from a variety of auto parts stores and big box retailers like Walmart for under $30, and they’re easy to apply yourself in five minutes. Dealers sometimes charge hundreds of dollars to basically do the same thing behind closed doors.
Featured image: Harry Wormwood from the 1996 movie Matilda. (Fair Use, Commentary)
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