YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Article on Car-Buying Traps Was Full of Errors

August 07, 1994

I have been a new car dealer in Southern California for 25 years, and therefore I quite naturally read "The 10 Costliest Car-Buying Traps" (July 24). Unfortunately, rather than be of assistance to the readers, I discovered that there are so many errors or misleading statements that the article was actually counterproductive for those it was intended to serve.

First, let me address the general insinuation that dealers prefer doing business with customers who are totally ignorant of the kind of vehicle they want or who are ignorant of the profit margin built into the sale of a vehicle. To the contrary, most dealers will tell you that it is far easier to do business with customers who have a rather clear idea of what make, model and accessories they want and who have some understanding of the dealer's profit margin. Most well-informed customers understand that a dealership must make enough profit to meet its payroll and bills; they just don't want to be taken advantage of.

A related insinuation is that little or nothing useful ever happens to a customer at a dealership--that a customer is better off spending their time digesting the information available in the public library or found through on-line computer services. While it is true that some useful comparisons can be made by reading consumer and auto magazines, the fact is that nothing can substitute for the actual experience of looking at and test-driving vehicles.

The article warns buyers about "getting pushed into a lease" when they enter a dealership with the intent of buying a vehicle. The fact is, of course, that hundreds of thousands of buyers every year do precisely what the article "warns" against because, when they sit down at the dealership and think through all the pluses and minuses of leasing, they realize this is the most rational thing to do. Through leasing, the customer can drive a better vehicle, stop worrying about the vehicle's unpredictable value at time of trade, keep their cash working for them rather than give it to a lender, and still come out ahead even if they should have to pay for excess mileage at the end of the lease.

The article also worries that customers at the dealership might "load up on options" such as upgraded sound systems, special seats, alloy wheels and tinted glass, since these don't "pay off" in terms of safety, resale value or insurance costs. The article has trouble with the notion that people might take intrinsic pride in the way their vehicle looks or might buy a vehicle for aesthetic as well as practical reasons.

The article also is concerned that extended service contracts--or what others call the extended warranty--can become invalid if the owner fails to perform regular maintenance on a vehicle and because there are, the article suggests, few ways to enforce the contract if the company that provides it goes out of business. The reality is that both new car factory warranties as well as extended service contracts can be invalidated if an owner fails to perform scheduled maintenance as prescribed for the vehicle. It is hard to imagine how or why it should be otherwise.

The article also mentions possible tampering with odometers on used cars, even though this practice has been virtually eliminated by tamper-proof odometers, stiff state and federal laws, and federal and state inspectors.

FRITZ HITCHCOCK, Hitchcock Automotive Resources, City of Industry

Los Angeles Times Articles