Auto dealerships re-open – but is shopping there safe?

Buying cars at auto dealerships has always been risky.  But especially now, when you may be exposed to Covid-19, the risks are even greater. Plus Covid-19 isn’t the only health and safety risk you face if you shop at a car dealership.

Many auto dealers don’t care enough about their customers’ safety to take the simple step of ensuring that FREE safety recall repairs are done to fix deadly safety recall defects.

Auto dealers neglect to get free repairs done to fix killer defects like:

  • bad brakes
  • steering wheels that literally come off in the driver’s hands
  • exploding Takata airbags that are like having a hand grenade go off in your face, causing blindness or bleeding to death
  • catching on fire
  • sticking accelerator pedals

So can you trust auto dealers to protect you from Coronavirus?  Obviously, the answer is NO.

Even huge auto dealership chains like CarMax and AutoNation sell hazardous vehicles with safety defects that have killed hundreds of people and seriously injured thousands more.

They spend millions in advertising to lure car buyers to their stores, trumpeting that vehicles they offer for sale must pass an “inspection.” They list over 100 components that are supposedly inspected. But don’t be fooled. They routinely fail to fix components with serious safety recall defects that are likely to kill you or someone you love.

CarMax is the largest retailer of used cars in the U.S.  They raked in over $18 billion in revenue last year, and are publicly traded on Wall Street.

CarMax used to hire employees and task them with delivering recalled cars to nearby new car dealerships for free repairs.  New car dealers liked to get the work. Auto manufacturers compensate their franchised dealers for performing safety recall repairs, so it’s a money-maker for them.

But then CarMax decided they could make more money by lowballing consumers who traded in recalled vehicles, then selling them rapid-fire for high retail as “CarMax Quality Certified” vehicles without waiting for the free repairs.

AutoNation is also publicly traded on Wall Street and boasts they are a Fortune 500 company with over $21 billion in revenue. Their largest investors include the trust controlled by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

At first, AutoNation announced they would guarantee that all their vehicles were recall-free.  But when Trump was elected, faced with competitive pressure from CarMax for investor dollars, they gave up and started selling dangerous recalled vehicles too.

The kicker: If you are injured or killed, or harm someone else because of an unrepaired safety recall defect, the dealers will blame YOU for buying a dangerous car from them.

Learn more:

CBS News:CarMax Accused of Selling Unsafe Vehicles

CBS This Morning: AutoNation Accused of Selling Recalled Cars

CARS tips: How to get a good deal on a nice, safe used car without the risks of buying from a dealer

Greedy car dealers snatch paycheck protection funds from small businesses

Profiles in GREED:

Multi-billion $$ mega-dealers AutoNation, Penske, and Group One Grab

At least $144 million from Paycheck Protection Plan

Trump Administration Aided Giant Corporations in Exploiting Loophole

AutoNation, the nation’s largest retailer of new vehicles, boasts that it’s a “Fortune 500” company with 26,000 employees and stores in over 300 locations in 18 states. In 2019, AutoNation raked in over $21 billion in revenue.

The corporate behemoth is also publicly traded on Wall Street. According to Barrons, “Bill Gates remains AutoNation’s largest shareholder. Through shares held by the [Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation] trust and 18.4 million AutoNation shares that Cascade owns, the co-founder of Microsoft (MSFT) still has total ownership of 19.3 AutoNation shares, a 21.6% stake.”

Penske Automotive, another giant auto dealership chain publicly traded on Wall Street, hauled in over $22.8 billion last year.

Group One Auto’s annual revenue was $12 billion.

So how did AutoNation, Penske, and Group One grab at least $144 million from the U.S. Treasury’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), while struggling businesses like restaurants, beauty parlors, nail salons, print shops, booksellers, self-employed people, and other small businesses tried in vain to access relief that was supposedly going to help them keep the wolves from their doors?

The PPP was supposed to be limited to businesses with fewer than 500 employees. But AutoNation, Penske, and Group One exploited a loophole provided by the Trump Administration’s Small Business Administration for mega-businesses with franchises in multiple locations, allowing them to each file for relief separately, even when they are all owned by the same conglomerate.

The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) tutored its mega-dealer members on how to exploit the loophole, instructing them how to get around the 500-employee limit. The key to evading that limit was for the auto manufacturers to get a “franchise identifier code” from the Small Business Administration, so their dealerships could all masquerade as “small businesses” even when in reality they are enormous.

The NADA also engaged in various machinations to make sure all their dealer members, regardless their size, could apply for the taxpayer funds. The NADA brags that when the CARS Act was first passed, only about 25% of the U.S. auto manufacturers had obtained the coveted codes from the Small Business Administration. However, “in response to strong urging from NADA, all [the auto manufacturers] without codes quickly applied for them. And again in response to NADA’s advocacy, the SBA has now granted all of those applications.”

Basically, the NADA is trumpeting the fact that huge auto dealership chains exerted their influence with the Trump Administration, to get the SBA to expedite providing those handy “franchise identifier codes” in time to scarf up at least $144 million of taxpayer dollars before day care centers, ice cream parlors, pet sitting services, bakeries, or other mom and pop stores desperate for cash even had a chance.

The NADA’s tips are posted on their website, showing dealers how to game the system.

In fact, AutoNation may have snatched even more. According to the Washington Post, “Documents show the company may have received even more money, a total of $95 million, spread across dozens of locations, an amount that would be more than triple the amount any company is known to have received through the fund.” The article notes that “AutoNation disputes the $95 million figure.”

While AutoNation claims it has returned $77 million in taxpayer funds it scooped up from the PPP, without an independent audit of the program, they can hardly be believed. For weeks, while other corporations like Shake Shak and Ruth’s Christ SteakHouse, facing a firestorm of protests, surrendered their ill-gotten millions. Meanwhile, ignoring the plight of small businesses and laid-off workers, AutoNation callously clung to the vast sums they seized from taxpayers — until they were contacted by reporters from the Washington Post.

This is not the only way AutoNation is exploiting loopholes provided to auto dealers by the Trump Administration.

AutoNation is also jeopardizing public safety by deliberately selling its customers hazardous vehicles without repairing deadly safety recall defects first.

When Trump was elected, AutoNation’s CEO Mike Jackson announced AutoNation was reversing its policy of guaranteeing a recall-free car, and commenced selling dangerous deathtrap vehicles — including vehicles AutoNation knows cannot be repaired for prolonged periods, due to severe shortages of replacement parts.

Last fall, researchers for USPIRG Education Fund, the Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety Foundation, and Frontier Group found that more than 1 in every 9 vehicles AutoNation offered for sale at 28 dealerships in 12 states, among 2,400 vehicles surveyed, had at least one unrepaired safety recall. Typical defects: catching on fire, faulty brakes, loss of steering, sticking accelerator pedals, and explosive Takata airbags that are ticking time bombs that spew shrapnel into drivers’ and passengers’ faces and necks, causing serious injuries including blindness and bleeding to death.

Read more:

Washington Post: “AutoNation, a Fortune 500 company worth billions, says it received nearly $80 million in SBA funds”

Automotive News: AutoNation retreats on used car recall policy

Unsafe Used Cars for Sale: Unrepaired recalled vehicles for sale at AutoNation dealerships

Are car dealers exposing people to coronavirus?

Many car dealers engage in reckless practices that put lives at risk. Like selling new or used vehicles without bothering to get the FREE safety recall defects fixed first. Tragically, some people have been seriously injured or killed by car dealers who sold them cars, trucks, or SUVs with deadly defects.

So it’s only reasonable to ask: Are auto dealers also exposing car buyers and their families to the coronavirus? Some car dealers are attempting to reassure prospective car buyers, who are understandably concerned about the coronavirus pandemic, not to worry. For example, AutoNation claims on Twitter that it ” can service and then sanitize your vehicle with Clorox® Total 360®.” The use of the term “sanitize” implies that there’s nothing to worry about.

But how can anyone trust AutoNation, when their then-CEO told the whole world — right after Pres. Trump was elected — they were going to rev up their sales of seriously defective recalled used cars? Especially vehicles where there are no replacement parts available, so if you buy one of their “cream puffs,” there’s no way you can get it fixed, for weeks or months. Meanwhile, you are left to ride around in a potential deathtrap.

Last fall, Researchers found that more than 1 in 9 vehicles AutoNation was offering for sale at various stores across the nation had at least one unrepaired safety recall defect. Like faulty brakes, catching on fire, loss of steering, accelerator pedals that stick, stalling in traffic, hoods that fly up and obscure the driver’s vision, and many vehicles with ticking time bomb Takata airbags that explode like having a hand grenade go off in your car, causing devastating injuries such as blindness or bleeding to death.

If a huge car dealership chain that rakes in billions of dollars a year, is a Fortune 500 company, and touts Bill Gates as its biggest investor, will stoop to deliberately selling vehicles that grossly defective and unsafe, can you trust them to protect you from an unseen threat like coronavirus? Do you want to bet your life on it?

Dealers increase profits at customers’ expense

When you shop at a car dealership, watch out for expensive add-ons and costly financing. Often items like extended service contracts, “theft etch” and “GAP” are a rip-off, and usually you can get a better rate on the financing yourself, by shopping around.

For example, many service contracts and extended warranties have fine print that excludes “pre-existing conditions.” So if the engine blows, your claim may be denied when the provider blames the problem on a lack of maintenance by a prior owner, or a component that was supposedly faulty when you bought the car.

How much extra do add-ons and dealer-arranged financing cost? They can add $5,000 or more to the price of a car, without adding any real benefit. Of course, car dealers push add-ons aggressively because they are so profitable — for them.

According to Automotive News, in the first quarter of 2018, AutoNation, the country’s largest new car dealership chain, averaged a gross “finance and insurance” profit of $1,779 per unit sold. That’s just their profit.

Bottom line: If you want to save big, it’s smart to get your own financing and decline the high-cost / fat-profit / low value add-ons.

Car Dealers Rake in Billions

Auto dealers like to pose as “Main Street” “mom and pop” businesses, in order to get concessions from legislators and regulators. But according to Automotive News, “The $1 billion club for 2012 includes 34 [dealership] groups, including 13 with more than $2 billion.”

Increasingly, auto dealerships are consolidating and thousands are publicly traded on Wall Street. Microsoft’s Bill Gates is one of the largest investors in the nation’s largest auto dealership chain, AutoNation, which reportedly grossed  $15,668,8000,000 last year.*

*Automotive News, “Top 125 dealership groups in the U.S.” – March, 2013.