Diatribe: Monroney label and dealer mumbo jumbo
BY AL VINIKOUR For Sun-Times Media March 27, 2012 3:11PM
If you look at any Monroney label (the official name of the price sheet that’s taped to the window of brand-new vehicles), everything seems above board. There’s the usual listing of where the car is manufactured, what the U.S. content is, what major safety, convenience and other amenities are standard.
If you read further, the manufacturer’s suggested retail price and then theoptions and/or packages are listed under the “options” section and then there’s a total underneath. Not a “final” total. That would be too easy.
It’s a subtotal. Because the next addition to the bottom line is “shipping and handling” or “vehicle prep” or any number of euphemisms for “bend over, consumer, here it comes!”
These prices vary but are generally less than $1,000. The intended use is to pay for the car being shipped to the dealer and the dealer doing all the steps necessary to prepare it for delivery to the customer (or at least to the dealership as a demo or a showroom display).
Theoretically I don’t have a problem with that — although thinking like the PR man I once was I could never understand why costs like that aren’t just buried in the cost of the vehicle as opposed to listed separately, giving the appearance of gouging the buyer.
I sometimes play a game where I look at the shipping and handling charge and think how far the vehicle had to travel. For instance, if you’re paying a charge of $795 for destination and delivery, but the final assembly plant is right across the street from the dealership, SpongeBob SquarePants could tell you that appears to be a hosing. But when you’re paying the same amount for a vehicle that’s shipped from Korea or deep within Europe, it seems like a bargain because you can’t even ship your own rear end 5,000 miles for $795, let alone the rear end of Kia Rio.
Why should dealer preparation be listed as the cost of a new vehicle? Is it possible for the customer to forgo the cost of vehicle prep and save a few hundred dollars that way? You have a better chance of being voted off the island than you do having that charge eliminated. Why do you think there’s such an ease of negotiation during the selling/buying process? It’s because there’s an automatic cushion of about $800 already there.
The television equivalent of dealer prep is when they show some seemingly neat device like one that will cure cancer and Hodgkin’s disease for the amazingly low price of $19.95. But wait! As a bonus they’ll send you TWO of these wonderful devices. “Just pay extra shipping and handling.” Think they’re cutting their profits in half, Bubba? Guess again. They’re making enough money off the extra shipping and handling charges to more than compensate them for the “loss” of doubling your order.
I’ve written rants before about being nickeled and dimed to death. Automotive examples are rife with charges like $700 for Pearlescent White Clearcoat Midnight Metallic Sapphire Hubba Hubba paint or $75 for floor mats or even $35 for a special gearshift knob. I don’t know Pete, but for his sake, charge an extra couple of hundred dollars for incidentals like those mentioned and preserve some dignity.
Pundits talk about the ethics of car salesmen. What do they all have in common? They sell cars. And who builds cars? Manufacturers. And how do manufacturers earn some extra money to pay off student loans? Shipping and handling. See where this is headed?
For the last time: If the MSRP of a vehicle is $21,500, make it $23,000 and eliminate the separate listing of shipping and handling and any other incidentals that cost less than $100 to $300 dollars. That way the manufacturers can say that “everything is standard; there are no hidden costs.” Truth be told, shipping and handling never was hidden; it’s right there on the Monroney for the entire world to see.
But I guarantee you that when a customer gets done negotiating a deal he thinks is fair and he’s suddenly hit with a charge of almost $1,000 he didn’t expect and was told that this is “something the factory puts on so we can’t do anything about that,” the warm feeling in the customer’s leg is long gone.
If the old adage of “perception is reality” is true it explains why the use of dealer preparation/shipping and handling or other words equally useless and noncredible are allowed to flourish, like an “honest politician.” They’re just words, and words mean something — except in this case. Al Vinikour is a Midwest-based freelance auto writer. Proving a mind is a “terrible thing to use” he sometimes sits in traffic and ponders about things — generally auto-related — that make him mad. Believing the “pen is mightier than the sword” (and generally results in a whole lot less jail time), he vents his anger through a word processor and produces the Driver’s Side Diatribe column. Email him at email@example.com.
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