"What do I have to do to get you into this car?"
"How much can you afford to pay every month?"
"My manager's in a good mood."
These are the car salesman clichés everybody knows. Now they're trying to add a couple more to the repertoire:
"When you take out a car loan - probably the second-biggest financial decision of your life - you don't need a watchdog looking out for you."
"Watch out ... this will cost you a lot more if somebody's representing your interests."
And if you believe those last two statements, allow me to show you this brand new baby - it's got whitewalls and mag wheels, tinted windows, I'll throw in the deluxe sports package along with that ... oh, and we strongly recommend undercoating.
Fortunately, there's something you can do: You can go to this site, prepared by CREDO and Campaign for America's Future, where a simple one- or two-click process will send a fax to Barney Frank and Chris Dodd urging them protect American consumers from shady auto loans. It's easy to do, it's important - and, if you act now, it's absolutely free! (Racing stripe and rustproofing not included with fax.)
It's easy to sound flippant, since everybody knows why we all hate car dealers, but the topic is deadly serious: As we've discussed at length, auto dealer lending practices are a disgrace. A massive, multi-year study showed that African Americans are charged more than whites for the same loans. Auto dealers routinely mark up the loans they offer, without disclosing that information to customers - a practice that costs consumers $20 billion per year and adds an estimated $647 to the cost of each vehicle sold. Auto dealers also play games with "gap insurance" that covers the replacement cost of your vehicle for loan purposes if it's totaled.
Another common car dealer trick is to "sell" a car to a customer by claiming they qualify for a no-interest or low-interest loan, letting them drive away in it, then calling them a week or two later to say the loan fell through. Dealers do this because most customers will have gotten used to the car by then, which means that many of them will accept loan terms that wouldn't been unacceptable at the point of sale.
Car lenders have made a particular point of preying on young soldiers, who are living far from home in great distress. That's why Holly Petraeus, wife of Gen. David Petraeus, is strongly in favor of regulating auto loans. The Petraeus family are hardly known for their left-wing views. Mrs. Petraeus speaks movingly of the harm unscrupulous salespeople have inflicted on our troops.