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Tips From The Auto Brokers: Don't be fooled leasing companies: they're just like dealership

If you are like most people, your first thought of acquiring a new vehicle is a happy one: you behind the wheel of that hot new car of your dreams.

Your second thought is a little less scintillating: you walking into a dealership, like a fly into a spider's web.

As we've stated previously, dealerships are like casinos; they build big, fancy showrooms to lure you in, persuade you that you somehow are going to come out ahead in the car-buying or leasing process and then take as much of your money as they can over a period of several hours.

Leasing companies differ from dealerships in that they don't have showrooms, and they offer you more personalized service. They may go so far as to insinuate that they exist to save you money in your lease transaction.

But don't be fooled: leasing companies, like dealerships, are in the business of making as much money on your leased vehicle as possible.

They don't open up their doors to help you; they open up their doors to help themselves to your money under the guise of helping you.

We've made this point before, but it bears repeating: leasing an automobile is a complex transaction in which the consumer is at a distinct disadvantage. This is due to the lack of federal regulations pertaining to disclosure of what is known as the money factor, or buy rate.

This is the rate the leasing bank charges for the lease. But while the dealership or leasing company is privy to this internal rate, the consumer is not, and typically it is marked up substantially, without consumer knowledge.

We cannot stress enough what a slippery slope this can be for you, the consumer. Your best bet always is to find a broker to act as your agent, in your best interest, to protect you from being gouged.

But we know some of you are stubborn, and others may be convinced that you are the best negotiators walking the earth.

Here is a tip for ye of little faith.

Besides your monthly lease payment, the most significant factor to you in your lease transaction probably will be your out-of-pocket expense prior to delivery. This is the amount for which you will write a check upon signing the lease - your total drive-off. This is not the same as your down payment.

With a leased vehicle, the Gross Capitalized Cost (commonly, the "cap cost") is equivalent to the cash price. When the dealer or leasing company gives you a down payment figure, remember that technically down payment translates into the capitalized cost reduction, or the amount by which you effectively pay down the lease in advance in order to reduce your future monthly payments.

Added to your down payment are the following items: first monthly payment; refundable security deposit (if applicable); licensing fees and any other applicable fees, such as the $5 California Tire Disposal Fee; luxury tax (if applicable); and state sales tax.

In other words: ask for your total drive-off; don't be misguided by the term "down payment."

And don't forget that for every leased vehicle there is a bank acquisition fee, charged by the bank to the dealer for "doing" the lease. This is a mandatory fee that represents yet another opportunity for the dealer or leasing company to mark up the cost of your lease - in this case, an average of an additional $300 to 400 of free money hidden in your lease.

For dealerships and leasing companies, profit is the name of the game; and you, the consumer, are the profit source.

Beware of the wolf in sheep's clothing.

Hammer and Kelly are associated with Hammer Auto, a new car auto broker in Palo Alto. For more information, call 813-6100 or visit the Web site at www.hammerauto.com.

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