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CLICK & CLACK : Get Off the Gouge

Sunday, January 16, 2005; Page G02

Q Dear Tom and Ray:

I have been trying to buy a new Toyota Prius. Recently, two Southeast Florida dealers have told me they're in short supply. They both say they'll put me on the waiting list if I give them a deposit of $1,000 and agree to pay $5,000 above the sticker price. Frankly, that ticks me off. Why is doing right by the environment becoming so difficult? -- Nurgun

A RAY: This is what's known as price gouging, Nurgun. It's done by short-sighted dealers who don't realize that someday they may have more cars than customers, rather than the other way around. And the manufacturer can't legally prevent its dealers from doing this. It's only allowed to "suggest" prices (hence, the manufacturer's suggested retail price).

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TOM: You know those dealers are only going to use your $5,000 to buy a bigger power boat, which will only further add to the pollution in South Florida.

RAY: So, if you really want to help the environment, here's what I'd suggest: Buy a regular Honda Civic, which gets 30 mpg anyway.

TOM: Then take that $5,000 and do the following: Put aside $1,000 to pay for the difference in gasoline costs throughout the life of the Civic vs. the Prius.

RAY: Then take $1,000 and donate it to your favorite environmental organization.

TOM: And then, with the remaining $3,000, hire a picketer to walk outside each of these dealerships with a big sign that says "This Dealership Gouges Its Customers."

RAY: Alternatively, you could shop for a Honda Civic Hybrid, assuming your local Honda dealer isn't pulling the same kind of tricks. Or wait until fall for the Honda Accord Hybrid to come out.

TOM: Or, you can go to www.cartalk.com and use the new-car-search feature to look for another Toyota dealer within driving range who will sell you the car at sticker price.


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