Beware the rip-off sticker Edmunds.com - Ronald Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate As we ventured onto the dealer lot to purchase a Ford Fusion Hybrid for our long-term fleet, we noticed a small sheet of paper listing additional costs, posted next to the window sticker. It caught us off guard, since we hadn't seen these additional charges when we viewed the car on the dealership's website. This seemingly harmless sheet of paper, containing two additional dealer add-ons, inflated the price of the vehicle by $600. Worse yet, it complicated our negotiations. In the industry, this list of add-ons is called the "supplemental sticker." We call it the rip-off sticker. Added Dealer Profit The rip-off sticker adds high-profit items for a dealer that hold little or no value to the consumer. In our case, the sticker added two products: an interior "protection" package, and an "Express Code Marking System." The interior protection package is a chemical sprayed on the vehicle's upholstery to waterproof it and protect it from stains. The dealer was charging $195 for this service. We performed a quick search online and found a bottle of 3M Scotchgard Auto Interior Fabric Protector for about $9 on 3M's Web site. This product promises the same advantages as the stuff sprayed onto your upholstery at the dealership, but costs $186 less. The second product was the Express Code Marking System. This marking system consisted of a special label placed on key body parts of the vehicle that if removed, would leave the imprint of an ultraviolet identification number. It wouldn't notify the police, ruin the part or make any sort of noise. The dealer was charging $400 for this product. Your Items May Vary Products added to the rip-off sticker vary by dealership. Somewhere else it might be chrome wheels, paint sealant or a "protection package." A dealership near our offices had its own list of add-ons to many of the new vehicles it sold. One vehicle's rip-off sticker added nearly $1,200 to the price of the vehicle. On one car, the sticker listed two add-ons: an applied sealant package and a protection package. According to the salesman we spoke to, the applied sealant is a special layer that protects the car's paint and is backed by a warranty. Since every new car comes from the factory with a protective "clear coat" layer, it might be difficult to prove if this product is working. If your car's paint looks good after a few years, would you credit the sealant or the factory clear coat? The $595 protection package consisted of a rubber cargo tray, wheel locks and splash guards. We called the parts and service department and asked for the same items over the counter. Individually, the price totaled $375, installed. If we installed the parts ourselves (not hard to do), we could save an additional $70. We knew that the items were less expensive Ã la carte, but few buyers know these items are negotiable - or that you could ask to have them removed. The Choice Is Yours "Most customers never bothered to remove the add-ons," said Hector Moreno, a former Honda dealership employee. "When they put the addendum near the Monroney [window sticker] it looks official, and most people just assumed it came with the car." During negotiations for our long-term Fusion we told the assistant sales manager that we weren't interested in the extras. "I'll let them know," he said, referring to his managers, "but they're going to give me some pushback on this." The assistant manager came back with a reduced price for the add-ons. Things were starting to get complicated. Not only were we negotiating the price of the vehicle, but the add-ons as well. Each offer we made brought down the cost of the add-ons, but kept us distracted from our primary goal of getting the best price on the vehicle itself. This is exactly what they wanted. The negotiation kept going in circles, and the dealer's last offer was $300 higher than where we began, so we walked away. We eventually bought the car online at another dealer, and avoided all the hassle. Stickers Everywhere After the fact, we found other customers who had had similar experiences at this dealership. One stated in an online review: "I purchased a 2010 Mustang from this dealership. Before they even had the car on their lot, I asked them if there would be any additional fees. The salesman told me 'yes, we will add interior protection [$295] and VIN etching [$495].'" I adamantly stated I did not want either service, and was told that this is mandatory on all vehicles that enter the lot. The services hadn't been rendered and they refused to oblige my request. Due to the circumstances I couldn't choose another dealer. Had things been different I would have gone elsewhere in a heartbeat." This is a widespread issue, and in no way isolated to the local dealerships we visited. If you come across a dealer that uses a rip-off sticker, how should you handle it? On our CarSpace forums, Dave from Manassas, Virginia, has a strategy we agree with: "A good dealership will present these offers and let the consumer decide for him/herself whether they need/want them. The bad ones force [the products on] them. Me, I don't need any of this stuff. I'm convinced I can go without, do it myself, or find it MUCH cheaper elsewhere." If you see the rip-off sticker, it might be an indication of how the dealership operates. But if they have the vehicle you want, remain firm about having the products removed or not paying for them. By telling a dealer that you aren't interested in add-ons, you'll send a message that these items hold no value to you. If they are persistent, don't be afraid to walk away from the deal.
The strangest car features Road & Track - Nick Kurczewski To stand out in a crowded field, automakers have to push the envelope when it comes to adding unique attributes to a vehicle. Sure, your neighbour just parked a brand-new car in his driveway - but does his new ride have glowing speakers, or a built-in perfume dispenser? We've combed through spec sheets and options lists in our search for the strangest new car features. What we found is an automotive world full of creativity and, in some cases, a few items that just left us scratching our head. What exactly is a "Gentleman Function" button - and what is it doing in a BMW luxury sedan? Grabbing the attention of car buyers isn't made easier when even the most basic economy car often comes loaded with standard equipment such as air conditioning, power door locks and a window-rattling stereo system. Even a supercar costing $1.7 million isn't immune to adding some razzle dazzle to set it apart from, well, all the other million dollar supercars. 2011 Mini Cooper Convertible - Openometer Mini Cooper Convertible owners apparently need an added incentive to drop their tops. How else can we explain the "Openometer," a tiny gauge mounted on the dashboard that records in minutes and hours precisely how long the fabric top has been kept down. Fitted as standard equipment, the Openometer, says Mini, is "a tool to help keep you aware of your openness...so you can revel in the roofless hours you've spent on your trip, cultivating your open mind and a tan." Our guess is that a few BMW-Mini engineers spent too much time in the sun before coming up with this useless gadget. 2011 Bugatti Veyron 16.4 - Top Speed Key The Bugatti Veyron 16.4 is among the fastest and most exclusive cars in the world. Not only do you need approximately $1.7 million to buy one, you'll also need one very special key if you want to unlock this 1001-bhp supercar's top speed of more than 250 miles per hour. An owner must fit the (unimaginatively named) "top speed key" before attempting to reach the Veyron's outer limits. Give it a twist, and the Veyron's suspension and rear spoiler are lowered for better wind-cheating aerodynamics. The steering input is also limited - at 250 mph, you want to make sure all your steering corrections are minor.... 2011 BMW 750i - The "Gentleman Function" The award for the most regal sounding - and totally bewildering - feature name goes to the BMW 7 series and the "Gentleman Function." Located deep within the vehicle features of this refined Germany luxury sedan, the actual function of this device is less grandiose than its lofty title. Basically, it's a clever way for the driver to make more room for rear passengers. With a few clicks of BMW's iDrive controller, the front passenger seat can be maneuvered using the same controls used for the driver's seat. Okay, but what's the point? Unless you're a limousine driver, there really isn't one. The "Gentleman Function" allows the driver to increase legroom for rear passengers without forcing him or her to get out of the car and use the front passenger seat controls. 2011 Kia Soul - Glowing and Pulsing Speaker Lights By now you've seen the cutesy commercials and are fully aware that hamsters have given the Kia Soul their full endorsement. Yet these furry household pets have a trick up their sleeve - or more exactly, a frivolous feature located in the front door-mounted speakers. Crank up the stereo in certain models of Kia Soul and watch as lights surrounding the speakers pulse and glow to the beat of the music. It's fun, for about five minutes. After that, it's about as enjoyable as having a bratty kid kick the back of your seat. To make matters worse, these illuminated speakers appear to be part of an ongoing recall related to the wiring harness of the 2010 Kia Soul. 2011 Ford Mustang - Adjustable Dashboard Lighting Lots of cars have adjustable interior lighting, but the Ford Mustang takes top marks for the sheer magnitude of different colours on offer. With the scroll of a button, the Mustang's gauge cluster can be tuned to one of literally hundreds of hues. This should really be the default sports coupe for any manager of a Sherwin-Williams or Benjamin Moore paint store. What's even wackier is that, in a weird way, the Mustang's interior light show really works wonders depending on the mood you're in. Feeling racy? Switch the gauges to a fiery red and stomp the gas pedal. For relaxed highway cruising, opting for an icy blue or forest green helps calms things down. 2011 Fiat 500 - Perfume dispenser We tried to limit our selection of wacky features to vehicles sold in North America. But with U.S. sales likely to begin within the next few months, we couldn't resist offering a sneak preview of the charming (and sweet-smelling) Fiat 500 city car. As an accessory, Fiat offers buyers of the 500 a built-in perfume diffuser for this retro-styled little hatchback. Available in white or black, the electric diffuser fits between the front seats. There are currently three fragrances: Citrus, Essence of Night and Breath of Fresh Air. The intensity of the scent can be adjusted by pushing the plus or minus buttons located on top of the device. About the only drawback - other than the giggling of your friends - is that the diffuser effectively turns the dual front - cupholder into a single drink unit. 2011 Honda Element - Dog-Friendly Package Your opinion of this next feature might be determined by whether or not you have paws and a tail. If you do - or happen to live with a creature that does - then the "Dog-Friendly package" offered in the Honda Element could be your (second) best friend. For US$995, this option package adds pooch-friendly features like a custom-fitted, soft-sided crate, spill-resistant water bowl, electric cooling fan mounted in the cargo bay, portable ramp, dog-patterned rear seat covers and heavy-duty dogbone- patterned floormats. Extra accessories include a leash, collar, ID tag and, yes, even a dispenser for dog-waste bags. Exterior paw-print badges on the tailgate and front fenders lets everyone know you're a proud dog owner - as if being constantly covered in Fido's hair wasn't proof enough.
True stories behind car company logos Road & Track - Nick Kurczewski Did a wallpaper pattern in a Paris hotel room inspire the famous Chevrolet Bowtie emblem? Does the blue and white BMW roundel really symbolize a propeller and sky? And was the Porsche logo first sketched on a napkin in a New York City restaurant? In the world of automobile logos, truth can be stranger than fiction - though a good story can go a long way toward embellishing a brand's corporate identity. From Ferrari's Prancing Horse to Cadillac's crest, automobile logos appear on everything from steering wheel hubs to giant billboards, and even the lapel pins on the suits of company executives. This kind of flexibility is one of the design elements needed for an effective and strong logo, says Jack Gernsheimer, Creative Director of Partners Design Inc. and author of Designing Logos: The Process of Creating Symbols that Endure. With over 40 years of advertising experience and more than 500 logos to his credit, Mr. Gernsheimer believes it's essential to look long-term and to keep things simple when designing a logo. "Not getting too trendy with the type or colour" is vital, he says. "When you design a logo, ideally it should endure for decades." For many automakers, the roots of their logos stretch back over a century and contain enough symbolism and intrigue to fill a Dan Brown novel. Automotive Pioneers One of the best known emblems of all time, Ferrari's Prancing Horse first appeared on warplanes flown by Francesco Baracca, an aviator and hero of World War I. In 1923, Enzo Ferrari met Francesco's parents after a race, where they suggested Ferrari use their son's prancing horse badge on his race cars - both for good luck, and as an homage to Francesco, who died before the war ended. A yellow background was added (it's the official colour of Enzo Ferrari's hometown of Modena, Italy) and the horse's tail was redesigned to point upward. In the case of BMW, myth (and savvy marketing) has fooled generations into linking the company's logo with an aviation theme. "A German advertising agency in the 1920s produced an ad that showed the [BMW] roundel against the spinning propeller of an airplane to reflect the company's origins as an aircraft engine manufacturer," says Dave Buchko, company spokesman for BMW North America. "That, it seems now, turns out to be urban myth." While it's true that BMW manufactured airplane engines, the blue and white logo represented the colours of the Bavarian flag, not a stylized propeller and sky. American Ingenuity Had it not been for a talkative spouse, the Chevy Bowtie emblem could have claimed one the strangest design origins. Louis Chevrolet said the famous emblem was inspired by a wallpaper pattern in his hotel room during a visit to Paris in 1908. The story would have been considered fact, had it not been for Mr. Chevrolet's wife. She later said her husband had seen an advertisement featuring a similarly shaped logo in a Sunday supplement. Eye-catching design - and careful evolution - is a theme found in many American car company logos. The Cadillac crest is the coat of arms of French military commander and explorer, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, who founded Detroit in 1701. Simplified and streamlined over the years, the basic style remains intact. "It's so distinctive, you don't want to give that away," says Anne Marie Webb, Design Manager for GM's Global Brand Identity. When updating one of GM's brand logos, Webb says she always considers elements "that made it recognizable and strong." Even then, cultural differences must be considered. The Buick Tri-Shield emblem is monochromatic in every country except China, where the logo maintains red, blue and grey colouring. "They felt [colour] had a more premium feel," explains Webb. Changing times can also bring big changes in a logo. For more than 80 years, Chrysler has used a wide range of badges featuring ribbon seals, or ribbon seals with wings. But in 1962, Chrysler Chairman Lynn Townsend wanted a more modern and less fussy corporate logo. According to Chrysler's archives, out of approximately 700 designs, Townsend selected the Pentastar. Many assumed the design symbolized the five divisions of the company (circa the early 1960s). It didn't; the design simply looked good. Lawyers, Latin and Luck Some car company logos owe their existence to legalities and economies of scale. In 1909, having left the company bearing his name, August Horch established a second automobile company in Zwickau, Germany. But with his name already in use, Horch had a serious problem. He couldn't legally name his new company after himself. However, when translated into Latin, "Horch" - which means "hark" - became the lawyer-friendly "Audi." The four interlinked Audi rings came about in 1932, when four struggling automakers joined together under the corporate banner of Auto Union. These companies included Audi, DKW, Wanderer and, ironically, the original Horch. Volvo also has Latin roots. Meaning "I roll," the name was taken from a brand of ball bearings before it was applied to the Swedish automaker in 1924. The Volvo logo is the Roman symbol for iron - symbolizing a warrior's shield and spear. The diagonal streak across the grille was originally only a mounting point for the badge, but is now "almost as much a brand ID as our iron symbol," says Daniel Johnston, Product Communications Manager at Volvo Cars North America. Good luck - and an easier to pronounce name - played a role in the creation of the Toyota nameplate in 1936. In the book Toyota: A History of the First 50 Years, company founder Kiichiro Toyoda "ran a contest for suggestions for a new Toyoda logo. There were over 20,000 entries. The winning entry consisted of katakana characters in a design that imparted a sense of speed... "Toyoda" became "Toyota" because as a design it was esthetically superior and because the number of strokes needed to write it was eight, which in Japan is a felicitous number, suggestive of increasing prosperity." Statues, stars, and Smart cars Inspiration for a name and logo can come from careful consumer research, legal loopholes or, in some cases, by looking at the surrounding environment. The Maserati brothers took inspiration for their company's trident logo from the statue of Neptune in the central square of Bologna, Italy, where Maserati was originally headquartered. The trident with Maserati script below was sketched by Mario, an artist, who also happened to be the only Maserati brother never actively involved in the design or engineering of cars. Inspiration for the Subaru name literally came from the heavens - or more precisely, the Japanese name of a star cluster in the Taurus constellation. Six of the stars are visible to the naked eye and - in keeping with corporate identity - this matches the six companies which combined to form Fuji Heavy Industries, Subaru's parent company. The Hyundai name has an even simpler explanation. In Korean it means "modern," while the company's logo is a stylized "H" that also represents two people, the company and customer, shaking hands. The Smart name seems to speak for itself, no translation needed. It actually happens to be an acronym of Swatch (the Swiss watch company that was a partner during the early stages of the company), Mercedes (the brand's current custodian), and "Art." The company's logo signifies compact, with a "C," and forward thinking with an arrow emblem. Plot twists When it comes to the origin of an iconic logo, the same car company can sometimes have two variations of the same story. That holds true with Porsche, and the truth behind the German sports car manufacturer's eye-catching emblem. According to a spokesperson with Porsche Cars North America, an extremely influential automobile distributor, Max Hoffman, met with Ferry Porsche in a New York City restaurant in 1951. The discussion moved on to Hoffman's belief that Porsche needed a powerful logo, something distinctive and elegant. A rough sketch was made then and there, on a dinner napkin. Yet the story from Porsche Germany differs from this colourful explanation. Max Hoffman did ask Ferry Porsche for a logo, but the emblem was designed by Porsche engineer Franz Xaver Reimspiess - and most definitely not sketched on a napkin somewhere in Manhattan. Does it matter who is right or wrong? Probably not. A tall tale never hurts, especially when it involves two companies known for building some of the most exotic cars in the world. Car enthusiasts love to stoke the rivalry between Lamborghini and Ferrari, even down to the minutiae of the Lamborghini logo. The design of the gold and black emblem was led by company founder Ferruccio Lamborghini, and the bull located in the center stands for his astrological sign (Taurus). Legend has it that Mr. Lamborghini purposefully copied the Ferrari shield, then reversed that company's yellow and black color scheme to prod the ego of Enzo Ferrari. With the key protagonists having passed away, there is probably no way to know for certain how much of this is true. "To our knowledge, this is just a rumour," said a spokesperson for Automobili Lamborghini S.p.A. "The only way to confirm would have been to ask Mr. Lamborghini himself."