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? I do need to buy a car soon. Please answer before I do something crazy, like buy a Hummer! -- Nurgun
RAY: This is what's known as price gouging, Nurgun. It's done by short-sighted dealers who don't realize that someday they might 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).
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 versus 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. Shop Elsewhere."
RAY: At the rate of $7 an hour, you can put someone at each dealership for a half a year's worth of Saturdays, marching back and forth in front of the parking lot with that sign.
TOM: You'll be helping to punish an unscrupulous dealer, and you'll be providing employment for some poor man or woman who needs it.
RAY: Alternatively, you could shop for a Honda Civic Hybrid, assuming your local Honda dealer isn't pulling the same kinds 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.
RAY: If you buy it that way, you can still take it back to these other rip-off artists to have the free warranty work done -- and drink their waiting-room coffee. Good luck, Nurgun.