LAS VEGAS – While working at a dealership decades ago, Charlie Robinson acknowledges doing something that once was commonplace, but now is banned.

He was a finance and insurance manager at a Ford store in Massachusetts. “We had one product to sell: credit life insurance. I’d tell customers, ‘It’s already included in the car payments.’”

But it really wasn’t. It was a slipped-in additional charge. F&I staffers automatically would include that without customer authorization. Consumers rarely objected.

Called payment packing, it’s now illegal, as Robinson quickly notes. Today, laws require dealerships to disclose the base monthly payment for a purchased vehicle itself, then separately divulge additional payment amounts for prospective F&I products.

“F&I has come a long way,” says Robinson, now president and chief operating officer at Resource Automotive, a training firm.

F&I transgressions still occur from time to time, but dealership zero-tolerance policies now come down hard on offenders. “Boy has this changed,” Robinson says, referring to dealer efforts to comply with an ever-growing list of F&I rules and regulations.

At a recent F&I Conference and Expo here, Robinson reflects on his 40-year career, starting as a dealership lot boy, then as a car salesman earning a $25 commission.

Some of his been-there advice is practical, such as the importance of car salespersons properly introducing customers to F&I managers.

“Make sure turnovers are done appropriately and effectively,” he says. “When I became an F&I manager, I was expected to talk to every customer. But salespeople hated turning customers over.”

That remains a problem today at some dealerships, where F&I managers beef about salespeople improperly introducing customers, if at all.

Some of Robinson’s advice is cautionary. For example, he says much sales effort is spent on the 10% of customers who readily buy and the 10% who stubbornly resist, while the remaining 80% gets largely overlooked. “I’ve seen millions of dollars lost on addressing the 10 percents.”

Philosophically, he offers F&I words to live by:

  • “Attitude is No.1.”
  • “Fill in your education gaps. I spend a lot of time reading business books.”
  • Do what’s right versus what’s self-serving. “They seldom match.”
  • Be fair and honest. “It will get you respect. I learned long ago it’s easier to tell the truth.”
  • Listen. “There’s a reason we have two ears and one mouth.”
  • Treat whomever you are with at a particular time as the most important person in the world. “Because they are.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com