Jack Fitzgerald, owner of 15 dealerships in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Florida, has reams of government spreadsheets and documents on his Web site, together with his own tip sheets for buying a car.
Fitzgerald insists they are more useful than guidelines from the Federal Trade Commission or even the magazine Consumer Reports, of which he is a devotee.
"We try to teach people how to buy a car and not get taken advantage of, regardless of where they buy it," he says. "That's always been our philosophy."
Helping consumers has long been a hallmark for Fitzgerald, a 77-year-old native of Washington, D.C., and chairman of Fitzgerald Auto Malls. He started selling cars in 1966.
While many colleagues in the industry resisted the consumer movement, Fitzgerald embraced it. So, in 2010, when Automotive News honored activist Ralph Nader with an award at the Washington Auto Show, Fitzgerald was there, getting a signed copy of Nader's seminal book, Unsafe at Any Speed.
He fondly remembers his first meeting with the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection, in 1971, and says he often refers customers to the office.
Fitzgerald is a member of the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition and the Florida Consumer Action Network. He has filmed videos for the Florida group in which he gives advice on how to buy a car. They appear on local TV spots and on the group's Web site.
At his own stores, which sell 20 brands, Fitzgerald has used no-haggle pricing since 1979. In Maryland, he has lobbied alongside consumer groups to let dealers advertise factory invoice prices to the public without retribution.
Automakers and other dealers resisted. But Fitzgerald, perhaps best known for his advocacy on behalf of rejected dealers during the bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler, doesn't mind ruffling feathers.
"This business is historically based on the horse-trading business. That's why we've always negotiated the prices of cars," Fitzgerald says. "But just because we've always done it that way doesn't mean we have to."
Fitzgerald Auto Malls
North Bethesda, Md.
Service: To help car buyers make informed decisions, Fitzgerald has filmed videos for consumer groups and has lobbied for disclosure of invoice prices.