12/1/2010 6:00 PM ET|
How (and when) to get a hot car deal
The holiday shopping season usually includes some of the best days of the year to buy a car.
New-car prices are down, but used-car prices are way up. Leasing is also up -- but so are defaults on those leases.
Oh, and young people want to drive less. Holy Chrysler, what's going on?
Well, experts say this uncommonly long recession has put the brakes on what we long considered common car sense. So before you buy, read on.
New-car prices dropping
Black Friday was the perfect time to score a good deal at the mall, and last year it was also a good time to shop at the dealership. But not this year.
Keep in mind that six of the 10 best days to buy a car last year were in December. Also, the savings may not amount to much versus other days of the month. For example, last year automotive researcher Truecar.com said the average discount on the best day in November (Nov. 27 -- Black Friday) was 7.5%, while the average discount on the worst day (Nov. 16) was 5.2%.
But whatever day you choose to hit the showroom, there are some deals to be found. One example? According to TrueCar, a 2010 Mazda 3 is selling, on average, for $10,087 -- 37% less than its $16,095 sticker price.
Not only that, but the cost of financing a new car actually dipped slightly. "The average total cost of buying and financing a new car decreased by $300 to $27,600, a 1.4% decrease from the second quarter," declared financial services company Comerica.
What you should do: If you're interested in a new car, hit the dealerships in December (TrueCar will soon identify the best days). And if you're looking for the deepest discounts, see the complete list from TrueCar here.
Used-car prices are rising
The average overall price of a used car today is $18,570, according to automotive website Edmunds.com. That's up from $17,986 a year ago.
One reason, according to Fortune magazine, is obvious: The recession has driven up demand for used cars among cash-strapped buyers. But there's another reason: "There are fewer used vehicles available because manufacturers are selling less to fleets and therefore have fewer to recycle back to the market," Deirdre Borrego, a vice president at J.D. Power & Associates, recently told Fortune.
Bottom line: This economic downturn has lasted so long that for years fewer new cars have been sold, and that reduction has now trickled down to impact the number of used cars for sale.
What you should do: While this may not be the best time to buy a used car from a dealership, you can still get good deals from private buyers. You can find lots of leads online from established brokers like AutoTrader. Before you buy, check out the Federal Trade Commission's used-car advice.
Leasing -- and losing
Leases now makes up more than 20% of all new-car deals, Edmunds.com says. Leasing has been popular with Americans who can't afford to buy expensive cars but still want to drive them.
But when the recession hit, leasing dipped, too. Now it's back, but with a new marketing twist: Car dealers are hyping leases as a way to lock in a low monthly payment on modest vehicles. So instead of appealing to vanity, they're targeting frugality.
There's a catch, though. "In a struggling economy people tend to be fixated on the car's monthly payment and nothing else," says Sergio Stiberman, CEO and founder of LeaseTrader.com. Some who opt for a lease, often first-timers, don't realize a newly leased vehicle requires more insurance -- and higher premiums -- than the clunker they used to own.
"Some people go into a dealership with the intention of financing a car with a certain monthly payment, but switch to a lease program at the last minute because they can get a better car for the same money," writes Carroll Lachnit for Edmunds.com's blog.
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