If you're shopping for a new car right now, you're in a dream market. Sales are low, incentives are high and dealerships are ready to negotiate. It should be easy to get a great price on a new car.
[See list of the Most Discounted Cars for Fall 2009]
But don't be dazzled by the heaps of incentives. Sure, big discounts or cash-back offers save you money at the dealership, but you're going to own the car you buy for a long time. When shopping for the best value, you need to find a car that saves you money on day one, and continues to help you save over the entire life of the car.
To help you get a good deal for the long haul on a new car, we've looked at cars that have recently been given big discounts and checked out what IntelliChoice says they'll cost to own over five years, including maintenance, fuel costs and depreciation. We also used up-to-the-minute pricing data to see what car buyers just like you are currently paying on popular models, and found alternatives that offer more value. Popular or heavily discounted cars may be tempting, but when the long term costs start mounting, you'll be glad you passed on these overpriced rides.
[If you're in the market, also see the Best Car Deals Available in October]
Dodge Grand Caravan
Looking for minivan? You're probably looking at the Dodge Grand Caravan. Not only is the Dodge credited with launching the minivan segment, but it's the only domestic automaker still in the minivan biz. The Grand Caravan features innovative seating arrangements, a rear-seat entertainment system and handy storage cubbies. It gets even more tempting when you consider the nearly $4,500 cash back that Dodge has been offering in some parts of the country.
But, while it's cheap at the dealership, IntelliChoice says the Grand Caravan isn't the best long-term value. Over five years the Grand Caravan will cost you $43,050 to own, when you factor in repairs, depreciation and maintenance costs. That's twice what a discounted model costs. Compare that to the Toyota Sienna minivan, which, even with its higher starting price, only costs $40,390 to own over five years, according to IntelliChoice.
That value gets even better. According to pricing firm TrueCar, buyers in early October are actually paying a national average price of $23,788 for the Grand Caravan, and an average national price of $23,642 for the Sienna. That's not a huge price difference up front, but over the long haul, the Dodge Grand Caravan is one overpriced van.
The conventional wisdom is that compact car shoppers are trying to save a little cash by opting for basic transportation. The problem is, sometimes that basic transportation can end up costing more in the long run. Take the Chevrolet Cobalt. Chevy's been offering it with zero-percent financing -- and with a starting price of $14,990, it's a pretty affordable option.
Over the long term, that changes. IntelliChoice says that over five years, the Cobalt will cost about $31,916 to own. That's more than twice the national average price of $15,042 that buyers are paying for the Cobalt.
For a better option, check out the Honda Civic Hybrid. Yes, it costs more up front than the Cobalt, but over five years, IntelliChoice says it only costs $26,993 to own. With car shoppers currently paying an average of about $23,000 nationally for the Civic Hybrid, that means the car's exceptionally low depreciation, fuel and maintenance costs make it a lot cheaper than the Cobalt. If you can't swing the upfront costs of the Civic Hybrid, opt for the regular Civic. In early October, the average price people are paying nationally for one is about $15,000. Plus, it has a total cost of ownership of $28,375, saving you over $4,000 as compared to the Cobalt.
Suzuki Grand Vitara
Compact SUVs are quickly becoming the station wagon for the current generation of families. They offer utility in a tidy package and many can be great values. But not all of them are. The Suzuki Grand Vitara has a base price of about $18,500, which is average for the class. Its extra-long warranty can make it seem like an excellent value. But its five year cost of ownership -- a whopping $39,434 -- tells a different story.
A better value is the Toyota RAV4. It starts at about $2,000 more than the Grand Vitara, but over five years will cost you $33,336 to own according to IntelliChoice, so you'll end up saving $4,000. In some regions, Toyota is offering cash back on the RAV4 or zero-percent financing, which only adds to your savings.
For 2010, Subaru redesigned the Legacy, its midsize sedan. However, there are still some 2009 models on dealer lots. Since the 2009 models are likely to have heavy discounts so dealers can make way for the 2010 models, a 2009 Legacy can seem like a good deal -- especially since its $20,795 starting price includes all-wheel drive. Currently, buyers are paying a national average price of about $19,000 for the 2009 Legacy; that's below invoice price.
However, with IntelliChoice estimating the 2009 Legacy's five-year cost of ownership at $35,603, paying below invoice doesn't seem like such a deal. A better long-term value for a midsize car is the 2009 Toyota Prius. Like the Legacy, the 2009 Prius is the last model year before a 2010 redesign, so dealers may be willing to negotiate on price. The 2009 Prius starts at $22,000, but IntelliChoice says the Prius should only cost $25,365 to own over five years.
Midsize SUVs are for people who need more power and space than a compact SUV can deliver. The Ford Explorer can do both, and recently Ford has been offering the 2009 Explorer with about $4,500 cash back in some regions (the 2009 and 2010 models are essentially the same, so you might as well buy the 2009 model and get the discount).
Sound like a deal? Not according to IntelliChoice. The five-year cost of ownership on the Explorer is $48,280, almost twice what you'll pay at the dealership. If you opt for the Toyota Highlander instead, you'll see a total cost of ownership of $41,089 over five years, saving you about $7,000. Plus, Toyota is offering $1,000 cash back on the Highlander in some regions and zero-percent financing in others, helping you save even more.