Let's see: unemployment is rising, consumer confidence is down, foreclosures are at all-time highs, and the government is bailing out banks. Sounds like the perfect time to go car shopping!
No, we're not just saying that because car companies are good advertisers. It's actually true. If you're in the market for a car and have good credit -- or even the ability to pay cash -- you're looking at an incredible buyer's market. To put it simply, the auto industry's loss (of sales, brands, dealers, you name it) is your gain.
Chapter 11 = Buyer's Heaven
If you're the kind of person who watches a nature show and feels sorry for the sickly wildebeest as the lions close in, you won't like this tip. The fact of the matter is, car companies entering bankruptcy are about the best thing for car buyers since fuel injection. Why? Because bankruptcy court forces the companies to cut costs.
For example, Chrysler's bankruptcy has meant a tightening of the company's dealer network, which includes Dodge and Jeep dealerships. Nearly 800 Chrysler dealerships need to close by June 9 -- and all of those dealerships have inventory they need to get rid of. That means steep discounts.
ABC News reports that consumers are getting incredible deals from Dodge dealerships. At one dealership, a $45,428 Dodge Ram is priced to sell at $28,392 after rebates, cash back and incentives. The same report found a couple who got nearly $13,000 off the list price for a Dodge Grand Caravan.
Don't be blinded by the discounts, though. While the Ram and the Grand Caravan are good cars, models from brands in bankruptcy tend to lose their value faster than competitors. Also, while Chrysler says it will continue to honor warranties, it has allegedly bounced some lemon law checks. And while the government has also said it will honor Chrysler warranties if the company is unable to do so, the shrinking dealer network means buyers may have to drive further to get work done under warranty. Still, if a deep discount is enough to offset these worries for you, it may be time to head over to the dealership.
Oh, and if you don't think a Chrysler is right for you, sit tight. Many signs are pointing to a possible GM bankruptcy. General Motors has already announced that it's phasing out the Pontiac, Saab, Saturn and Hummer brands, making those cars good targets for deal hunters.
Bankruptcy? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Bankruptcy!
If you still want a deal but don't want to deal with a company undergoing bankruptcy, there are plenty of deals out there. With auto sales staying in a deep slump, most major automakers have a backlog of inventory that they're anxious to move.
That includes companies that are in a relatively stable financial position. See, when you buy a car, you're not buying it directly from the automaker. You're buying it from a dealer. And most dealers finance their inventory, borrowing money to buy cars, then selling those cars at (what they hope is) a hefty profit, paying back the loan and taking out another to buy more cars. When the cars just sit on dealer lots, they're actually costing the dealer money in interest and finance charges (just like how those jeans you bought continue to cost you money if you don't pay off your credit card right away).
Most dealers and automakers try to have a 60-day supply of inventory on hand. According to the National Automobile Dealers Association, GM has 111 days worth, Volkswagen has 115 and Chrysler has 114. That means those dealers are paying for those cars to just sit there, and might be anxious to cut a deal -- and their losses. The Wall Street Journal even reports that an Oregon consumer bought a brand-new Mazda MX-5 Miata for about $18,000. The sticker price? $27,235.
Other car companies are rushing to move 2009 models as the 2010s roll on to the lot. Edmunds analyst Jesse Toprak told the Journal that with the 2010 Toyota Prius hitting dealerships soon, the 2009 model could end up costing $8,000 less than it did just a few months ago.
If these deals don't convince you, maybe the industry data will. Consumer Reports points out that the ratio of income to new car price is at its lowest on record. Also, J.D. Power reports that ne car incentives are up 2.9 percent from just six months ago, while new car prices are down 2.3 percent. So even if you can't negotiate $10,000 off MSRP, you can rest assured that you're likely getting a better deal than you could have in the past.
Take Advantage of Deals, Not People
Even though this is a buyer's market, you still need to do your research before you head to the dealership. First, check out the latest deals and incentives on the car you're interested in, so you can get an idea of what it might cost. Then, get ready to negotiate. Research what buyers in your area are paying for the car so you have a complete picture of the kind of price the dealer is going to offer. You can also get multiple online quotes from dealers, which allow you to comparison shop right from your laptop.
While this is a great time to be a car buyer, don't get too carried away. Dealers have reported people offering outrageously low prices for a new car, and getting laughed right out of the dealership. Do the research first, and know where prices stand so you don't make a ridiculously lowball offer. Finally, don't be a complete jackal when negotiating. Slumping auto sales do mean that great deals are available, but remember that those deals are sometimes coming at a great cost to the dealer. When offering a price, keep in mind that you're talking to a business, and that means you're talking about people's livelihoods as well. Get the best deal you can, but be respectful.