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We all fear getting ripped off at the car dealership. After all, those salespeople know the real wholesale price of the car and we don’t. They know when manufacturers are providing cash incentives to the sales staff to sell more vehicles, and how far behind or ahead of sales goals the dealership is. In short, they can game us better than we can game them.
But there are certain tricks, certain times of the year, and even rainy days when we can gain a hint of advantage. Follow these tips, courtesy of VroomGirls, an automotive website for women, and you can save thousands of dollars on a new car.
Take Advantage of Year-End Sales
You’ve always heard that the entire month of December is a savings bonanza, and it’s true. It can be a mother lode. According to JD Power & Associates, carmakers are fighting for leadership positions, each one vying to be number one in sales. The only way they can do this is to outsell their competitors.
Many manufacturers are advertising big year-end sales that shave off thousands. That’s a good place to start, but you can do even better if you’re willing to haggle. Volkswagen has a “Sign Then Drive” event on now. Hop into a 2012 Jetta for zero down, with no security deposit, and just $219 a month. If you’re in the market for a family sedan, check out the Passat for $279 a month. The fun new Beetle is a steal at $289 a month. Plus, Volkswagen includes a free maintenance program for three years, which means you won’t pay a cent for scheduled oil changes and tune-ups. That alone adds up to hundreds of dollars in savings.
Honda has brought back its “Happy Honda Days,” which means you can score a 2012 Accord LE for $199a month, plus tax and license, with $1,999 as a down payment. If you want to buy instead of lease, Honda is offering 0.9% financing on many of its most popular models, but only if you have excellent credit. And Lexus has it’s big annual push, the “December to Remember Sales Event,” which puts every Lexus at a big discount.
Once you decide you want a particular year-end deal, now it’s time to negotiate the extras. You might want to purchase an extended wheel warranty. Most extend the warranty for three years, and will replace a damaged wheel should you get a flat. The price of most new tires runs $350-$550, so if you think you’ll have more than two flats over three years, the wheel warranty makes sense. Also, if you damage the rim (that’s the housing for the tire), the warranty will cover its replacement, and those can cost more than $1,000. If the dealership is asking $1,000-$1,200 for the warranty, it’s time to negotiate. You don’t have to pay that. Tell the dealership you’ll take it, if they shave off $400. Be bold and hold your ground. Many dealerships will reduce the price by at least a couple of hundred dollars. The same is true with all the other extras. No price is in stone and each and every extra is negotiable, especially if you say you won’t take the car unless they come down on the price of everything else. Remember, it’s the end of the year, and dealerships are desperate to make year-end goals.
Know the Absolute Best Time to Buy-- After Christmas
We’ve established that December is a blockbuster for savings. But according to Chris Sutton, Senior Director for JD Power and Associate’s Automotive Retail Practice, the sweet spot is that very short six-day period – after Santa parks his sleigh but before the brightly lit crystal ball drops in Times Square. “The dealers are hungry and all the manufacturers have incentives to sell more cars,” he says. It's in your best interest to shop after Christmas but before New Year’s Day.
Consider Model-Year Close Outs
When a model has reached the end of its design life and a new version is coming soon, that’s the time to pounce. Early next year, BMW’s 3-Series will be redesigned and will debut in February. Toyota’s super-popular Camry is all-new for 2012, too. The new iteration is in showrooms now, but many dealerships still have 2011 models and are eager to get them off their lots.
That means if you don’t mind driving around in the 2011 style, which still is a brand new car with a complete warranty, then you really can save thousands of dollars. You won’t have the latest fashion but most of your friends probably won’t know the difference. VroomGirls Tip: go to the dealership now for best selection of model close-outs. If you wait until the final days of December, you could be out of luck on choice, or worse -- left to drive home the lime green minivan with fuchsia interior. Actually, that might be kind of cute.
Cars are like fashion, some are suddenly hot, while others suddenly are not. If everyone is clamoring for one particular model or brand, go for the one that’s not the car du jour.
For example, Toyota just introduced its highly anticipated super-roomy and fuel efficient Prius V, which looks like, and has the cargo capacity of, a station wagon and gets a terrific 44 mpg in the city. Some drivers have been on waiting lists for this car. Porsche will soon launch its completely redesigned flagship sports car, the 911 Carrera. It’s the most fuel-efficient and fastest Carrera yet. You won’t be able to bargain on those vehicles for quite some time. But there are cars that are, if not as fuel efficient, certainly roomy. Check out the Kia Soul or the Subaru Outback. If you crave a sporty ride, the Mazda MX-5 is a sweet little open-air roadster. And you can bargain on those, especially at this time of year.
Know the Best Times to Buy During the Rest of the Year
We can’t all be ready to buy or lease a new car at year’s end. So when else are the deals ripe? According to JD Power and Associate’s Chris Sutton, any major holiday weekend is a good time to bargain, like Labor Day or Memorial Day. Manufacturers often give financial incentives to the dealerships to sell high volumes during holiday weekends. Along the East Coast, one of the best times to buy is during President’s Day weekend. It’s the first big weekend heading into spring, and many people get in the mood to drive a new car when the weather improves. Dealers know this and offer big sales. This means you can get pretty close to paying invoice for a car, as long as it isn’t one of the most popular models.
Shop on a Tuesday or Wednesday
Weekends that aren’t holidays aren’t your best bet. Instead, try for a Tuesday or Wednesday, when most of us are not shopping for a car. That’s when you’re most likely to find the lonely salesman and the empty showroom. Also, there really is a sales tally board in the back room. It lists how many cars each salesperson has sold for the day, for the week, and for the month. Try to get to the dealership very early, when it opens, or late, about an hour before it closes. Salespeople will want to make a sale early, to psych out their colleagues and get that first sale of the day on the board, or else at the end of the workday, when one last sale just might bump them to another bonus scale.
Pray for Rain
If it rains on the last day of the month, or - oh, please - the last day of the last month of the year, then halleluiah. Jackpot. You can picture it now. That salesman standing in that empty showroom (cue the crickets), hopeful, by the front door, just thrilled beyond words to see you. Now fold up your umbrella and take him or her for everything he or she is worth. Bargains love the rain. Plus, you’ll be able to see how well the car you’re testing behaves in wet conditions.
Be firm, be prepared to walk if you don’t get the deal you want. And remember, if you shop smart -- on the days when salespeople are most eager to close the deal – you are in the driver’s seat. You call the shots. Go get ‘em.
Tara Weingarten is Editor-In-Chief of VroomGirls, an automotive website for women that features comprehensive and jargon-free new car reviews, safe driving tips, fun ideas for road trips, and automotive-related stories written by noted authors, television writers and celebrities.