Go into the dealership armed with discount information. (CarMax photo)
Did you know that the absolute best day of the year to buy a car this year was, gulp, Christmas Eve (with a projected 7.25 percent average discount)? That's according to the useful (and free) information at TrueCar, which is dedicated to demystifying auto pricing.
Don't worry if you didn't buy a new car on Christmas Eve, by the way, because New Year's Eve is almost as good (7.04 percent). Six of the Top 10 best days are in December, so you might want to take a look before the calendar turns over.
The site is full of interesting information like that, by the way. The most heavily discounted 2009 sedan is the Saturn Aura (24 percent)-and that's because GM is dumping the remaining inventory before it kills the brand. For 2010, the Mercury Grand Marquis is the most heavily discounted (13 percent), and that's because its average buyer is eligible to receive Modern Maturity. The Corvette is the most heavily discounted coupe (18 percent), and that's probably because despite being the object of many a young man's lusts they don't sell all that well. Jeep's 2010 Grand Cherokee is heavily subsidized (15 percent) because Chrysler is a basket case right now.
Some cars you may be considering have extremely flexible pricing. They're open to offers. The most flexible 2010 sedan is the Cadillac DTS, and the most flexible coupe the Audi A5. Want a flexible priced SUV? The Chrysler Aspen is all over the map. So what's least flexible for 2010: Mazda Miata (convertible), Honda Civic (coupe), Toyota Tacoma (pickup), Mitsubishi Lancer (sedan), Hummer H3 (SUV) and Volkswagen Routan (van).
Jesse Toprak, TrueCar's vice president of industry trends and insights, explained to me that it doesn't necessarily follow that the least-flexible models are the most expensive. The Hummer, for instance, is already so deeply discounted that it's only being sold at rock-bottom prices. And the Mini Cooper is very flexible because, well, it is. "The range of prices on the Mini Cooper is extremely wide," said Toprak. "People can walk into the same dealership on the same day, and the one who is well informed will pay much less than sticker, and the other who is clueless will pay $3,000 over MSRP."
TrueCar's monthly reports also list who has the biggest incentives. Right now, king of the hill is a $5,250 incentive on the 2009 Mazda6, nearly matched by $5,000 on the Kia '09 Sorrento and the 10 Toyota Tundra 2WD truck. Bubbling under that are $4,000 on the '09 Hyundai Sonata and $3,500 on the Kia Spectra.
For 2010, the most heavily discounted makes are Ford (11 percent), Lincoln (10 percent), Chrysler (10 percent), Mercury (9 percent) and Volvo (nine percent). Since all these brands are U.S. owned, does it say anything about the state of the American auto industry? Another way to get car-pricing information, if you're in the year-end market, is Consumer Reports, which offers a $13 annual Bottom Line Price package that gets you comparisons of competitive models and advice on how to negotiate the best deal.
It really does help to know where you stand when you walk over that dealer's threshold. They want to sell you a car as much as you want to buy one, but they are happiest when you pay top dollar. A Christian film called Flywheel is about an auto dealer who cheats his customers routinely, but then has an awakening and starts treating them fairly. But that's a movie, made for $20,000. Reality is harsher.
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