Best Car Deals: Buy Now or Wait?

Last Updated May 6, 2010 8:51 AM EDT

You like the looks, the comfort, and the gas mileage of that new car you have been shopping. Should you buy now or wait for traditional summer price cutting?

"In the past, I would have said wait for summer. But this year I don't think you will see better deals than you can get right now," says Jessica Caldwell, director of pricing and industry analysis at car information web site Edmunds.com. Caldwell points out that 0% financing, low lease payments, and other incentives were the seasonally highest ever for March and continuing into April. (See 4 Sizzling Car Deals Now.) With April sales increasing less rapidly than the March surge, Caldwell expects Toyota, which started the incentives blitz, and competitors will continue their low-payment deals for a month or two but possibly not into the summer.

Another reason for buying now instead of waiting until the late summer end of the 2010 model year is that you'll have a better choice of vehicles. "For anyone who cares about particular colors or options, there will be less and less choice in the summer," Caldwell adds. Unlike last year at this time, when recession-hammered sales left big inventories, supplies are much leaner.

Here's how to work for that best deal:

Check the promotions and make sure you qualify. On Edmunds.com, look for the model you are shopping and click "incentives." You will see any available low-interest loan and lease deals or cash rebates. If you have a FICO credit score of 700 or over, you should qualify for the best rate; 650 may even do it.

See where the car's price is headed. Edmunds' price trend predictor forecasts whether a car's price is likely headed up, down, or staying flat in the next 30 days. For example, the Ford Escape, despite being one of the top-selling models in April, shows a slight downward trend from its $23,317 transaction price after the current $1,000 rebate. With this indicator, you wouldn't necessarily delay, but you might continue shopping among dealers for the best price.

Negotiate hard, no matter what incentives are offered. The lower you can push the price, the lower your monthly payments will be, even if you are getting zero per cent financing. Look at Edmunds' True Market Value price and data at Kelley Blue Book (kbb.com) and TrueCar.com to see what a good price looks like. For instance, among its recent list of best average national deals, TrueCar showed a 15% discount from manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) for mid-size SUV Mercury Mountaineer and 18% on the Volvo C70 convertible.

More from MoneyWatch:
Cars with the Most MPG for Your Money
Car Insurance: Most and Least Expensive Models
Flash: New Cars Cost Less than Used Cars
Fast Cars and Good Gas Mileage? Yes!
4 Sizzling Car Deals Now
  • Jerry Edgerton On Twitter»

    View all articles by Jerry Edgerton on CBS MoneyWatch»
    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.

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