Let's Make A Deal

By Sharon Naylor

August 23, 2011 6 min read

In the current economy, car manufacturers are offering enticing rebates and incentives to help motivate car sales, and you may be able to find a deal that makes your new car more affordable.

Fall and winter are typically great times to find rebates and incentives. New car models are coming out, and dealers need to move last year's models off the lot. Winter also is usually a slow time for car sales, so many car-buying experts say that is when you'll find the greatest number of incentives and discounts.

Carmakers offer generous incentives in the form of discounts, rebates, low APR rates and low payment leases, and dealers often receive hidden factory-to-dealer rebates that you may learn about while on the car lot. Still, it's smart to research rebates and incentives online before you go to your dealership.

For instance, Cars.com lists the top 10 cash-back deals currently on the market. At the time of this writing, the site showed a 2011 GMC Sierra 1500 earning a $6,725 cash-back offer. This site will link you to many of the newest incentives deals available nationally, but it is up to you to research whether the incentive is available to you locally. Print out the lists you find on the site, and bring them to your dealer.

*Be Cautious

It's a little-known fact that car dealers are not obligated to share information about factory incentives received for selling certain vehicles. Some dealers might not even be aware of factory incentives that are available. So when you arrive armed with your list of current incentives, you have a strong negotiating position. According to Cars.com, rebates are offered by the manufacturer, not by the dealership, so you'll be your best advocate for potentially landing the discounts or rebates.

Be aware, as well, that while there are more incentives and rebates available on many makes and models of cars, they may not be offered on all makes and models in a dealer's line. Some offerings are rebates only, and in the fine print, you may find that accepting a rebate means you will not then qualify for the low-interest car loan. Always search for those either-or conditions. It doesn't happen every time, but it might be a condition of the incentive put before you now.

Visit Bankrate.com to use their free calculator designed to help you configure your monthly costs if you choose a low-interest financial incentive or the cash-back rebate. This tool may be accessed on your smart phone at the dealership to help you do your own math on any incentives you discover there.

Some incentives and rebates are extremely time-limited, often expiring within a week or a month. No matter how good the incentive sounds, never rush into a purchase without taking the time to fully research the car model and all of your financing options. A rushed, pressured sell by a car dealer does not allow you to make the best investment.

Jack Gillis, author of "The Car Book 2010" and public affairs director for the Consumer Federation of America, suggests acting in your own interest: "Get your best price first, and don't tip your hand if you're going to take the rebate or special financing," says Gillis. "Look for the fine print. Whenever you have substantial incentives, (you) need to be aware of increased flexibility of price." Gillis says that incentives can sometimes "blind" consumers, making them forget about continuing to try to get the best price.

And finally, your credit rating factors mightily into which rebates and incentives you may earn. If you have good credit, you may qualify for the best deals. If your credit is poor, you may be rejected or offered a less stellar incentive.

*Types of Rebates and Incentives

Learn about some of the different types of rebates and incentives offered on the market:

--Cash rebates: With your purchase, you may get a percentage of your investment back or a flat-fee amount. Most often, cash-back rebates are taken out before you're given your total amount due.

--Low-interest financing: You may qualify for a lower-than-expected APR, which would make your monthly payments more manageable.

--Special leases: Some manufacturers are now offering special incentives to first-time buyers, loyal customers who have purchased their brand of car in the past, military members, students and other specific customer groups.

--Certified pre-owned: These incentives are reduced-rate loans offered by manufacturers to qualified buyers of certified pre-owned cars or trucks.

*How To Find Rebates and Incentives

Locate rebates and incentives are listed on Cars.com, as well as through Kelley Blue Book (http://www.kbb.com), Edmunds (http://www.edmunds.com/car-incentives) and NADA Guides (http://www.NadaGuides.com/cars/incentives-and-rebates). Car manufacturer websites also often list current incentive deals, including them on their Twitter and Facebook feeds in some instances. Since it's the car dealer you'll be working through, contact them directly for the current incentives and rebates that may be available to you.

Again, always read the fine print, run your own credit reports to find out whether you'll be eligible for special financing or incentives, and read all contracts and agreements thoroughly to protect your car purchase investment and your credit.

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