Several years ago I was shocked by Honda's "Happy Honda Days" TV ads as being too commercial at Christmas-time. I'm over it now but I am still amused that anyone except our 1% friends gets or gives a new car for Christmas.
The truth is that hardly anyone is gifting or getting a new car, but manufacturers advertise heavily this time of year because it's a slooooow time for them, said Remar Sutton, chairman of Foolproofme.com, a financial literacy website. The ads are nothing more than a way to get you in the door.
"December is a fabulous time to buy a car," said Sutton. "Just make sure that you don't give a Christmas present to the dealer." Dealers ARE more likely to offer deals in Deccember, but remember some basic tips.
Shop late at night when salespeople are worn out and more likely to bargain to close the deal.
Keep your enthusiasm for the car you like bundled up. Excitement lowers your bargaining power.
Check the dealer's low-interest financing against a credit union. Only buyers with excellent credit will qualify for the 1.9 percent rate or something similar. Plan ahead by getting pre-approved at a credit union so that you know what interest rate you qualify for. Also, since almost anyone can join a credit union these days, call around for the lowest rate. Just as banks' rates vary, so do credit unions. In fact, even though conventional wisdom says credit unions offer lower rates, I would still include banks, big and small.
Now on to my tips for new car buying. Last month I helped a friend buy a 2011 CRV EX-L 4WD with leather seats. His best price was about $28,000 but I was able to find a lower price of $26,940 at Buerkle Honda in St. Paul.
I was hoping to get an even lower price of about $26,100. That was the "best local price" according to the Consumer Reports new car price service report for which I paid $14. I found CR's price service to be more helpful than Truecar.com, which a lot of consumers like. Truecar said the best target price was $27,270.
So how did I negotiate? By phone. I took advice from the non-profit consumer organization Checkbook, which offers free advice on how to get a good price on a new car. According to Checkbook, start by calling a dealership and asking to speak to a sales manager.
After I reached a manager, I said the following: "I'm in the market for a 2011 CRV EX-L-4WD. I'm calling a number of dealers in the Twin Cities to see what price you can give me from the factory invoice. I'm only calling once. Please include advertising, doc prep and other services in your quote."
Checkbook has an even longer script but I simplified it. According to CarBargains, the price I got was pretty good for the Twin Cities, but I could have gotten the CRV for hundreds less in a more competitive Honda market like in Chicago.
If you'd like more information about CarBargains service that does the negotiating for you for a fee, click here.
The best days to shop in December for a car? Most experts say Dec. 26, but the 24th, 28th and 31st are also good, according to Truecar.com. Just make sure you research a good target price before you start wheeling and dealing.