Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Cheap car keys...a deeper personal finance puzzle

Good luck if you are thinking of buying a new car anytime soon.

Finding deals won't be a problem. Vanishing and merging GM and Chrysler dealers presumably will offer acres of them. Figuring out which are best in the long run could be tougher. Last winter's often complicated rebate offers seem simple compared to what's merging in the on-ramp now.

First, Detroit seems to be trying to borrow Japan's strategy for selling more cars through fewer dealers more profitably. The problem is that this only works when car sales are going up, long time auto industry observer Jerry Flint writes in Forbes. That isn't happening now.

Second, car prices already are so cockeyed that some new models sell for less than comparable year-old trade-ins. Getting rid of what you are driving now could get trickier when acres more new cars hit the market.

Third, new higher fuel economy standards may be kicking in starting in 2012. If so, you already may be driving your best deal until then. Your maintenance, taxes, insurance and similar costs won't go up as much before you buy a new gas sipper. We're already driving our cars a record median 9.4 years, reports auto statistician R.L. Polk & Co. It may be 2012 before sales rebound to pre crisis levels anyway, Polk estimates.

So plan ahead if you're thinking of doing any tire kicking soon. Check out Web sites such as Carbuyingtips.com to scout what broadly is out there. And shop around. Stimulus plan creators of cash-for-clunkers programs still may offer more for your trade-in someday than Bud's Auto Auction will.

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