Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Kicking tires...when older is better at your auto dealers

Some commentators like Washington's emerging cash for clunkers plan. Others hate it.

I think there are some car-buying basics we need to look at before each of us decides which camp we belong in. Car and Driver's Jared Gall recently outlined some rising pressure sales tactics buyers are likely to encounter when they visit car lots. Some, like artfully steering our attention around different corners of price worksheets, seem elegant. Others, like 'misplacing' your trade-in's keys, just seem wrong.

Either way, forecasters tell us to brace for some potentially head-swimming sales incentives both from Washington and Detroit. Whether we should bite depends, for each of us, how much it pays or not to buy new cars now.

We need to look at some of the hidden costs of owning a car to answer that. You know the big ones - depreciation, insurance costs, property taxes and licensing fees, and maintenance - which all go up when you spiff up your ride. Analysts at Edmunds.com offer a nifty online calculator that lets you check specifics for almost any car you might drive in the U.S.

Two new wrinkles to consider are tax breaks, which may be limited, and the growing availability of hybrids, for which you need to balance your potential fuel savings and scheduled maintenance costs against big ticket bills when, say, the batteries go dead.

Do your own math. But I suspect many of us will find that keeping what we've got, or buying used to avoid the depreciation hit taken by the first owner, will go farther than the $3,500 to $4,500 price break the government's offering.

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