One silver lining in a lousy economy is that, if you have the cash, getting a deal on a new car is easier than getting a mosquito bite at a Bill Gates speech.

Only it’s not as painful.

The numbers, as usual, tell the story. Research shows that the Big Three have the capacity to build about 16 million cars. But consumers aren’t co-operating – the trends show that we’re only going to buy about nine million cars this year (compare that to 2005, when 17 million cars were sold in the U.S.)

While the TV cameras have been focused on testimony from Big Three auto executives over big bailout packages, seemingly under the surface, car companies are rolling out incentive packages designed to move cars off of loading docks and into American driveways.

Consumer Reports points to the $6,750 total cash-back deal for GM’s 2008 Buick Lucerne (Stock Quote: GM) – a 28% reduction in the original sticker price. Or how about 18% off the sticker price on a 2008 Ford F-150 XLT 4x4 SuperCrew (Stock Quote: F)? Consumer Reports has a complete list of some of the best new auto vehicle deals – it makes for great reading.

Can you get an even better deal on a new car? I think so, and it’s certainly worth a try if you’re in the market for a new car or truck.

In fact, after pouring over my research on the subject in the usual, thorough, Cramer-like fashion, I’ve got some specific ideas on how to cut the best deal:

1. Show them the money – Auto dealers really perk up when they find out that you have the cash right away, or are pre-qualified for financing before you walk in the door.  Hence, they’re more likely to deal with what the industry calls an “attractive buyer.” Plus, being pre-approved from a local bank gives you leverage in your new car negotiations. Consider a $25,000 car loan at 6.5% that your bank has okayed. With that offer in your back pocket, you go into the discussion with your auto dealer, who may be offering the same loan at 7.5%, in a better spot. Another pre-dealer tip: get your credit score in order, so that issue is taken off the table (get a free credit report here). With your finances in order, you’re dealing from a position of strength – especially to a cash-starved industry that can’t afford to see you walk away without a new car. For the best local bank auto interest rate deals, visit

2. Go incentive shopping – You can really strike while the iron is hot if you do your homework first. That’s particularly true of incentive programs. Often, car-shoppers make the mistake of assuming the dealer is the one offering new car incentives. They can, but the best deals usually come straight from the automaker. That means the incentives don’t cut into the dealers profit (it cuts into the automaker’s profit margin) and leaves more room for negotiating – another short cut to a great car deal.

3. Choose a low finance rate over cash back (better yet, go for both) – A lot of car manufacturers are offering new car deals with zero-percent financing. To me, that’s a better deal than getting $2,000 cash back on a car. Over time, opting for the lower rate is a better deal, once you crunch the numbers, than getting cash back. Better yet, get both. Hyundai is offering zero percent financing and cash back (between $1,000-$3,500) on all of its 2008 models. Ford is following suit, the 2008 Ford Edge offers 0% APR for 72 months or $3,250 cash back. Also, the 2008 Ford Escape has an 0% APR for 72 months or $3,750 cash back

4. Test-drive, then test-price – I’m a big believer in test-driving a new car. No surprise – there is no substitute for getting the feel for a new set of wheels by taking it out for a whirl. But I’m also a big fan of checking out comparative prices on a new car you like after  your test-drive. Do this by visiting any number of great auto pricing web sites like (the “comments” section alone is worth the price of admission) or (an incredibly thorough site).

5. Don’t negotiate based on monthly payments – One trick that car salesman use to close deals is to start price negotiations within a “monthly payment” framework. That’s a red herring. By taking the short (monthly) view, you could wind up paying thousands more over the price of the car loan. Better to do your auto pricing research, find a good price for the car that fits your budget, find a good price for your trade-in, if you have one, then stick to your guns. Only talk monthly payments after you and the dealer have agreed on the price of your car. That’s when you’ll give the dealer a chance to beat your bank’s pre-qualified interest rate.

6. Buy online – If you want to buy a new car direct, that’s highly doable, too. According to, over 30% of cars in America are purchased online. You’ll still need to test-drive the cars you’re gunning for, but after that, visit a site like, which offers low, set prices, and will even deliver your new car to your door. and are good bets, too. On these sites, you can check out the actual price for the new car you love from dealers in your own area code (that tells you how willing your local dealer is to negotiate).

Some of the best prices come from buying a discounted car or truck line from one of the automakers. They are closing factories so fast and closing product lines so quickly that you might be able to snare a good price if you simply read "That's the end of the Durango" or "The last Silverado's are rolling off the assembly line." The dealers will be quick to make deals with you on those. A friend of mine almost got a buy-one-get-one-free SUV deal four months ago when one of the majors decided to stop making a gas-guzzling truck line!

One last tip: If you do opt for the dealer route, go during the week, when foot traffic is slow. Weekends are busy for dealers (although certainly not as busy as in years past) and sales staffers are more reluctant to negotiate. During the week, especially later in the month when sales quotas are an issue for dealers, you’re likely to find a salesman more open to negotiate.

The time has never been better to get a great deal on a new set of wheels. Follow the above tips and then roll, baby, roll.

—Brian O’Connell contributed to this article