General Motors (GM - Get Report) , Ford (F - Get Report) , Honda Motor (HMC - Get Report) , Toyota Motor (TM - Get Report) - they're all reporting record car sales. As Americans rekindle their love affair with automobiles, now's the time to reflect on the ways that consumers can get ripped off on the car lot.
Of course, the easiest way to save money on car expenses is to keep driving your current car until it gives up the ghost. But maybe you prefer to save on car expenses in less draconian ways.
Here are six ways to save thousands of dollars in car ownership costs
1. Choose shorter-term financing. People often get stuck with an extended car loan, because they opted for lower monthly payments that come with the longer payment option of five years or more. However, making car payments for an extended period of time is bad for your long-range cash flow and leaves you with less of a cushion if you run into financial adversity. Go for a time frame of about two or three years. It will mean a higher monthly payment, but will save you thousands over the course of the loan.
2. Don't be a sucker for "cash-back" offers. Cash-back offers are tantamount to dealers taking your money and then giving it back to you. Think of it this way: You're paying interest on money that you loaned yourself.
There are better ways to come up up the immediate cash for a down-payment than fall prey to a car dealer's financial legerdemain. Seek the car you want for the best possible deal, but don't be swayed by cash-back offers.
3. Push back on the pressure to buy unnecessary options. A car that's loaded with options will cost more. These costs can quickly add up. A notorious rip-off is undercoating or rustproofing, which can cost more than $500 for a single application. Why pay premium prices when you can do it yourself with a $25 kit from an auto parts store.
4. Don't buy cars that cost extra to insure. Insurance companies are akin to car dealers. They have every angle covered to maximize their interests, not yours. Insurers have detailed records on every imaginable make and model.
Sports cars, for example, are more expensive to insure. Porsches, Corvettes and Vipers cost several hundred dollars more to insure every year than, say, a Honda Civic.
5. Sell your used car on your own. Using Craigslist or any number of websites, you almost surely can sell your car for more money than you'd get from the dealer. It will take more time and effort on your part, but it will be worth it because you'll avoid the car dealer's sleight of hand.
You can expect a dealer to give you several hundred dollars less than what you could get on your own in the open market. Dealers always push for as much as they can get.
6. If you can use the deductions, lease instead of buy.
The strongest case for leasing can be made for business owners because they can deduct payments in proportion to how much they drive a car for work-related purposes. Leasing also makes sense for those who want a new car every few years or take more than four years to repay the loan. Leasing's lower monthly payments also makes luxury cars more affordable, if that's your inclination.
On the other hand, buying is almost always preferable if you usually keep cars for a few years after paying off the loan.
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