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Buying a Car? Make Detroit's Pain Your Gain

The crippled economy is hitting the automakers particularly hard. Detroit’s financial troubles make headlines every day, but for the consumer the downturn in the auto industry has a silver lining: Great deals.

In an attempt to unload piles of inventory, automakers are offering some of the deepest discounts and best financing deals in memory. SUVs and sedans alike have sticker prices that even a year ago were unthinkable. If you know where to look and how to negotiate, it could be just the thing to put you in the driver’s seat. That’s where Phil Reed, senior consumer advice editor for Edmunds.com, comes in.

Very little is selling right now, Reed said, although the best deals are unquestionably with trucks and SUVs, where the discounts began over the summer as gas prices shot through the roof. While there’s a small uptick in the sale of trucks and SUVs now that gas prices have fallen back to earth, Reed urged caution that they will likely rise again – and you could be stuck filling up a very expensive tank.

If you’re a leasing type, be aware that a lot of American manufacturers have severely constricted their lease terms. Many foreign automakers, from Honda to Toyota to BMW, still remain lease-friendly, though. If you choose to lease, consider buying the car when the lease expires. According to Reed, this may be one of the best times to snag a serious deal as dealerships would rather let you keep the wheels than put them back on their overflowing lots.

Bottom line? Pricing, incentives and financing will change with the times. What doesn’t change is the need to know your options and be in control of the transaction even before stepping foot on the sales floor.