New Car Buyer? Run, Don't Walk, to the Local Dealers

In the market for a new car? Well, if you have the means, you probably couldn’t find a better time to buy a new set of wheels than right now – so long as you go about it the right way.

Brian Moody, road test editor for, explained on Wednesday’s show that ‘lot hopping’ – that is, going from dealer to dealer to find the best price – is back in fashion. That’s because prices on all makes and models are varying widely from dealer to dealer across the country. And you don’t have to hike to dealerships in different states to find the differences. In a report, the NBC affiliate in Dallas found a 31% price differential on a Honda Accord and a 35% differential on a Ford F-150 pickup at regional dealers.

Remember how you could get a gas guzzler for practically nothing last summer when gas prices were at all-time highs? Well, the deepening recession has led to an inventory build up that car dealers haven’t seen in some time. That’s good news for potential buyers. Incentives are up 18% overall, Moody says, and that includes everything from zero-percent financing for five years on some moderately priced vehicles to dealer cash to straight cash back. In many cases, all you have to do is ask.

If you’re lot hopping, make sure the dealers know that you are serious, Moody says. If they believe you are ready and willing to buy right there, you’ll be surprised at how willing they will be to make deals and move their inventory. It also doesn’t hurt to ask for something extra that isn’t included in the advertised incentives. From free floor mats to an extra year of free servicing, anything that will grease the deal in your favor (within reason) should be considered in play right now.

There’s one thing that helps the buyer in any economic climate, and that’s credit. If you have a credit score above 720, you’ve got an even better shot of negotiating a deal that can be wildly better than anything you may have found on the lot even a few months ago.