The Dealer Survey

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When negotiating with car dealers over your lease price, don’t forget about one of the most valuable weapons in your arsenal, the “dealer survey.”

Once you and the dealer iron out a car lease payment (yes, car leases are negotiable), they will most likely bring up the “dealer survey.”

The dealer survey is actually a huge deal to the salesperson, so if you give them a bad score, it could affect their bottom line, and their wallet.

That said, use it against them.

It is their Achilles’ heel, and one you must exploit to ensure you get a good price on your car lease.

If they give you the runaround or aren’t upfront with anything, call them on it (before you sign the paperwork).

Mention the dealer survey – tell them you wouldn’t want to give them poor marks and they’ll quickly change their tune.

Ideally, save this trick for the end of negotiating, at the point when the dealer says he/she can’t go any lower.

This tactic should help you eek out a few more bucks on your car lease payment.

Remember, car dealers will lie to you all day long to get the sale, so you’ve got to use whatever you have to fight back and get the deal you deserve.

Obviously you have to be tactful, but let it be known that you are aware of the survey and will speak your mind if treated unfairly!

Selling Your Car to Carmax

no haggle

One great way to get out of your car lease early without having to do anything super fancy is selling your car to Carmax.

The used car superstore will gladly appraise your car for free without an appointment in a matter of minutes.

And they’ll give you a written offer the same day, valid for 7 days – that way you can mull it over before committing to anything.

If the appraisal is above your lease payoff, you’ll stand to make some money. And you can use that money for a down payment on your next lease, or to cover drive-off charges like license and registration.

How does Carmax Appraise Your Car?

Carmax appraises your car by looking at the year, make, model, mileage, interior and exterior conditions, and more (yes, you need to take your car in, no online or over the phone appraisals).

They may also test drive the vehicle to determine any mechanical issues and will run a Carfax-type report to see if there is any history of accidents or damage to the vehicle.

Obviously cars with better residual values will do better at Carmax, and if you took good care of your car and kept the miles relatively low, you could make some money above your lease payoff.

However, you’ll probably make more money selling your car to a private party, so it’s recommended that you try to sell it that way first.

Then try Carmax as a back-up.

Selling Your Car to Carmax Has Advantages

Selling your car to Carmax has some serious advantages, with the primary ones being convenience and speed.

If you do accept their offer, it only takes about 30 minutes to actually sell your car to Carmax, whereas a private party sale would probably take days if not weeks to iron out.

So yes, you could potentially sell your car to Carmax in about an hour, though the check would take a few additional days to clear, depending upon on your bank.

Just be sure to speak with your leasing company first to ensure the payoff is what you think it is, and that there won’t be any fees or penalties for selling your car.

In summary, if you’re selling your car, it’s certainly worth paying a visit to Carmax to see what they’ll offer.

It sure beats taking it back to the dealer at the end of your lease, only to find that you owe the company money for various odds and ends, such as over-mileage or dents and dings.

Lease a Tesla!

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There’s been plenty of buzz about electric car company Tesla, and as of last week, you can finally lease one for as low as $1,658 a month.

No one said it would cheap to lease the world’s only highway-capable electric vehicle, but at least it’s an option now.

Tesla is offering both their 2010 Roadster and Roadster sport models, with a three year, 30,000 mile lease.

To offset the massive monthly lease payment, the company said the average driver would save $131 per month on fuel, assuming they drove the estimated 833 miles per month.

Teslas don’t require regular oil changes or exhaust system repairs, nor do they have spark plugs, pistons, hoses, belts or clutches to replace, so there’s even more savings right there…

At lease end, lessees have the option to buy the car of walk away, assuming they pay the $350 disposition fee.

The Telsa Roadster is the only production car faster than many sports cars and more energy efficient than a hybrid.

It has an estimated EPA range of 236 miles per charge, double that of any commercially released electric vehicle, and can be charged in any 120 or 240 volt outlet.

“We are committed to continuously improving and enhancing the Roadster, offering a leasing option means even more people can drive this exciting and groundbreaking car,” said John Walker, Tesla Vice President of Sales, in a press release.

A staggering $12,453 is due at lease signing, which includes $1,658 first month’s payment, $9,900 down payment, and $895 acquisition fee.

Rich people that is.

Lease a Smart Car

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The Smart Car, built by Mercedes-Benz, is now available for lease.

The tiny car, which they call “surprisingly roomy,” gets an estimated 41 mpg highway, and is 95% recyclable.

The company offers three models, the “pure coupe,” “passion coupe,” and the “passion cabriolet,” with the latter being a cute little convertible.

The pricing per month is $169, $189, and $249, respectively, with a $999 down payment and $595 acquisition fee.

Additionally, there is a $395 vehicle turn-in fee unless you opt to purchase the vehicle after the 36-month term is complete (common car leasing fees).

The lease offers 10,000 miles per year, which may or may not be enough depending on how often you plan to drive the vehicle (choosing the right amount of miles for your car lease).

The cost per mile is 30 cents for anything in excess of that allotted.

The closed-end lease offer is valid on all new 2009 smart fortwo models from January 15 until February 28, 2010.

Even Toyota Prius Sales are Down

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Obviously, times are tough, and that’s being reflected in all corners of the economy, including car sales.

But the nation’s most beloved vehicle, the Toyota Prius, is also getting dragged down in the dirt, as evidenced by sales figures released by top car seller Toyota last week.

The Prius has seen sales fall to 42,753 units so far this year, with its daily selling rate (DSR) down 45.5 percent.

Last month, the Prius sold 10,091 units, down from 15,011 a year ago in the comparable period, a 30.2 percent decline.

And with the release of Honda’s Insight Hybrid, which seems to be a carbon copy of the Prius (starting at $19,800), there will be even more downward pressure will be on Prius sales.

But before we jump to conclusions about hybrid vehicles, it’s important to note that larger, gas guzzling models are down even more.

Sales of the FJ Cruiser, 4Runner, and Sequoia were all down more than 60 percent in May compared to a year ago, while the company’s full sized truck, Tundra, slipped 45 percent.

The only survivor in the bunch seems to be the ever-popular RAV4, which saw sales decline just 11.4 percent last month to 12,730 units from 14,917 a year ago.

The Toyota Division overall posted sales of 135,661 units in May, a decrease of 39 percent from the same period last year.

FYI, Honda is currently offering the Insight Hybrid at $229 per month for 36 months, with $2,799.00 total due at signing.

GM to Resume Making Subprime Car Loans

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If in doubt, sell your cars to anyone willing to buy them, even if they haven’t demonstrated the ability to pay in the past.

That’s what GM is doing, after sales plummeted 51 percent in the first two months of the year.

The company’s partially-owned financial unit GMAC has announced it will ease auto financing requirements, allowing those with credit scores below 620 to apply for car and truck loans.

Typically, a borrower is defined as subprime if their credit score falls below 620, though a number of other factors serve to make this distinction.

GMAC also plans to cut borrowing costs on new and used vehicle purchases, and has eased a variety of fees and payments imposed on its dealers.

Car dealers have been hit hard by the credit crisis because so-called floorplan financing, or inventory loans, which allow them to hold onto vehicles temporarily until sold, has been frozen since late last year.

United States auto sales fell 40 percent during the first two months of the year to their lowest level in 27 years; and auto sales figures for March aren’t expected to be any rosier.

GM is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, and could file by early summer if it’s unable to work out a plan with its creditors.

The company has been looking to restructure for a while now, and is expected to sell or shut down its Hummer brand in coming weeks.

Both GM and rival Ford have recently launched car payment protection plans to boost flagging sales, though its too early to tell if such plans will have much impact.

Hummer Brand to Be Sold or Shut Soon

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Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the Hummer brand may be no more as GM looks to restructure itself to avoid complete collapse.

The oversized sport-utility vehicles fell out of fashion a few years back as gas prices skyrocketed, turning favor toward more economical choices like the Toyota Prius.  Check out the top ten most fuel efficient vehicles.

Now GM must decide whether to sell the division or close it down; Chief Executive Fritz Henderson told reporters Tuesday a decision would come within weeks.

The auto giant put Hummer up for sale last June, but has yet to part with the ailing unit.  The company also plans to dump Saturn, though it may offer the vehicles until 2011.

GM has lost a staggering $82 billion since 2005, and has relied upon billions of dollars of government assistance to stay afloat, though bankruptcy now looks likely.

It’s hard to imagine Hummers seeing much success with consumer sentiment decidedly favoring smaller, more practical vehicles.

But in recent months, I’ve seen first hand a resurgence of the vehicle as gas prices have fallen back down to earth.

Sadly, people seem to care more about their wallets than the negative environmental impact of the gas guzzling vehicles.

GM sells and leases vehicles in 140 countries throughout the world and employs roughly 244,500 people.

Its brands include Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, GM Daewoo, Holden, Hummer, Opel, Pontiac, Saab, Saturn, Vauxhall and Wuling.

Ford Advantage Plan Aims to Boost Car Sales

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In an effort to boost flagging car sales, Ford announced today its new “Ford Advantage Plan,” which will cover payments for up to a year on any new Ford, Lincoln, or Mercury vehicle in the event of job loss.

The program, which begins immediately and runs until June 1, will offer 12 months of payments of up to $700 per month at no cost to the consumer.

There’s plenty of fine print, but basically you must have been employed for at least 90 consecutive days, working 30-hours or more a week before becoming involuntarily unemployed, similar to the Hyundai Assurance program launched previously.

“Consumers remain anxious about the economy and their own outlook for the future,” said Ken Czubay, vice president of Sales and Marketing.

“We at Ford want to do our part to rebuild faith in the marketplace by offering payment protection on every new Ford, Lincoln or Mercury vehicle for up to a year if our customers lose their jobs.”

Ford also boasted that its Fusion model has a higher residual value than the Toyota Camry after three years of ownership, and the highest fuel economy of an American mid-sized sedan.

The 2009 Ford F-150 also retained the highest percentage of its original price among 2009 full-size light duty pickups at the end of a conventional three-year lease.

The auto company is currently offering zero percent financing through Ford Motor Credit on select vehicles and plans to work with local dealers nationwide to introduce a local charity support program.

Hyundai Assurance Provides Car Lease Payment Protection

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Playing into the ongoing financial crisis, Hyundai is offering to make car lease or financing payments, or allow cars to be returned if borrowers have difficulty making payments.

The new program, coined “Hyundai Assurance,” powered by WalkAway, acts as a type of insurance policy for those who lose their jobs or their drivers license (for medical reasons) shortly after purchasing or leasing a new Hyundai.

It’s also good for those who become unemployed due to health or disability reasons, or those transferred internationally for work purposes.

If you experience one of these “life changing events,” you have the option of returning your vehicle without experiencing any hit to your credit rating or wallet, up to $7,500, within 12 months of lease or purchase.

Hyundai will also provide up to three months in financing or car lease payments in the event of involuntary employment or physical disability so you can get back on track and continue making payments.

To be eligible, you must have made at least two monthly payments and be current on your loan or lease.  It’s good for all new makes and models, up to a year after lease or purchase.

If you return the vehicle to a Hyundai dealer, you must pay any additional balance amounts above the $7,500 Hyundai Assurance benefit amount (if any), based on dealer appraisal.

Hyundai claims it’s the first automaker in the United States to offer a vehicle return program that allows you walk away from your loan or lease without worrying about negative equity.

The program is complimentary for the first year, so Hyundai dealers will likely attempt to upsell for longer periods of time.

(photo: msvg)

Top Ten Most Fuel Efficient Cars

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Although gas prices have recently fallen, the issue of fuel consumption is still an important one, if not for your wallet, then for the environment.

Sure, gas isn’t $4 a gallon anymore, but at prices above $2, it’s still a major monthly cost that should be corralled if it all possible.

Factor in the social and environmental costs of that gas we choose to guzzle, and it makes sense to look at more efficient alternatives.

That said, let’s take a look at the top ten most fuel efficient cars and SUVs for 2009, as compiled by TheDailyGreen.com.

Top Ten Most Fuel Efficient Cars and SUVs based on fuel economy:

1.    Toyota Prius: 48 mpg city, 45 mpg highway
2.    Honda Civic Hybrid: 40 mpg city, 45 mpg highway
3.    Nissan Altima Hybrid: 35 mpg city, 33 mpg highway
4.    Mercury Mariner Hybrid: 34 mpg city, 31 mpg highway
5.    Ford Escape Hybrid: 34 mpg city, 31 mpg highway
6.    Mazda Tribute Hybrid: 34 mpg city, 31 mpg highway
7.    Smart Fortwo: 33 mpg city, 41 mpg highway
8.    Toyota Camry Hybrid: 33 mpg city, 34 mpg highway
9.    Volkswagen Jetta: 30 mpg city, 41 mpg highway
10.   Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen: 29 mpg city, 40 mpg highway

Honorable mention also goes to the Toyota Yaris, with 29 mpg city and 36 mpg highway , the Mini Cooper with 28 mpg city and 37 mpg highway, and the Honda Fit with 28 mpg city and 35 mpg highway.

Keep in mind that a number of issues affect actual fuel economy, such as the purchase or lease price of the vehicle, and where and how the car is driven.

Some of the vehicles above perform better in the city than on the highway and vice versa, so how you actually use it matters.

The amount of carbon monoxide omitted also varies by vehicle, as does their true environmental impact, so it’s not as simple as calculating miles per gallon.

(photo: joi)