Auto Basics
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Checking for rebates and incentives

Getting the dealer invoice price on a car is not the task it used to be, but then again, it's not as important as it used to be in trying to get the best deal. It's just not enough information.

Rebates from the manufacturers seem to be attached to almost every new car on the market, except for a few really hot sellers. While there are national rebates -- they're usually the ones you see in magazine ads and on television -- there may also be regional rebates that manufacturers use to boost sales in one particular part of the country. Then there are customer-specific rebates, such as loyalty rewards -- money out there to keep you from switching from Chevy to Toyota, for example -- and cash for first-time buyers, military personnel and college students.

The weekly industry newspaper, Automotive News, lists the current manufacturer programs, and many public libraries subscribe. Online sources such as AutoBytel, Autoweb, CarsDirect, Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book, Cars.com and InvoiceDealers also offer rebate information.

In addition to rebates, there's the money manufacturers offer to dealers to encourage them to surpass sales goals -- incentives that aren't publicized like rebates.

Most auto manufacturers pay dealers 2 percent to 3 percent of the invoice price as a "holdback" that reduces the dealer's final cost. The manufacturer may also offer dealers price incentives that reduce the dealer's cost. If you ignore these payments, you start the negotiating process at a disadvantage.

Sometimes a few dollars invested in the process can pay off handsomely. Consumer Reports New Car Price Service is $12 well spent when you're shopping for new cars. The report lists the invoice price, holdbacks and any rebates or dealer incentives available. Take a look at a sample report on its Web site. A slightly more expensive alternative ($26.95) is a package offered by Fighting Chance that adds some market-related considerations and negotiating tips.

Once you've determined the dealer's true cost, you can negotiate a price that allows it a profit without taking you to the cleaners.

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