It pays to go against the crowd.
Some of the best auto bargains can be found on cars and trucks that have been overlooked by the masses.
Maybe the color's not cool. Or there's a new model coming out in the next model year that everyone wants. Or maybe the car is just getting clobbered in sales by some ultra-popular rival.
Auto manufacturers tend to roll out super-low financing deals and rebates on leftover cars to make room for new year models -- and the sweetest deals are on the cars that moved the slowest. In other words, you can save a bundle if you can fall in love with an ugly duckling.
As soon as newer models are on dealer's lot, "That's when you walk on and buy" one of this year's, says Grant Whitmore, an account executive at Edmunds.com.
Traditionally, the majority of the next year's models are released in the fall. But auto makers have been jumping the gun and staging their releases early.
Some of the best deals are available on autos that are being redesigned. Charlie Vogelheim, editor of Kelley Blue Book, says "If you like the one that's out there now, it will be a good deal."
If you find a car on the lot late in the car "season," and it's in an acceptable color and condition, "you're basically buying the thing for $3,000 below invoice," says W. James Bragg, author of The Car Buyer's and Leaser's Negotiating Bible. He also runs Fighting Chance, a new-car pricing service.
Look for slower-selling rivals
Another strategy for savvy car shoppers is to look for deals on cars that are competing against super-popular rivals. For example, the 2001 rivalry between the top-sellers Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.
Because it competed with those two well-selling models, Mazda piled rebates on its lower-profile 626 model in the hope of swaying more car shoppers its way.
Any time a rival car or truck makes a big splash, competitors tend to up the ante with rebates and low financing.
"They're always reacting," Whitmore says.
Can you do a 2-door SUV?
When sports utility vehicles are popular, fewer folks shop for passenger cars. To drum up interest, auto manufacturers will load up passenger cars with hefty rebates and discount financing.
Stay on top of what's hot and what's not in the auto business by visiting Web sites such asKelly Blue Book, Car Wizard, Edmunds, MicrosoftCarPointandAutopedia.
Even if you're interested in a popular vehicle, you may be able to get a great deal if you opt for some less-popular design features. For example, making do with a two-door utility vehicle, rather than the four-door version. Same goes for opting for a minivan with three doors instead of four or choosing a regular-sized pickup truck rather than one with an extended cab.
"If there's a very popular option and you're willing to live without it, you can probably get a deal," Whitmore says.
Not-so-hot colors get cool deals, too
Choosing a car or truck in an unpopular color also may save you some dollars. But if you are eager to land a bargain with some selection, you better get out there.
"If you wait until October, all that will be left is the purple one," Bragg says. "By the time you get to October the pickings are going to be slim."
Be sure to visit several dealerships. If you're interested in a particular model, you're in the best bargaining position at a lot that's filled with them.
"If there's a lot of any one thing on a lot, chances are you'll be able to negotiate a better deal than if there's only one," Whitmore says.
As enticing as discount-financing offers seem, be aware that not everyone qualifies. Be sure to shop around for financing at banks and credit unions before visiting the dealer.
And plan on keeping that ugly duckling for a while. Going against the pack will yield discounts now, but it may mean a bigger drop in a car's depreciation in its first years. In other words, if no one else wants the car now, it's not going to be any hotter when it's 3 years old. Your best bet is to keep the car for the long haul.
"For people who plan to keep cars for a lot of years, there's quite a few bargains out there," Bragg says.