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Look for end-of-year car deals

Tara Baukus MelloIf you are heading out car shopping between now and the end of the year, these last couple weeks can be a terrific time to get great car deals. Automakers and their dealers are always anxious to boost their total annual sales, and with this year's slow sales, they are more anxious than ever.

There are meaty incentives on many 2010 models, especially from the domestic nameplates. Notable 2010 models with thousands of dollars in rebates through year-end car deals include all Buick models, the Cadillac Escalade, the Chevrolet Tahoe and Silverado, the Chrysler 300 and PT Cruiser, the Ford F-Series and the Escape SUV, the GMC Yukon and Sierra, and the Lincoln Navigator.

Dealer incentives, which automakers offer to the dealer to sell certain models and can be deducted from the purchase price if the customer knows to ask, are currently being offered through year-end on just a handful of 2010 models, including the Chrysler PT Cruiser; Infiniti EX35, M35, M45 and QX56; Land Rover LR2 and Range Rover; Volkswagen Routan; and all Volvo models. Vehicle information Web sites like Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds.com offer a model-by-model list of what incentives are being offered to dealers as well as manufacturer rebates for consumers.

Shoppers can even save on car deals by purchasing a 2009 model, but that can be a costly mistake depending on how they answer these three questions before buying a car: How long do you keep your cars? How many miles do you drive per year? And is the "great deal" really a good value? For those who it does make financial sense, the discounts from now through the end of the year are steep, with 22 cars, trucks and SUVs with $4,000 or higher manufacturers' rebates currently available and an additional dealer incentive on some of those models.

Some of the stupendous deals on 2009 models include rebates of $4,000 on the Buick LaCrosse, $10,000 off all models of the Cadillac Escalade and XLR, $5,000 off the Cadillac CTS-V, a $5,000 rebate on the Mazda RX-8 and $5,000 off the Nissan Titan.

Most automakers have slated their cash-back rebates to expire Dec. 31, 2009, or Jan. 4, 2010, though keep in mind that automakers can change their current rebates at any time. If you are in the market for a new car, buying sooner rather than later will likely net you the best savings.

Wondering when to buy? Avoid the weekend for the best car deals, according to research by TrueCar, a new-car pricing Web site that lists actual sales prices for specific models in the shopper's geographic area. TrueCar's analysis says that Dec. 21, 24, 28 and 31 are four of the top 10 days of this year when shoppers can save the most money, with the average anticipated discount ranging from 6.9 percent to 7.25 percent on top of all applicable rebates and incentives.

Finally, shoppers that opt to purchase before the end of the year will most likely get a tax break too. Buyers who have an adjusted gross income of less than $125,000 for individuals ($250,000 for joint fliers) qualify for a federal income tax deduction on state and local taxes paid on the purchase of a new car. These buyers can deduct the sales tax on the first $49,500 of the vehicle's purchase price. It can be deducted even if the taxpayer does not itemize deductions. Taxpayers in states with no sales tax may deduct other state or local fees and taxes as long as they are based on the vehicle's sale price or any flat fee assessed on a per-vehicle basis.

Read more Driving for Dollars columns and Bankrate auto stories. Tara Baukus Mello is a freelance writer who has written about automotive topics of interest to consumers since 1995. If you have a car question, e-mail it to us at Driving for Dollars.

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