You've done your homework. You've navigated countless car dealerships at the end of the month and quarter, with internet quotes in hand so you know what's out there. You know about rebates and why invoice price may still leave you out of pocket. You've studied The Donald's negotiating skills. And you still can't find a car at a price that suits.
So what now?
Don't panic, your car is still out there.
Here are some other options to consider.
Take advantage of the best season by sector for used car prices: buy SUVs in spring, convertibles in winter.
Late Model-Year Strategy
Alex Dunn, 34, recently took a new job heading up a graphic design division in Baltimore. He bought his previous car, a Honda Civic coupe, in late 2000 just before the release of the seventh-generation Civic. He quickly found he could save thousands on its sticker price. And he didn't even like the design of the new model.
Dunn, a very satisfied customer, held on to his Civic EX until now so his bargain didn't negatively impact the resale value. He says he plans to do exactly the same this year with the late-model Cadillac CTS, possibly trading in his Civic for the deposit.
He also considers the late-model Caddy to be superior to the new CTS, which has received minor but hotly-debated tweaks to the grille and flanks for 2008. But it's essentially the same car that was well-received during its 2003 introduction. Again, he is looking to save thousands. "That's how I roll, man," he says.
National Rental Car Sales
Most of the rental fleets including Alamo, National, Hertz and Enterprise offer rental car sales of their used vehicles, also known as program cars. Usually, these budget used cars have above-average mileage for their age, but are bolstered by a rigid maintenance standards program enforced by the rental chain.
Savings of up to a third of a new car price are not unusual. As chains diversify their rental fleets in the face of consumer demand, a wider choice of models is now available through rental car sales. Fleet sales of Pontiac Grand-Ams once seriously dented the average price of used Grand Ams, but not any more.
Automotive Maintenance and Repair Association President Larry Hecker sees nothing wrong with rental car sales, telling AOL Autos that, mechanically, "There's nothing unusual in program cars that [you won't find] in any used cars," and that other advantages often include an intact warranty. He advised searching over the internet for budget rental car sales.
In addition, you can research used company car fleets, which also tend to be impeccably maintained. These options have become more enticing with the increased reliability of today's models.
Dealer Demo Models
Dealer demo models are another alternative that can present serious savings. These typically are low-mileage models that have been used for test-drives, or by the office schmoe to take the sales associates' shirts for dry cleaning.
Be aware that there are unscrupulous dealers out there who may try to pass off a faulty car that has been returned to them as a "dealer demo" model. In many states, there are no regulations to prevent this from happening. Be sure to track the car's VIN number and perform a CarFax check before you buy. Also remember that in many states, the three-day-return rule is a myth. If you're careful, you may find yourself a terrific bargain similar to those of rental car sales. In some instances, dealers can write off any loss incurred.
Using a Broker
A former car dealership employee, Linda Yazell has owned a small Bay Area brokerage for 30 years. She estimates that 95 percent of her business is repeat or from referrals, and she rarely works with people she doesn't know. For a fee of $500 or $350 (for cars above and below $25,000) she will find the best deal she can through a network of friendly local dealers.
One of her most loyal customers, Ben S. has bought six vehicles from Yazell in 20 years and he considers her "a good, good friend." He "absolutely despises" buying from car dealerships and enduring the often tortuous negotiations with a car dealer sales team. Ben says, "God love him, he's gotta make a living, but it drives me outta my mind." He says Yazell has saved him about $3,000 on average off sticker price on six models, including on his latest buy, a Honda Accord for his son.
Yazell tracked the Accord to a car dealership in Fairfield, negotiated all the fees and options and then had it delivered to him. Yazell says some new models are hard to find at a discount, like a Honda Fit or a Scion. The last four models she sold were hybrids. She charges $500 for hybrid cars, as they're harder to get. She estimates she closes deals for "80 percent of the customers I deal with."
Before approaching a broker, research previous customer experience and, with luck, you might find someone like Yazell.
For the last two decades, David Uhrig has sold Jeeps, Hummers and Dodge trucks from his military sales and appraisal brokerage in Chillicothe, Ohio. He buys budget used cars from farmer or government auctions, restores, and then sells them.
Models range from 1940s Jeeps to 1990s trucks, to tanks and armored cars from WWII, to Korea, and even Humvees not released for civilian use. Most of these used cars, however, come modified for street use. Some 14,000 members of his group now shop for interesting vehicles in this way, all fully aware the warranty is "in the driveway under the stars", ie, universally, there is none.
Budget used cars are easily tracked down independently at auction or from operations like Uhrig's, though he says "Not many can plunk down $35,000 for an Army toy." Some evidently do.
Car Impound Auction
I found out about car impound auctions when I was being taken around the impound lot by one of those funny golf-cart shuttles to my newly-towed Ford F150. (Don't ask. It's a long and painful story.)
There are a lot of wrecks and write-offs scattered amongst the budget used cars for sale at these auctions, so caveat emptor. But some gems will usually sit beside the chaff. You can Carfax these in the time between the look-over and bidding -- usually about an hour. You can also utilize the wonders of cell-phone cameras and mobile email when you're on the hunt for budget used cars.
Buy in the Off Season
Take advantage of the off season by segment for great used car prices. Buy an SUV in the spring, once the owner can't benefit from the four-wheel drive in inclement weather, and he is looking to unload the gas guzzler for the summer road trip season. Conversely, buy a convertible in the winter, when a rag-top isn't looking so fun and the owner might forget why he once loved that car.