Archive for December, 2010

Tips for the negotiation process

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Buying a new or used car can be a complex process with a lot of moving parts. If drivers aren't careful, they can quickly find themselves paying much more than they initially bargained for.

Fortunately, there are some easy tips that buyers can keep in mind to help make the negotiation process a bit easier on themselves. Despite the public perception, most car dealers aren't looking to swindle their customers. It would be naive of shoppers to think, however, that salesmen and dealers won't be attempting to maximize their profits.

MSN Autos recently spoke to several consumer advocates about some tips that could help buyers save a bit off of their next purchase. With these in mind, shoppers can help themselves negotiate the best possible deal.

As a starting point, Jeff Bartlett of Consumer Reports told the news source that it's helpful for shoppers to think of the process as a series of steps. Keeping these steps separate is key to understanding everything that's going on and avoiding potential pitfalls.

"They're looking at making money off you in stages," he said. "So it's important for customers to keep the stages separate and not lose track of what's going on."

For many buyers, one of those stages will be a trade-in. Swapping a used car for a new one can be a powerful tool that can work in the buyer's favor, but many dealers will use the trade-in value to distract from the actual purchase. They might make a generous offer on the car only to recoup the money by inflating the new car price, or vice-versa. The best strategy is for buyers to simply avoid mentioning the trade until the final price is locked in. Negotiate them as two separate transactions to make things easier.

Locking the final price of the car in can also help on the lending front. Buyers seeking a loan will have a whole other set of factors to worry about, including monthly payments and interest rates. So it's a lot easier to think in these terms once the actual price is known. Dealers make most of their profits off of financing, so those who plan on paying cash may not want to advertise it right away. That will tip salesmen off to the fact that they'll have to be very rigid with their pricing, since they won't be recouping any expenses through financing.

Finally, the news source reports that one of the more common mistakes that buyers make is simply not comparison shopping. Drivers may get locked into a specific model or settle for one of the cars for sale on the lot. It's important to test drive a number of different models and shop around for the best price. Shoppers shouldn't be afraid to quote a price from one dealer to another – this is a great way to drive down the cost of a vehicle.

Buyers who are really looking to save should keep in mind that new car lots aren't the only places to find vehicles. Often, better prices can be had on lightly used cars at their local dealer or auto auction.

Luxury sales race will be tight as year comes to close

Monday, December 6th, 2010

The year-long battle between North America's top luxury brands has been intense, with three separate companies – Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and BMW – all having a chance at claiming the crown. Though Lexus holds the lead going into December, all three have a chance at coming out on top.

Lexus has been the top-selling brand on the continent for the past 10 years, but has seen its dominance challenged in 2010 thanks to a wave of recalls by parent company Toyota. That gave both Mercedes-Benz and BMW a chance to knock the Japanese nameplate off its throne.

Bloomberg previously reported that the battle was down to Mercedes and Lexus, but a strong showing by BMW in November has made it a three-horse race. Lexus has the lead with 201,769 vehicles shipped, while the German brands are neck-and-neck at 196,833 for BMW and 196,288 for Mercedes.

BMW improved its sales by 30 percent year-on-year in November, compared to an 8.4 percent rise for Mercedes and a 1.4 percent drop for Lexus.

Despite the recent drop-off for Lexus, BMW U.S. unit chief Jim O'Donnell told the news source that Lexus would likely walk away with the crown thanks to December incentive programs that will drive sales. Mercedes and BMW, meanwhile, have backed off of incentive programs.

"Next year, I would like to think we may have a go at them," he said.

DOT considering camera rule

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

A proposed rule by the Department of Transportation (DOT) could mandate rear-facing cameras in all new vehicles built after 2014.

CBS News reports that the DOT is mulling over the proposal, which was prompted by a 2007 piece of legislation in Congress known as the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act. Gulbransen was a two-year old child who was killed when his father backed over him while pulling out of the driveway, unable to see him because of a lack of visibility.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates an average of 18,000 injuries and 292 fatalities every year that could be prevented with the new technology.

"There is no more tragic accident than for a parent or caregiver to back out of a garage or driveway and kill or injure an undetected child playing behind the vehicle," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. "The changes we are proposing today will help drivers see into those blind zones directly behind vehicles to make sure it is safe to back up."

Rear-facing cameras are a recent technology and can be a bit expensive when equipped in a brand-new vehicle. Those who want to save a bit of cash may want to search for a late-model used vehicle that includes the feature.

Cars that can handle the snow with no issues

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

For those who live in the northern states, buying a new or used vehicle that will be guaranteed to handle the winter months is extremely important. Once the snow starts falling and the ice starts forming, it might be time to put the sports car away and consider at something a bit more durable.

MSN Autos recently took a look at some vehicles that operate just as well in the winter months as they do in the spring and summer. Most of these vehicles have all-wheel drive (AWD), but a few have a couple of extra features that allow them to really go above and beyond when it comes to handling the snow.

The first choice was the trio of American pickup trucks: the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado and Dodge Ram. In addition to coming with four-wheel drive, these trucks have the added benefit of a taller ride height that gives them more stability. Compared to many of the other full-size SUVs, the pickups are also a relatively inexpensive choice when it comes to braving the winter weather.

Those who would rather opt for a traditional sedan may be interested in the Ford Taurus SHO. This car's V6 engine provides enough power to handle any trouble spots while simultaneously offering AWD. The news source writes that the car is "built in the Windy City for the wintry weather," so those with inclement weather to tackle may want to consider this edition of the Taurus.

One of the big selling points for SUVs is the ability to handle tough terrain, and the mixture of snow and ice that comes every winter definitely falls in this category. While most SUVs will be a solid choice, the news source points to the Toyota Land Cruiser as a solid example of a full-size SUV that will make short work of the winter season. With a history that includes military transport and a stint as the Royal Family's chosen vehicle, the Land Cruiser is renowned for its ability to transport a large amount of people and gear efficiently and safely.

Drivers searching for luxury cars don't have a ton of options when it comes to handling snow, but the Audi brand's signature "Quattro" four-wheel drive is a good starting point for those who want a high-end car that can handle the snow. The news source recommends the A6 Avant as having plenty of room for the whole family in addition to the Quattro feature. An optional heated seat and dual climate control upgrade will keep everyone comfortable along the way.

Study: Mismatched bumpers cost big money

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

A new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has found that a lot of car damage could be prevented if cars and SUVs were forced to have bumpers at the same height.

Current federal regulations call for bumpers to be placed 16 to 20 inches above the ground. When two bumpers hit exactly, the damage was found to be minimal by the study.

Yet problems arise when a truck or SUV is thrown into the mix. These vehicles are allowed to have higher bumpers, meaning that rear-end accidents between an SUV and car were found to cause much more damage. In many instances, the smaller car could slip under the larger one and destroy sensitive parts like a radiator.

"SUVs and cars share the road," said Joe Nolan, the Institute's chief administrative officer. "The problem is they don't share the same bumper rules, and consumers end up paying the price."

Automakers say that lowering the bumper wouldn't improve safety and could reduce the carrying capacity of light trucks. The group counters that car-based crossovers and similar vehicles would still be able to lower the bumper with no reduction in functionality.

Those who have their car totaled in an accident might find it cheaper to purchase a used car rather than pay a steep repair bill.

New Lincolns to be designed by former Cadillac employee

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

Ford has announced the hiring of Max Wolff, a former Cadillac designer, to head up the complete overhaul of its luxury Lincoln brand.

With the discontinuation of the Mercury brand, Ford has announced that it will be shifting focus to a redesign of the Lincoln nameplate, with seven new vehicles expected over the next four years. To help along that process, the company brought in Wolff, who oversaw the exterior design of the CTS Coupe and several other popular Cadillacs at General Motors.

"Max's drive, talent, and knowledge of automotive design within the premium segment of the market make him a great addition to the global design team," said J Mays, Ford's chief creative officer and vice president of design. "He is a recognized design leader and has a successful track record in the development of production and concept vehicles, including the Holden SSX show car."

Lincoln has lagged behind luxury brands like Lexus, BMW and Mercedes-Benz even as Ford grew its market share with increased sales this month to be come the second highest-selling brand in the country.

Those who shop the used car market may be able to find good deals on cars from Mercury and other discontinued brands. The used car market will also be the only place to find older Lincoln models, like the Town Car and Aviator, which are expected to be phased out in the near future.

American automakers’ sales spike in November

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

With a rise in demand for trucks and SUVs, American automakers saw their profits spike in November when compared to the previous year.

Ford, General Motors and Chrysler all posted double-digit sales gains over November of 2009. Ford's profit was up 24 percent, with truck sales specifically up 34 percent. GM had a 12 percent gain, but the figure rises to 21 percent if the discontinued Pontiac and Saturn brands are excluded from the numbers.

Chrysler also had a good month, with its 17 percent sales increase representing the eighth-straight year-on-year rise in totals. The Jeep and Ram brands carried the company as they had a 58 and 67 percent rise respectively while Chrysler and Dodge both decreased.

Across the Pacific, Hyundai and Kia continued their strong sales with a 46 percent increase. Nissan and Honda also enjoyed double-digit gains at 27 and 16 percent, respectively.

Toyota was the only company that truly stumbled, with a 3 percent decrease in revenue. The company has yet to fully recover from the recall scandal from earlier in 2010, which some analysts believe tarnished the brand's previous reputation for quality. 

Lexus’ GS-F to challenge high-performance luxury rivals

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Luxury brands have done well with a slew of high-performance variants of their base vehicles, whether it's Mercedes-Benz's AMG division or BMW's "M" designation. But with the exception of the high-powered LFA Supercar, Toyota's Lexus brand has mainly stayed out of the horsepower-fueled fight.

Now the Toyota subsidiary appears to be coming out swinging. With rival Infiniti's "IPL" edition of the G37 coupe selling well and Audi recently announcing the A6, Lexus has pulled the lid off of the GS-F, a high-powered version of its GS midsize sedan, to compete with the speedsters in both Germany and Japan.

Road and Track reports that the GS-F will source a 5-liter V8 engine from the company's previous IS-F compact. That engine delivered 465 horsepower, which would put the GS-F at a competitive disadvantage with cars like the M5, which may have over 600 hp in its next version. It's possible that Toyota could choose to use a supercharger to up the numbers, but the news source cites unidentified sources in saying that the GS-F will shed a significant amount of weight in order to surpass rivals in 0-60 times with the decreased power.

No pricing has been announced, but the GS-F will likely carry a high price tag. Those interested in high-performance vehicles on a budget may want to buy a cheap used car and make some upgrades themselves.

Cracker Barrel supports electric charging scheme

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

As more drivers make the switch to an electric vehicle, the issue of charging is going to be on everyone's minds. While drivers will certainly buy a charger for their home, on-the-go charging stations are expected to be scarce.

Ecotality Inc., an organization based in Arizona, has stated that it will be attempting to introduce more chargers in commercial locations across the country. One of the first partners to jump onboard with a pilot program is Cracker Barrel, a restaurant modeled after old-fashioned homestyle eateries.

Cracker Barrel will install 24 chargers at locations across Tennessee in an effort to give drivers more options. The company said that 40 percent of its customers are travelers, so the chargers might give them an extra reason to stop in for a bite to eat.

The high-powered stations installed at the restaurants are expected to provide a full charge in 30 minutes.

Drivers who are interested in electric vehicles may wish to hold off on their purchase until they hit the used car market so they can take advantage of discounts. Both the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt, the first two electric models to be widely released in the U.S., are expected to retail for over $30,000. 

Audi’s new A6 brings it in line with rest of fleet

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Those who have seen the latest Audis, like the A8, may have noticed the eye-like LED headlights or sleek grille. The German automaker has brought this design to nearly all of its new releases, but one model was curiously missing – the A6.

That's about to change, as Audi has pulled the lid off of the new A6, which several sources say looks like a smaller version of the redesigned A8. Drivers who really take the time to explore the new A6, however, will find a whole new model with plenty to love.

Audi claims that the new A6 is nearly 150 pounds lighter, thanks to a substantial amount aluminum used in the bodywork. The car will still offer the supercharged V6 from the previous iteration, which gets 300 horsepower. However, the automaker estimates that they have increased fuel economy by more than 5 mpgs on both city and highway, which would put it at a 26 combined mpg rating – if the EPA agrees. It is unknown if the inline-4 or non-supercharged V6 options available in Europe will also make their way stateside.

When the new Audi hits dealerships in 2011, it's likely that many of the older A6 models will find their way to the used car market. Those considering a luxury vehicle purchase may want to wait until that time comes and take advantage of the likely deals on used Audi A6's.