RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Here in the U.S., auto sales are up, and fall is traditionally a big time for car buying. Question is, what's the best way these days to pay for that car - financed through the automaker or through your bank or simply leased?
To think through the choices, we called Michele Krebs. She's the senior analyst for the auto information site Edmunds.com, and she joined us from Detroit.
MICHELE KREBS: Good morning.
MONTAGNE: So let's just, as an example, family of four, zeroed in on a minivan or a station wagon, want a decent amount of space, good fuel efficiency - how do they go about figuring out the best way to pay for this?
KREBS: Well, first they do a family assessment. They look at their budget. What can they afford? We suggest spending no more than 20 percent of your take-home pay on a car. And that should include not only the monthly payments but also the insurance, the fuel costs and maintenance. They should ask themselves how long they intend to keep the vehicle. If they're going to keep it a long time, buying it makes sense. If they're not, maybe leasing is an option.
MONTAGNE: Let's get more into talking about how to pay then for the car once the decision is made. Does cash still give consumers the best leverage when negotiating with dealers?
KREBS: Well, absolutely, cash can be king. Cash makes a deal very simple. You negotiate the price of the car and you write a check and it takes away all of the other things that are negotiated at a dealership. But in some instances you have to look at how you're going to use your money. There are a lot of zero percent financing deals. If you're of that mindset of, OK, I can do a monthly payment. I'm not going to pay any interest. I could take that money and either pay off some other bills or invest it somewhere, that may be a better way to go.
MONTAGNE: What about leasing? I mean these days, especially with fuel economy and technology improving each year, does it make more sense to lease so that you can keep up with all of that?
KREBS: Well, certainly it fits some people, but not everybody. Leasing has been making a comeback, and if you read the newspapers and look at the television ads, you'll see all kinds of great leasing deals. There are some that are under $200 a month. But I think you have to be the ideal person for this. So a business person might be a good person for a lease because they can write some of that off. The person who wants the newest, shiniest vehicle on the road is a good candidate. Someone who wants the latest technology - and that may include fuel efficiency because we're going to see massive improvements in fuel economy in the next few years, if you want to wait for that. You know, you need a car now but you want to get even a better fuel economy in the next car you buy - it's worth it to wait.
There are some downsides though. You never own it. You don't own equity in it. It's just like renting an apartment. And what you should do if you're going to lease is only lease as long as the warranty is. So that then you don't accumulate any maintenance costs on a lease that would all be covered under the warranty if you did your lease along the lines of the warranty limits.
MONTAGNE: And Michele, what about the best deals in terms of leasing?
KREBS: Well, we're seeing a couple areas where leasing is really strong. The midsize car segment, like the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord, there's some really aggressive deals there because it's a very competitive market. And also on the technology side, things like the Chevrolet Volt and the electric Nissan Leaf have very good lease deals because the price tags are very hefty and people don't want to buy, especially since that's a new technology, and so the automakers are subsidizing and offering consumers very attractive leases on those high-tech cars.
MONTAGNE: Michele Krebs is a senior analyst for the automotive information site, Edmunds.com. Thanks very much for joining us again.
KREBS: Thank you for having me again. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.