Be a keen 'Clunkers' program buyer

MARINA DEL REY, Calif. The "Cash for Clunkers" program is a great deal, as long as consumers remember important car-buying tips, such as avoiding scams, doing your homework and haggling for the best price.

The Toyota Prius has become one of the most popular cars to purchase after the "Clunker" program was first introduced. It is so popular, that at least one Prius at a Marina del Rey dealership was marked up almost $5,000. That may not be such a deal if the government is only offering up to $4,500 for trading in a clunker.

"Right now it's an availability issue," said John Sideris, a sales manager. "So the market actually calls for that."

Right or wrong, the rise in price is a reminder to consumers to make the best deal despite the amount of money the "Clunker" program is chipping in.

"Research the car, make sure you get what you want and find the best possible deal you can," said Jeff Lidsay, who bought a car.

You can do your research on the price of any car before you go to the dealer on an automotive Web site like or Kelly Blue Book. The Web sites can also tell you about other rebates and incentives the manufacturer might be offering that you are entitled to.

If you buy a hybrid, you might qualify for a federal tax credit.

You may also want to consider buying a used car despite the "Clunker" program. You can't get the $4,500 rebate, but you might be able to buy a 2- or 3-year-old certified used car for much less than a new one. You also won't take that big depreciation hit that you would with a new car.

Finding your favorite new car may be tough since dealers are running low on inventory after manufacturers cut back on production.

"We have more clunkers than we have cars to sell right now," said Sideris.

Experts say con-artists have set up bogus Web sites that try to get you to sign up for the "Cash for Clunkers" program to trick you out of your personal information. Experts say dealers need to sign up for the program, not the consumer. In addition, if a dealer asks you to sign a document that says you will pay them back for the "Clunker" program if they don't get the money from the government, it is also a fraudulent request. The dealer could be fined up to $15,000 for such a request.

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