Time to grab a bargain on new Chevys, Chryslers? Too late

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After months of news reports about the slow-motion collapse of General Motors and Chrysler, bargain hunters can't be blamed for rushing through their showrooms expecting to find bargains galore. Just a couple of months ago, those showrooms were as empty as the grandstands at a Pirates game. According to Edmunds, however, that window of opportunity has rolled shut, trapping buyers inside with much less favorable deals.

Here's a quick tip to help you identify the climate for false bargains. The more customers, the less likelihood you'll find a good deal, and Edmunds has found Chrysler showroom visitor's' intention to buy one of the company's vehicles was up a huge 72% in April. It reported that the average sale price of a Chrysler has gone up 7.8%, from $24,489 just three months ago, to $26,390, only 18% below sticker.

Advertising is all about setting buyer expectations, and the press is doing a fine job of setting the bar low with these bankrupt beauties. To counter the tendency to let expectations lure you into a bad deal, do your homework before shopping even distressed dealerships. A car report from Consumer Reports will arm you with detailed info on the true dealer cost of the vehicle. Also research the value of your trade-in. It's all too easy to lose in the trade-in what you negotiated off of the new car's sticker price.

And if the showroom is busy, don't be afraid to drive away and shop another day or dealer. Also keep in mind the cash for clunkers incentive currently under consideration in Washington. Waiting for it could save you thousands, if it passes.

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