'Fighting Chance' effective tool in negotiating new-car deals

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General Motors' decision to partner with eBay in a test program in California to sell cars via the Internet may seem like a simple way to buy a car without entering a showroom.

But if you're not in the Golden State and still in the market for a new ride there are other ways to get a great deal without ever leaving the comfort of home or the office.

There are numerous Web sites that provide information about car buying and prices. Some, such as Edmunds, have been around for decades. Kelly Blue Book, AOL Autos and MSN Autos have similar information. As with Edmunds, you can choose a make and model, build it to your specifications, and learn both invoice -- what the dealer paid -- and sticker prices.

Though these free sites provide useful information and can act as primer when diving into the fretful world of new-car buying, their ability to negotiate price is negligible. After submitting a form with contact information requesting a quote from several dealers in your area, all you do is cross your fingers and hope for the best.

James Bragg says that that's far from the best way to make a deal. Bragg founded Fighting Chance some 15 years ago with the idea of arming consumers with up-to-minute information on prices and incentives to help them negotiate the best new-car deal.

For a fee -- $39.95 for one model; $15 for each additional vehicle -- Fighting Chance e-mails a package that includes pricing, rebate and market information about the specific vehicles you requested and how to go about negotiating the best deal.

Bragg believes many customers overpay because they wrongly bargain down from the sticker price or believe that they will pay no lower than invoice price.

But that's not necessarily the case. Given the complexity of manufacturers relationships with dealers and the incentives provided to them, it is difficult to know exactly how much profit your local dealer is making from the car you want. In other words, even if the dealer agrees to sell at invoice price he may still make money on the deal, through additional profits known as "holdbacks" and other incentives.

The Fighting Chance system isn't as simple as surfing eBay. It involves either faxing or e-mailing specific contacts -- generally, sales managers -- within each dealership with which you're willing to work, being specific about the car you want, including colors, and asking for the agent's best price.

But, it can be a surprisingly fast and effective tool in negotiating a deal on a new car, as I found out a few years ago when helping my mother, who lives several hundred miles away, buy a new Buick. Within minutes of e-mailing several dealers in her area, I'd received either phone calls ( I provided a cell phone number by which to be reached ) or by e-mail, offering their best price on a car they had in stock.

By the next day, she had a new car matching her specifications and at a price she wouldn't have likely gotten had she simply filled out a generic form on the internet or walked into the showroom on her own. And I got peace of mind knowing my mother hadn't paid out the nose for her new car.
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