Time is right for new car shopping

November 18, 2008 4:58:58 PM PST
Things aren't looking as bad for Houston's auto industry. Despite problems finding financing nationwide, now could be the best time for you to buy. [CHECK THE MARKETS: Get the latest numbers from Wall Street]
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To paraphrase Charles Dickens and 'A Tale of Two Cities,' it is the best of times and the worst of times. We're certainly seeing a challenging economy, which means the buyer can be in the driver's seat if they can afford a good deal. And there are plenty to be had.

Those who decide it's time to buy are finding deals in Houston showrooms, even on Hondas, which rarely offers discounts on its products. It is now.

"Like I said, it's a good time to buy cars," said Ramsey Gillman with Gillman Honda.

"About ten percent less than you would've paid last year?" we asked.

"Yes," he answered.

Gilman owns car dealerships around Texas and he counts himself lucky to have some of them in Houston. Sales are down, but by about 17 percent, half the decline as the national average. The energy-centric economy here gets the credit from Gillman.

"Houston's a great place to live," said Gillman. "We're not suffering quite like the rest of the nation and I hope we have a recovery in the rest of the United States so that Houston won't feel the effects that the rest of the United States is."

Credit, though, remains a real issue. At River Oaks Chrysler, John Licata is looking at SUVs. He says he pays his bills on time, but has debt which would mean a higher interest rate on a loan.

"So I'm kinda afraid with the current crisis," he said. "Anything like 8 or 9 or 10 would be kinda crazy."

And that's the challenge. There is money available, but only buyers with the best credit get the best rates and that's about six percent. Those with low credit scores can pay nearly 18 percent interest and also have to put a lot of money down.

That isn't helping sales, but there's an unexpected growth sector. Some people are holding on to their cars and getting them serviced as well.

"We hope to monetize you into a new car, but we don't always get that wish, but service is good for us also and is good for your car," said Alan Helfman with River Oaks Chrysler Jeep.

The Houston Auto Dealers Association plans a marketing campaign in coming days to remind potential buyers that there are deals waiting to be made on new cars that are also more fuel efficient. And you might be able to get some free floor mats with that purchase.

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