'Tis the season to buy a car

'Tis the season to buy a car

December 27th, 2013 by Shelly Bradbury in Business Around the Region

Salesman Cody Chambers, right, shows Larry Young, center, and his wife, Phyllis, a row of 2014 Nissan Altimas on Thursday at Mountain View Nissan in Chattanooga.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

Shoppers looking for a new car or truck may feel some extra holiday magic this week as auto dealers rev up discounts and give savings the green light during the annual end-of-the-year sales push.

Consumers could save as much as 8 to 10 percent off sticker price this month, said Alec Gutierrez, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book. That's compared to about 5 or 6 percent the rest of the year. Auto dealers are aiming to move 2013 inventory out and meet year-end internal targets.

At Mountain View Nissan in Chattanooga, executive manager Austin Watson said the dealership is on track to see a record December.

"The week between Christmas and New Year's is one of our busiest weeks of the year," he said. "It's a time many people are off work, so car manufacturers give some of the best incentives of the year that week. Not only are they trying to finish strong, but the dealers are as well."

Watson said customers seem to be feeling more confident in both the national and local economy and are more willing to buy big-ticket items.

"The economy is coming back around," he said. "Chattanooga has had so much good news in our local economy that I think consumer confidence in Chattanooga is high."

Nationally, vehicle sales have been on the rise in the United States for the last three years. U.S. sales are expected to reach 15.6 million this year -- well above the 10.4 million vehicles sold in 2009 in the depth of the recession. And according to the auto experts at Edmonds, savvy shoppers can take advantage of dealers who are ready to dump old inventory.

"It becomes a lot harder for dealers to move a 2013 year model in 2014," said Jeremy Acezedo, Edmonds analyst. "That is more incentive for them to give deals. If consumers can look past the year model, that's certainly a place they can save."

Dealers looking to earn end-of-the-year volume bonuses are often more ready to drop prices, Acezdo said. Generally, the more cars they push off the lot, the higher the bonus, he added, although it changes by dealership.

Besides discounts, low interest rates and high trade-in values are also driving up sales this year.

"We only have 13 to 15 2013 year models left," said Butch Tipton, general sales manager at Don Ledford Automotive in Cleveland, Tenn. "Most of our trucks go pretty quickly. Our GMC Sierras are selling well and our Silverados are going well. And we have the new Impala which has been phenomenal as well."

Besides the typical year-end sales, consumers in Tennessee who buy after Dec. 31 will also have to pay higher taxes -- one tax break is ending that could make a big difference for Tennesseans this year, said Diana Jacobsen, H&R Block master tax advisor.

The break allows taxpayers who file itemized taxes to deduct either state sales tax or state income tax, which is especially valuable in a state like Tennessee without a state income tax.

"If you're planning to shop for a new car, get that done before the 31st," Jacobsen said. "If you itemize -- and this is really important in Tennessee -- you get to take the sales tax on the vehicle as a deduction."

But that tax break is set to expire at the end of the year, unless Congress votes to extend the measure into 2014.

"We never know until Congress votes," Jacobsen said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com.