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Wheelin' and Dealin'

Thinking of getting a car? Here's our standard advice: Don't do it. As we explain in Buying a Car, cars are expensive, depreciating items, and you may be better off running your jalopy into the ground. Even if you have to pour a thousand dollars a year into your Gremlin, that's better than the $4,740 you'd spend a year if you borrowed $13,000 at 6% to buy a new ride.

Of course, cars eventually reach the point of no return. If your wheels would look better on blocks than on the road, now's a good time to find a replacement.

According to a report by Comerica Bank, cars and trucks haven't been this affordable since 1978 (taking inflation and rising incomes into account). Plus, dealers are offering plenty of incentives, such 0% interest and/or cash back. And it's time for the 2003 models to roll out, so dealers need to clear space.

For those looking for a used car, now's an especially good time to find a bargain. Due to a wave of trade-ins and expired leases over the past year, there are used cars aplenty. To move that inventory, dealers have lowered prices. Due to improved workmanship, cars now last an average of 13 years, so buying a "pre-owned" vehicle may be your best bet. A 2-year-old car can sell for less than half the price of a new car.

With any purchase, knowledge is your best weapon. This is especially true with cars, and super-duper especially true with used cars. Fortunately, The Motley Fool is a cornucopia of car counsel. For some helpful articles, click on the related links box on the right.

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