Don't be duped by year-end clearance car deals

Advertisements are starting to focus on year-end car deals as automakers try to make as many sales as possible for 2012, but car shoppers need to be sure they fully understand what they are getting before they buy a new car. Many of the best "year-end car deals" are on 2012 model year cars and the "year-end" is really referring to the end of the model year, not the end of the calendar year.

2012 Eclipse Spyder | 2012 Prius C | 2012 RAV4 | 2012 Civic Coupe

With hefty rebates and incentives on 2012 model cars, it may be very appealing to buy a new car that is essentially last year's model, but it may not actually be the best choice for your wallet in the long run. Part of the reason automakers offer great car deals on these autos is they are depreciating while they sit on the dealer's lot. Most people understand a brand-new car depreciates the moment it is driven off the lot, but a new car that is last year's model essentially depreciates faster initially because it is already considered to be one year old in terms of book value.

If you are someone who owns your cars for a very long time, the depreciation doesn't matter much to you. By the time you are ready for a new car your old car isn't going to be worth much anyway. However, if you are like the average American who buys a new car every three years, think carefully about buying a 2012 model. Your car will be valued at four model years old when you're ready to sell -- even though you will have only driven it for three years.

Two other factors that affect end-of-year car deals are whether the car has been recently redesigned and its overall rate of depreciation. Cars that have undergone a major redesign for the current model year are worth even less in the previous model year because they are considered less desirable and more difficult to sell. They're not the hot, new model with the latest upgrades. Some car brands and models hold their value better, and therefore depreciate more slowly than other brands. This rate of depreciation can be an advantage or disadvantage to your wallet, depending on your choice. The depreciation rates can be found in the cost of ownership section for any new model at a third-party automotive information website.

To determine if buying last year's model is financially smart, first check the depreciation rates for the cars you are considering by using a third-party automotive information website. That site also will note if the car has been redesigned for the 2013 model year. Next use's car rebate versus low-interest calculator to compare all the cars you are considering to see which offer is the better deal. Don't forget to compare both the 2012 and 2013 models. Finally, use's auto loan calculator to compare all the cars to see the best car deals.