From the April 2008 issue of Entrepreneur

Finding the finances--let alone the time--to purchase company vehicles can be a stretch for entrepreneurs. To the rescue: auto manufacturers' websites, as well as independent companies to help you shop and compare the latest incentives, discounts and deals to figure out how much you'll need to fund your company vehicles.

 

J.D. Power and Associates' latest survey ranks BMW Financial Services, Ford Credit, Honda Financial Services and Lexus Financial Services highest in customer satisfaction. Most manufacturers offer in-house, flexible-term programs, such as Ford Credit's Commercial Lending Services, which includes Line of Credit and Commercial Lease that are tailored to small and large fleet owners. GM's Smart Lease, Smart Buy and Smart Edge and GMAC's ComTRAC programs offer various buying options, with some sans security deposit requirements or mile-age restrictions.

 

Chrysler Financial has new services that also cover Dodge and Jeep, with online budget calculators and charts to estimate interest, down payments and trade-in values. Chrysler/Dodge Business Link is a free program that prioritizes service and offers loaner vehicles, extended service hours and an account manager. The company's On the Job program saves you money on purchases and accessories for your business and offers premium service contracts beyond your new vehicle warranty. Business Vehicle Finance programs include a Terminal Rental Adjustment Clause for leases with fixed monthly payments and no liability for additional mileage.

 

Nissan's Finance Account Manager at nissanusa.com provides information on issues that can affect your credit rating, and its Signature Purchase and Signature Lease offer competitive interest rates. Toyota's financial services program, TFS, offers business customers credit lines, consolidated billing statements and a reverse estimator to help plan down payments and monthly payments.

 

At bankrate.com, you can compare several different auto loan offerings, rebates vs. low interest rates, loan types and loan qualifications from your bank or credit union. Carsdirect.com provides an auto loan guide to help you get the best deal, and auto

bytel.com lists upfront, capitalized leasing costs along with the definitions of terms like segregated disclosures. Some credit card companies, such as Capital One Auto Finance and OPEN from American Express, offer car loans for small businesses with no collateral or minimum balance required.

Other tips include:

  • Calculate cost of ownership, including insurance, maintenance costs and depreciation, at intellichoice.com.
  • Estimate how much you can afford to pay each month by using payment calculators at websites like autobytel.com.
  • Print out online estimates to bring when you visit the dealer.
  • Know your credit score so you are prepared to negotiate. Zero-financing is reserved for people with excellent credit.
  • Choose vehicles that fit your business needs by asking fleet managers at dealers for assistance, or window-shop online at the manufacturers' websites.

 

Remember, top-quality vehicles keep their residual values longer. Check values at kbb.com.