2009 Spring Car Guide
An orange car driving up an open road with brown, rocky mountains on either side
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Car deals, rebates blossom with spring

In the past, there were occasional $5,000 incentives, but that was the exception, Taylor says. The incentives also are more inclusive of all makes and models.

During the summer of 2008, Taylor noticed offers typically on larger sedans, sport utility vehicles and trucks as customers resisted the high gasoline prices. Although fuel prices have declined, automakers are seeing people reluctant to buy any type of vehicle, Taylor says.

"The incentives that are available are stronger than they've ever been and dealers are trying very hard to get cars sold as well," he says.

Domestic automakers are leading the efforts, Nerad says. However, Toyota and Honda's lower sales levels are putting them in the position to offer incentives, too, he says.

Zero-percent, 60-month financing was available on the 2009 Toyota Yaris three-door this spring, making it one of the offers on kbb.com's weekly list of 5 Great Car Deals. Other vehicles, like the 2009 Chevrolet Malibu and 2010 Ford Fusion, also were included in their makers' 30- to 60-month, zero-percent financing offers.

Deals on some new cars are so favorable they make those models cheaper than used cars -- even models just a year old, according to data from Edmunds.com. Its list of vehicles in that category include the Honda Civic; BMW's 1, 3, 5 and 6 Series; and the Mazda3, as well as models by Audi, Nissan and Mitsubishi.

Edmunds.com reports a buyer can save as much as $795 by purchasing the new vehicle because used cars are financed at a higher rate than new cars. But with special finance rates being offered by automakers -- for which Edmunds estimates about 18 percent of new-car buyers qualify -- savings can be as high as $6,175.

Low-cost lease deals, which had vanished, also have returned as manufacturers pull out all the stops, Nerad says. It offers more of a comfort level with the credit situation, which is still problematic.

He says that the offers are more prevalent on all makes and models, whereas in the past a low lease price would have been on a four-door sedan with a manual transmission, then the dealer would "upsell" buyers to a vehicle with automatic transmission.

For some offers, the credit and other restrictions aren't as stringent as they have been in the past, experts say.

Nerad says the environment is changing so rapidly that incentives vary by area of the country and by week, causing buyers to be vigilant about doing their homework.

"If there is something going on in a particular region, they might throw extra money at a particular model to try and move it," he says.

Lori Johnston is a freelance writer based in Georgia

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