CARS.COM — Folks, we have good news and bad news. Here's the bad: April isn't the best month to go car shopping. Over the past three years, National Pecan Month (yes, really) ranked among the three leanest months of the year for per-car incentives, according to Autodata Corp. Dealers have moved past the winter sales drought, but the sell-off for the next model year is still months away — so a lot of bargain hunters may leave the showroom feeling a bit April foolish.
Oh, and the "CHIPS" reboot apparently stinks. That's the other bad news.
But here's the good news: Incentives are still on fire. New-car sales slid 1.7 percent in March, by Automotive News' tally, and that was despite incentives totaling $3,563 per car, per Autodata. That's up $453, or 14.6 percent, over March 2016, and it marks the seventh consecutive month of double-digit increases for discounts. April might be a weak month from recent history, but the current discount train doesn't seem to be stopping anytime soon. Hop aboard and find yourself a deal.
How much can I save? A lot. Focus sales fell 22.5 percent in March even though run-of-the-mill 2017 versions averaged 48 to 52 days on dealer lots — on par with the month's 55-day average for all 2017 models. From now until June 21, factory rebates range from $250 to $3,500 on the Focus, according to Automotive News. That's a wide range, but we audited ZIP codes in five major cities and found most trim levels have posted rebates in the higher range. Some of the rebates require approved financing through Ford's credit arm, however, so read the fine print. Note, too, that the savings may come at a price: The Focus blends solid handling with impressive ride quality, but poor reliability and limited collision-avoidance tech have stung the current generation.
What about discount financing? Qualified shoppers can get rates as low as zero percent.
Are these deals also on the Focus ST and RS? Not so much. In most areas we searched, the ST had some rebates — though not as much as other trims — but the RS did not.
How much can I save? From $500 to $3,000, per Automotive News. That's a lot of cash for a rear-drive muscle car, and it's just in time as the weather warms up. In March, Mustang sales crumbled 27.4 percent as the coupe averaged 81 days on dealer lots (63 days for the convertible). These deals expire June 21, Automotive News says, and they're good only on the 2017 Mustang. The updated 2018 Mustang doesn't go on sale until this fall.
What about discount financing? Qualified shoppers can get as little as zero percent.
How does the Mustang compare to the Dodge Challenger and Chevrolet Camaro? It depends what you get. In our comparison last year, the Mustang GT placed last versus the V-8 competition, but a parallel test with each car's smaller engine, the Mustang's EcoBoost turbo four-cylinder came in first.
How much can I save? At the top end, enough to stash a year of college savings for your kid. (Or blow it on one of these.) Cash rebates range from $3,350 to $6,000 on the non-hybrid Sonata through May 1, according to Automotive News, as the nameplate comes off a month where sales tanked 46.6 percent. That was versus a crazy-good March 2016, but the 2017 Sonata still averaged 82 days on dealer lots last month.
What about discount financing? Qualified shoppers can score a little as zero percent.
Isn't an updated Sonata on the way? It's imminent, but 2017 is just the third model year for the current generation, which remains a better-than-average player in the class, with average reliability and good crash-test ratings to boot.
How much can I save? Plenty. Cherokee sales slid 10.5 percent in March as 2017 models averaged 77 days on dealer lots. Through May 1, Jeep has rebates from $250 to $5,000 off the Cherokee, per Automotive News. In the metro areas we surveyed, rebates were at the higher end of that range — as high as $5,500 on in some cases — but they also required shoppers to finance through Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' lending arm to get the full value. (Jeep is an FCA brand.) Not all shoppers may qualify.
What about discount financing? Automotive News listed no discount rates, so prepare to negotiate on normal rates.
Didn't Cars.com's long-term Cherokee have a lot of reliability problems? Yes, and it's consistent with the current Cherokee's poor track record for reliability. Patchy crash-test ratings are also concerning. But this is about savings, and the Cherokee offers a lot.
We focus on cars new to the list or ones we haven't highlighted in the past few months. But many cars from recent months still have high discounts in April:
Looking for Nissan? The automaker had a few candidates for this list — namely the Altima, Sentra and Murano, all of which underperformed the market in March and had significant discounts as of early April. But Nissan's incentives expired April 10, the same day Cars.com reported this. Check Nissan's incentives page to see which deals stuck around.
How We Look for Deals
To look for April deals, we considered sales in March among the top 100 best-selling cars, specifically eyeing models whose sales underperformed the market. We also looked at days-to-turn data from March, which measures how long it takes on average for dealers to sell a given car. Both factors illustrate April's slow sellers, cars on which dealers could be more willing to cut a deal.
Finally, we looked at factory cash discounts and low-interest-rate financing offers that are especially high for the price of the car. (After all, $2,000 is a lot more on a Ford Focus than a Ford Explorer.)
Sales and incentives data come from Automotive News and automakers' websites, while days-to-turn data come from J.D. Power and Associates. Remember, our numbers are national in scope and reflect advertised customer discounts, not unadvertised factory-to-dealer cash. Discount financing typically requires qualifying credit, too, and incentives may vary by region and trim level. In sum: Your discounts may vary, so check with your local dealer for specifics.