First, the deals are not as widespread or as deeply discounted as in Septembers past because auto makers have controlled their inventory better. "With manufacturers' sharp focus on production and demand, consumers can expect fewer opportunities than in the past," says James Bell, executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book. What's more, a 2010 is essentially a year-old car, so, Bell says, the depreciation in value could offset any savings. As a rule of thumb, a car loses some $3,000 from being one year older. So if you buy a 2010, push for at least that much of a discount.
This is where your ownership style comes in: If you plan to sell or trade in that car in a few years, it makes more sense to buy a 2011 model. But if you plan to drive the car just as long as you can, you don't care much about trade-in value. So consider a 2010. Driving your car well after car payments have stopped makes good economic sense-especially since most new cars today can run for 150,000 miles or so with careful maintenance.
If you take that long-term view, good deals certainly are still out there. MoneyWatch researched auto pricing sites TrueCar.com and Edmunds.com to look for 2010 cars, trucks and SUVs and minivans selling at sizable discounts from manufacturer's suggested retail price. Here, in order of discount size, are four attractive choices supported by rebates or other incentives:
Chevrolet Silverado 1500 With few big changes expected in the 2011 Chevy pickup, this may be one of the best bargain targets. Reviewers praised the 2010 model for a mix of comfort and practicality and ranked it in a tie for best full-sized pickup with the Ford F-150. This Silverado two-wheel-drive, regular cab model with a V6 engine (rated at 15 mpg city, 20 highway) was selling recently at an average of $16,736, according to TrueCar.com. That is a 23% discount to the $21,845 MSRP, including the $4,500 rebate offered by General Motors. Pickup buyers tend to be brand loyalists. If you are a Chevy guy or gal, check this one out.
Hyundai Sonata This 2010 sedan is already selling alongside its redesigned 2011sibling. Reviewers praised the 2010 model for its value, many standard features and 10-year, 100,000 mile power-train warranty. The 2011 is a much sportier, edgier design selling closer to list price. But if value and savings are your focus (mileage is 22 city, 32 highway), the TrueCar average price for the GLS model with automatic transmission is $17,037 -- 18% below the $20,620 MSRP including $2,500 in rebates. Hyundai's steady gains in manufacturing quality in recent years make this Sonata a good prospect if you're a bargain-minded mid-size sedan buyer.
Chevrolet Suburban This long-running favorite of the big SUV crowd also is top-ranked by reviewers. For somebody who needs to haul up to nine people and a lot of cargo or wants strong towing capacity, the Suburban is hard to beat. The 1500 LS version with a V8 engine rated at 15 mpg city, 21 highway, is selling at $36,102 -- a 13% discount to the $41,585 list price including a $3,000 rebate, according to Edmunds.com. As an alternative to the rebate, General Motors is offering 0% financing for three, four or five years if your credit score qualifies you. If you have decided you can live with a thirsty SUV with gas a bit below $3 a gallon, have a look at this Suburban.
Honda Odyssey With a redesigned 2011 Odyssey headed for showrooms this fall, dealers are pushing out their inventory of 2010s. As usual, reviewers rate the Odyssey the best-driving minivan with unusually good handling for such a big vehicle. The LX version, with a V6 rated at 16 mpg city, 23 highway, is selling for an average of $23,372, according to Edmunds. That is 13% off the $26,805 list price even without rebates. Honda offers 1.9% financing for two or three years if you qualify.
Photos courtesy of the manufacturers
More from MoneyWatch