This might be one of the best weekends — ever — to buy a new car

With dealers anxious to get their businesses back in gear, don’t be afraid to bargain more aggressively than you normally would, experts say.
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A customer looks at trucks at a dealership in El Monte, Calif., on May 8, 2020.Mark J. Terrill / AP

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By Paul A. Eisenstein

Memorial Day weekend is typically one of the busiest times of the year for car dealerships — and this year's deals are expected to be some of the best ever.

Automakers have been offering incentives averaging about $5,000 on the typical new vehicle, with the givebacks on full-size pickups running well above $7,000, whether in the form of rebates, zero-interest loans or other deals.

With consumers locked down at home and auto plants shuttered, sales of new cars plunged last month to barely half what they were last April. But with most states easing up on lockdowns, “Dealers in most of the country will be open again,” whether online or in their showrooms, “and we expect to see the (big sales) carried forward,” said Nick Woolard, director of analytics with online auto site TrueCar.com.

Zero-interest loans of 72 to 84 months have become wildly popular lately, accounting for about one-quarter of all new vehicle sales since the beginning of March. Buyers could see such deals on a variety of different products this coming weekend, according to the “Best Memorial Day Deals of 2020” list from U.S. News and World Reports. These include the Buick Enclave SUV, Chrysler Pacifica minivan, GMC Canyon midsize pickup and Volkswagen GTI hatchback.

Not everyone will qualify for these no-interest deals, since they are usually reserved for buyers with top-tier credit scores.

"We're seeing far more generous incentives and deals out there than we typically would for Memorial Day weekend, and since more consumers might be looking at vehicles for summer road trips instead of airline travel, things might look up a bit for the industry," said Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds' executive director of insights.

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Industry experts suggest that some of the biggest deals will be offered on slower-selling products for which dealers have excess stocks. And, in an SUV-centric market, your buying power is likely to be greatest if you’re open to a sedan or coupe, such as a Kia Optima that comes with a discount of as much as $4,000, plus zero-interest, 75-month financing and deferred payments of 120 days. Even the Toyota Corolla, one of the country’s best-selling passenger cars, will be offered for as little as $149 a month for 36 months.

SUVs are in shorter supply, with sales having held up reasonably well over the last few months, but there are still deals this holiday on popular models such as the Jeep Compass, GMC Terrain and Nissan Murano — which is being offered with a discount of as much as $6,250 on more well-equipped trim levels.

"If you're in a financially stable enough position to purchase a new vehicle, and you aren't super picky, now is a really good time to consider buying."

Automakers have slightly pared back on the deals they’ve been offering on full-size pickups such as the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado and Ram 1500, but that still means the incentives are at the $7,000 level. These trucks have been in surprisingly strong demand over the last two months and inventories have been shrinking, especially when it comes to the most popular body styles, colors and options, so you might need to settle for your second choice, said Tyson Jominy, a senior analyst with J.D. Power.

If you’re planning to go to your local dealer — or shop entirely online, as has become increasingly popular during the pandemic — be aware that the deals may vary from one market to another. In Texas, some pickups are in increasingly short supply, so dealers may be less willing to bargain, said Jominy, but they could be ready to cut a real deal for a Corolla or a GTI.

In fact, manufacturers often give dealers extra cash to bargain with, something they may not mention in their advertising. So, with dealers anxious to get their businesses back in gear, don’t be afraid to bargain more aggressively than you normally would, several experts told NBC News.

"If you know you're in a financially stable enough position to purchase a new vehicle, and you aren't super picky, now is a really good time to consider buying," said Ivan Drury, Edmunds' senior manager of insights.