It's all about when you shop. Whether you settle for something that happens to be in your price range because you can't talk the dealership down on the one you really want, or negotiate like Shatner and walk away with a great car for a steal comes down to market conditions when you open the showroom door.
And this month, they're good. Unusually good. We're starting to see dealers take relatively low offers on some cars that, in the past, fetched close to sticker every time.
The key metric is TrueCar.com's flex score. Our pricing partners at TrueCar.com analyze data from millions of transactions, comparing final sale prices, inventory and sales trends to generate a score that tells you how flexible dealers are likely to be on the price of each model of car. A score of 100 means the price is very fluid, and dealers are willing to haggle. A score of 1 means everyone can expect to pay the dealer's asking price.
This month, there are quite a few surprises at the high end of the scale:
2010 Honda Civic HybridEnlarge Photo
How many Civics are there in your neighborhood? We're betting you'd need both hands to count. One of the five best-selling cars in America for more than a decade, the reliable, fun-to-drive Civic has rarely been hard for Honda dealers to sell. It's the standard other small cars are measured against. But, for the first time in recent memory, Honda appears to have an inventory problem with its stunningly well-designed compact car. It hasn't led to steep discounts yet -- Honda is advertising 0.9% APR financing, a steal by Honda standards but nothing in a world where zero percent is now the norm for manufacturer incentives. But it has lead to dealers negotiating price on one of the most dependable cars you can buy. If you're in the market, take this chance while it's sitting there. This is rare.
2010 GMC Sierra 1500Enlarge Photo
Built on the reliable Chevy Silverado chassis, but with a bit more attention paid to the interior, the GMC Sierra is a fantastic all-around truck. It handles easily but works hard, with a towing capacity of up to 10,700 pounds. High-end models are suitable for executive transportation, with a cabin that wouldn't be out of place in a luxury sedan. Yet, this month, you have a lot of negotiating room at your local GMC dealership.
2010 Kia ForteEnlarge Photo
While you weren't looking, Kia made leaps and bounds in quality and design. The best example of this is the new-for-2010 Forte (well, actually, the best example is the 2011 Kia Optima, but since it hasn't hit showrooms yet, we're going with the Forte). The new compact from Korea wouldn't be out of place in the showroom of a more well-established automaker, thanks to handsome exterior styling, a tightly-constructed cabin and a long feature list that means a well-equipped Forte is a lot cheaper than a comparable Civic or Corolla. Yet the Forte's sales have still been...well...old Kia. That creates a great opportunity for you to negotiate a deal on the first very good Kia, before strong reliability numbers start to roll in and they're all more expensive in a few years.
2010 Toyota AvalonEnlarge Photo
It boasts the lowest flex score on our list, but the Avalon is sitll surprisingly negotiable with a score of 82. Manufacturers typically don't build many full-size sedans, so they can expect to sell what they make. This year, however, Toyota's battered image has meant slower-than-expected sales for its largest car -- and salespeople are listening to offers. The Avalon, however, remains one of the best all-around performers in the large car class. It holds up for many years, offers a cabin that wouldn't be out of place in a Lexus product, and has a surprising amount of thrust, considering that's a V6 under the hood.