One of the worst winters on record has had a chilling effect on the auto business, leaving dealers' inventories in many parts of the country to pile up like so much unplowed snow. Potential car buyers tended to stay home where it was nice and warm, rather than brave the cold and slush to shop for a vehicle that would inevitably be violated by the elements. And who could blame them? Aside perhaps from a rough-and-tumble 4X4 SUV, few vehicles tend to show their best sides while being test-driven through a blinding snowstorm.
As a result the pendulous law of supply and demand is swinging the other way and is favoring car buyers for the first time in perhaps the last two years, with generous sales incentives and leasing deals blooming like crocuses to help dealers move the metal.
"It's no secret that severe weather has resulted in lower-than-expected sales, causing inventory levels to swell at most dealerships across the country," says Jesse Toprak, chief analyst for the auto website Cars.com. "Consumers will benefit from automakers and dealers who are willing to move standing inventory at a steep discount, with the most attractive specials found in large-vehicle segments."
We're featuring a cross-section of some of the richest incentives automakers are offering this month, but we found far more modest cash-back offers of $500-$1,000 and cut-rate financing programs out there for the taking. We counted no less than 30 brands offering at least token sales incentives this month.
The accompanying slideshow includes an amiable assortment of direct-to-consumer cash rebates, discounted financing promotions and/or so-called marketing-support incentives, which we call additional dealer discounts. Typically favored by luxury automakers, the latter are cash allowances given to dealers to lower the prices on select models without seeming to cheapen the brand by offering cash rebates. The only catch is that a dealer may or may not automatically pass them on without some hard-nosed negotiations.
Top sales incentives this month include up to $3,000 cash back or $500 and zero percent financing for up to 60 months on the popular Ford Escape crossover SUV, a $3,000 rebate or zero percent financing on the highly regarded Cadillac ATS compact sport sedan and a whopping $7,000 additional dealer discount up for grabs on the sultry BMW 6 Series line of luxury sport coupes and convertibles.
What's more, the deals are even more plentiful for those who are willing to lease, rather than buy a vehicle outright, given the continuing combination of low interest rates and relatively high residual values. Not surprisingly lease penetration is at its highest level on record, representing 26.5 percent of all new-vehicle transactions in February according to the market analysis firm J.D. Power.
We're likewise featuring some of the best leasing bargains of the month in the accompanying slideshow. These include the new-for-2014 Jeep Cherokee SUV going for $239 a month, the fuel-saving Toyota Prius hybrid hatchback at $279 a month and the Honda Civic Sedan with a monthly payment of just $159, which for most of us would be the equivalent of a daily visit to Starbucks.
Lease deals are typically featured prominently on automakers' websites and in dealers' advertising, but be aware that most can be fine-tuned to suit a consumer's needs or preferences. A lower monthly payment can usually be achieved by entering into a lease with a lower annual mileage limit or by agreeing to a higher initial down payment. Conversely, those looking for a lease with less money down or a more generous mileage limit would likely be subject to a higher monthly payment.
Further, keep in mind that sales and lease incentives come from the automaker. Dealers who are looking to winnow down their excess inventories will likely be in a position to give up a substantial portion of their markups this month on most models to help jump-start sales. This includes vehicles that are being leased as well as those that are purchased outright. Never purchase or lease a new vehicle based solely on a given monthly payment - be sure to check prices on the Internet and run the numbers to ensure you're getting the best possible deal. Negotiate with a vehicle's so-called invoice price as a target (this is usually a few percent above a dealer's actual cost), and that's before deducting any applicable rebate or subsidized dealer discount.
The Fine Print: Additional incentives may apply to any of our Promotional Code this month, such as those often offered to recent college graduates and members of the military and/or owners or lessees trading in same-brand or competing models. Offers often vary by region and are subject to subsequent modification or termination by the manufacturer.
Cited financing rates are typically open only to qualified buyers with top credit ratings and may vary based on eligibility.
Monthly lease payments quoted for vehicles in our list of top lease deals are generally for base models with specific equipment configurations and do not include additional options, taxes or registration fees. Cash due at signing includes the down payment and first month's lease payment. None of the deals listed here require a security deposit. Dealer participation may vary. Check the automakers' websites for additional deals and details.Follow us on Forbes.com, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.