America Gets Steal on Wheels
By: Carmen Nobel

BOSTON (TheStreet) -- If you've spent any significant time near a TV, radio or billboard, you've probably grown immune to car dealers who insist you'd be crazy not to buy a new car! Thing is, it's true right now.

Thanks to a tanking automotive market that lends itself to low finance deals, along with somewhat misguided government programs that actually give you money to shop, now is a terrific time to treat yourself to a new set of wheels, provided you can find a dealership that hasn't closed yet.

Zero-percent automotive-financing deals haven't been this prevalent since the period following 9/11, says Jesse Toprak, a senior industry analyst at automotive think tank "And we're seeing them more and more because interest rates are so low," he says.

Sure, zero-percent financing on a Rolls-Royce Drophead is probably never going to happen. And forget about any special incentives on a Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano. Still, "this is as good as it gets," says Dennis St. Aubin, a sales and leasing consultant at Chambers Motorcars in Boston. "I have never seen incentives like this before."

To wit, General Motors' Cadillac is offering zero-percent financing for up to 60 months on its CTS sedan, one of the best deals of the month, Toprak says. You'll probably want to spring for the $60,000-ish CTS-V, a 556-horsepower sedan on steroids that Silvio Dante of "The Sopranos" would be driving if "The Sopranos" were still on. Sporting a menacing mesh grill, this is the Caddy that broke the 8-minute barrier on the German Nürburgring racetrack, beating the homegrown and more advanced BMW M3 by 15 seconds. In your face, Bavaria! Bimmer fans should take note, though, that they currently can get an unusually low APR rate of 1.9% for up to 60 months on the BMW 3 series.

Mercedes dealers are offering 1.9% to 2.9% APR for up to 66 months on the S550 AWD, a spa of a sedan with a climate-control system that adjusts itself according to the position of the sun, leather seats with air bladders that fill and deflate to cradle your body if you happen to be a squirmy driver and all-wheel-drive "so robust you will laugh at snowplows as you cruise by," St. Aubin says, adding that current market conditions mean "you can walk out the door on a decent S class these days for under 90K!"

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Transportation has launched its Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS). Better known as "Cash for Clunkers," the trade-in incentive program gives you money to swap your father's Oldsmobile for a sweet, new ride. If the new car offers a fuel economy rate that's at least four, but less than 10, miles per gallon higher than the vehicle you're trading in, the feds will give you $3,500. If the new car is at least 10 mpg more efficient, you get $4,500. To qualify, your clunker must be younger than 25 years old and have fuel economy of 18 mpg or worse. In other words, the bigger the gas guzzler, the bigger the reward.

Sadly, the new car must have a sticker price of $45,000 or lower to qualify for CARS, so Cash for Clunkers doesn't apply to the Corvette Z06 and its $73,925 MSRP. (The Z06 has a highway mpg rate of 24 mpg, in spite of sporting a V8 engine and looking about as eco-friendly as Knight Rider.) "It's the muscle car of the new century," says John Spooner, a Corvette aficionado and technology analyst in Portsmouth, N.H.

But Chevy is offering up to a $1,500 cash refund for the Z06. And 2008 Vettes now qualify for zero-percent financing, at least through the end of the month. What does qualify is the Ford (Stock Quote: F) Mustang GT Bullitt.

Take heed, though: While the economic downturn might mean it's the best time to buy a car, it may be the worst time for anyone to crash into you. A January study by the Insurance Research Council found that for every 1% increase in the national unemployment rate, there's a 0.75% increase in the number of uninsured motorists. The group estimates that by 2010, 16% of motorists will be driving without insurance. If you want to leave your garage without worrying about that, you might be better off sticking with your Hyundai (Stock Quote: HYMTF).

Reported by Carmen Nobel in Boston. Feedback can be sent to .

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