It's a Tuesday afternoon and Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Horace Davis and his wife, Joanna, are cruising the car dealerships just outside Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.
She's looking to downsize from her Hyundai Santa Fe SUV to a sportier model, and he's got an eye on an F-150 truck.
He's driving a BMW these days, but "I'm a Ford man at heart," he says. "I'm definitely going back to the F-150."
According to the latest auto-buying breakdown from the car loan and insurance folks at USAA, the Ford F-150 is the single most popular pick among service members.
The Chevy Silverado, Honda CR-V, Toyota Tacoma and Jeep Wrangler also are popular trucks and SUVs among troops and their families.
The Honda Accord, Honda Civic, Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry also rate highly across the military services.
And while military buying trends match civilian tastes in some areas, there are some lane shifts to be seen.
The Ford F-150 and Honda Accord, for example, remain top sellers across the board. But while the Ram truck and Toyota's Corolla and RAV4 are top sellers with civilians, they don't rank as highly with military buyers.
2016 Ford F-150 Limited
Photo Credit: Manufacturer
Meanwhile, the Jeep Wrangler, Hyundai Sonata and Ford Fusion are among the military's favorites — but don't place among the most recent civilian top 10.
The Davises, who were recently reassigned from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, say they've seen firsthand how popular the Sonata is among the military.
"I'd been a Sonata fan for a long time," says Joanna Davis, "but it seems like everyone at Fort Bragg was driving one, so now I'm looking for something a little different."
She's thinking maybe Hyundai's three-door Veloster might be a good fit.
"I'm looking for value — a smaller size, and just something more economical — but still sporty, and these just might be right," she says with a smile to the little red model they're eyeing.
No matter what car or truck you might be hot for, this is a good time to buy.
With dealerships eager to make room for incoming 2016 models, manufacturers are offering a slew of rebates, specials offers and financing deals to help amp up sales of remaining 2015 models.
"It's actually better now than the end of the year, because pretty soon you'll be running out of options," says Jason Williams, a six-year Army veteran who is now a salesman just down the road at the West Hills Auto Plex in Bremerton, Washington. "People will come in and say, 'I want to get this car,' and there just aren't any left."
OFFduty checked in with dealers of most of the top military-selling models for the latest on discounts, rebates and other deals. Here's what we found.
Military discount: Ford offers a $500 discount to anyone currently in the military — active, Guard or reserve — or retired. Spouses are also eligible, as well as veterans within 180 days of discharge.
Ford also has special pricing for troops stationed overseas through its Military Advantage Program and offers up to $1,000 reimbursement to all disabled drivers buying adaptive equipment or modifications.
2016 Ford F-150 Limited
Photo Credit: Manufacturer
Deals: "Right now, zero percent financing for 72 months is the really big draw for the F-150," says Boyd Hamilton, general manager of Lakewood Ford near Tacoma, Washington, just across the highway from Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
With the 2016 F-150s expected to begin arriving in November, that financing is available only for the 2015 models — and may not be for much longer. "They put an end date at the end of September, but whether it gets extended or not will be something Ford decides," Hamilton says.
Production of the F-150's new lighter aluminum bodies — reducing its weight by about 600 pounds — began with the 2015 models, so purchasing this year's truck could be a good move. With five varieties of the F-150 — XL, XLT, Lariat, Platinum, King Ranch and varying trim packages for each — picking the right one might feel daunting.
"The best bargain out there is the XLT model," Hamilton says. "It's got all the amenities without going over the top. Most people, when they're looking for a truck, are looking for function as well as comfort, and the XLT is really the middle of the road with power seats, rear-facing camera, and the new Sync system for your phone."
For those looking at the Fusion, he says the SE model hits the sweet spot for bargain hunters because it comes standard with a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine that averages 26 mpg, plus a technology package that includes reverse sensing and navigation.
"It's got some discount packages right now that are sort of off the charts," he says. Among them: $1,500 in factory incentives for 2015 models that can be stacked with the military discount.
Military discount: Chevrolet offers one of the most aggressive military discounting programs out there right now, with troops getting "supplier pricing."
Dave Aycock, a Marine veteran who runs Hazelwood Chevrolet in Bremerton, explains: "You have the Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price — or MSRP — and then invoice, or what the dealer pays for a car. Supplier pricing is below that invoice price. The only price that's better is employee pricing."
Eligibility includes current military — active, Guard and reserve — as well as veterans within one year of discharge, retirees and spouses.
Sweetening the military discount, Chevy also gives a $750 rebate to all USAA members.
For a truck such as the Silverado 1500, all that adds up to more than $3,500 in savings, says Aycock. But that's just for starters.
Deals: "It's also Truck Month right now — it's actually September and October — so it's even a better time to get a Silverado because there's a huge amount of rebates that you can stack on top of all the regular rebates," Aycock says.
Among them are $2,250 in rebates for Silverados, a $1,000 Consumer Cash program and $1,000 in down-payment assistance when you finance through General Motors or one of its partners.
All told, a military Silverado buyer can get almost $10,000 in savings.
Aycock also recommends checking with local dealers for other incentives. For example, all new cars and trucks sold out of his dealership come with a free lifetime powertrain warranty.
"So if you get stationed in Virginia, and your engine goes out in seven years, it's covered. A lot of dealerships offer lifetime oil changes or car washes, but I found that's not as beneficial to the military community because they're getting restationed all the time," he says.
Military discount: While Honda enjoys some of the best sales among military members, it offers one of the worst military discounts.
Like most manufacturers, it offers a $500 military discount, but you get it only if you finance your vehicle through Honda.
The offer is good for all current military — active, Guard, reserve — and their spouses, as well as retirees and veterans within 180 days of separation from active service.
Deals: There are few incentives for those hunting for the most popular models among military buyers.
Buyers with good credit — typically a rating of better than 700 — can get 0.9 percent financing for all 2015 Civic and Accord coupe and sedan models.
For those looking to pay less monthly and spread their payments out a little longer, those same two Civic models also are available at 1.9 percent financing over 72 months
There are no financing offers for any of the hybrid models or incoming 2016 models.
And the best deal you'll be able to get on a CR-V is a lease special for the two-wheel-drive CVT model at $209 per month, for 36 months, with $1,999 due at signing.
Military discount: Hyundai offers a $500 discount for all current and former service members and their spouses for some new 2014 models, and all 2015 and 2016 models.
The deal is particularly sweet for veterans, says David Koch, a Hyundai salesman in Tacoma, Washington. He explains that while most manufacturers cap the military discount for veterans at six months to a year after leaving active service, Hyundai makes it good no matter how long it's been since you or your spouse wore the uniform.
But take note: That discount offer is slated to expire on Jan. 4.
Hyundai also offers up to $1,000 towards adaptive equipment and installation costs.
Deals: The 2015 Sonata SEs currently get a $1,500 rebate. All other 2015 Sonata models get $3,000 off, says Koch, the son of a soldier who grew up on 12 different military bases through his childhood.
The 2016 Sonata hybrid models are $1,000 off.
Hyundai also offers up to $500 in matching down payment cash and gives $500 to $1,500 in Valued Owner Coupon rebates for previous Hyundai owners, depending on the model you're currently driving.
Recent or soon-to-be college graduates get $400 applied toward the down payment on new car purchases.
Hyundai also is offering zero percent financing on the 2015 and 2016 models over 60 months, for those with a credit rating of about 700 and up.
"But we can often get someone in with a 660 score," says Koch.
Hyundai also has 1.9 percent loans available over 72 months.
Military discount: Jeep offers a $500 military discount on all its vehicles.
For troops stationed overseas, it also has special pricing through its Military AutoSource program.
Up to $1,000 is available for adaptive upgrades for disabled drivers and passengers.
Deals: If you're set on getting a Wrangler, you'll have to settle for just the military discount.
"For Jeep Wranglers, there are actually no discounts or rebates available at all right now, except for the military," says Cody Watts, the Wrangler sales specialist at the West Hill Jeep dealership in Bremerton.
"They put rebates on cars they have trouble selling, and Wranglers have no problems at all."
There are other ways to save money, though.
Among them: If you're thinking about the Rubicon, Watts suggests you think again.
"The Rubicon is for the extreme off-road enthusiast," he says. "If you're not going to be doing any really aggressive rock crawling — or stump jumping as we like to call it here in the Pacific Northwest — you're literally wasting thousands of dollars."
He recommends the entry-level Wrangler Sport for most off-roaders.
Even with its stock street tires, the Sport "will still take most people way out of their comfort zone" when it comes to off-roading.
The middle-model Wrangler Sahara, with its painted fenders, should be considered more of a commuter vehicle, he says.