Is there a certain season, month, or even a specific day that’s best for buying a car? Research has proven that the timing of your car purchase can indeed make a meaningful difference in how much you shell out for your new ride – whether it’s a new or a used car. Here’s how to leverage the calendar to your advantage and when you should (and shouldn’t) purchase a new vehicle.
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Overall best time to buy: End of the year
Dealers typically offer the best incentives and deals at the end of a calendar year. One reason is that they want to end the year on a high note with strong sales. Dealerships and automakers will also be looking to get rid of older car models to free up space for incoming inventory. As a result, dealers will often cut their losses and offer the lowest prices of the year.
If you’re willing to brave the cold and hit the dealership on a holiday weekend, the absolute best time to shop for a car would be the last two days of the year: December 30th and 31st. However, there are plenty of other timing hacks to use if you need to buy a car before the end of the year. A vehicle’s model year and life cycle are other factors that are independent of the calendar year, which can guide your timing as well.
Buy a used car versus a new car
It is in best practice to apply many of the same rules with timing to purchasing a used car. One of the few exceptions is to avoid holiday weekends or sales events. This is due to the fact that the dealership staff will more than likely be busy dealing with new car customers who have been drawn in by advertised deals.
October through December remain peak months for purchasing a used car because they coincide with the new car buying season. And often, new car buyers have trade-ins that they use as a bargaining chip as part of their new car purchase. In turn, this leads to a bigger and better selection of available used cars at more affordable prices.
Best month to buy a car: October – December
Typically, October through December offer the best deals on buying a car. New models are going to be introduced in the upcoming year so discounts improve the closer it gets to the end of the calendar year. The later you wait, the better the price you’ll usually get.
Comparatively, the earlier months (January through April) offer the least amount of incentives and discounts. February has the smallest amount of MSRP discounts on average.
U.S. Holidays with the best auto deals
Car dealerships almost always have some sort of deal during a holiday weekend — some with steeper rebates than others. Ideally, you’ll have done all prior research, including test-driving your preferred car, before the holiday, so you can close the deal on that weekend or that first weekday afterward.
Presidents Day used to mark the beginning of the spring sales season and manufacturers offered competitive incentives. Now, you can still find deals, but they aren’t as widespread or as enticing as they used to be and will likely be limited to specific makes and models that manufacturers want to clear out.
Memorial Day promotions kick off the summer shopping spree. Dealers offering discounts because the next year’s car models will begin debuting around mid-year. These deals are usually in the form of special interest rates or loan terms, rather than lowering the sticker price.
There’s usually a mix of incoming and outgoing models of cars available around the fourth of July making it one of the best times to buy in terms of selection. If you are unsure whether the current or the incoming year’s vehicle model is for you, this is the perfect time for comparison shopping. Price-wise, you may find up to 10% off MSRP on certain models.
Labor Day is widely considered one of the best times of the year to buy a car because there’s a great selection of vehicles and manufacturers tend to offer great incentives. The deals won’t be as good as if you waited until the end of the year (few holiday deals are), but if you have your heart set on a specific and don’t want to risk it being sold out before the end of the year, this is a good time of year to buy.
Many vehicle manufacturers have begun offering deals on the entirety of November, not just Black Friday. While you may not see the same blockbuster deals of retail items, dealerships may offer incentives like low-interest or cash-back offers, or even free TVs! This is in addition to end-of-the-year discounts of vehicles that may have already been marked down.
New Year’s Eve
You’re most likely to get the best possible deal on the car you want if you can stave off purchasing a car until the day of New Year’s Eve. Salespeople have monthly, quarterly, or even annual quotas to fill, the final day of the year is their final opportunity to meet their sales goals which could earn them a substantial bonus. As such, try ending the year on a dealer’s lot with a deal for a new car that’s worth celebrating!
How to time your car purchase
Timing matters. Regardless of the actual month or time of year when your car is purchased, going at the beginning or end of the month (or week) can make a big difference in your likelihood to get a good deal. So can the specific day of the week.
Going at the end of the month, during the week (not the weekend), and avoiding holiday crowds is going to give you the most advantages when buying a car.
End of the month
End-of-the-month sales goals are a great means for taking advantage of car dealerships. Salespeople and dealerships usually have monthly and quarterly quotas that are tied to nice bonuses. Therefore, a salesperson with an unmet monthly quota is a lot more likely to offer discounts. They’ll have much more incentive to involve their managers to cut a better deal on pricing.
During the week
A common misconception is that the ideal timing for buying a car is on the busiest day of the week (a.k.a. weekends). This stems from the belief that a busy dealership will result in a salesperson attempting to strike a deal as quickly as possible so they can move on to the next customer.
But having a busy salesperson is more likely to work against you, rather than in your favor. Not only will you have to compete for their attention, but the presence of so many other potential buyers may disincentivize them from offering any deals.
Instead, it’s generally better to go shopping for a car earlier in the week when the dealership is calmer and less busy. You’re much more likely to have your salesperson’s undivided attention, which in turn will allow for more time to negotiate — an opportunity you might not have been given the same opportunity on a busy day.
If you haven’t already been pre-approved for an auto loan, an added benefit of going early in the week is that lenders tend to only be open on weekdays. You’ll be able to speak with local lenders in the morning and take it to the dealership to compare offers. Otherwise, you are at the mercy of the salesperson’s word that they are giving you the best possible deal.
Other ways to time your car purchase
End of model year
Dealers will need to make room for the newel vehicle models. December is generally a good time to buy an outgoing model of a car since you’re likely to get generous incentives like 0% interest or cash back.
The primary drawback is that your car will essentially be a year old the moment you drive it off the lot which may hurt the resale value of the car. Of course, cars depreciate the minute you drive them off the lot, so even the latest model will lose value quickly. There are rare instances when an incoming model year offers better incentives than the outgoing model, but it usually only happens when leasing a vehicle, rather than buying one.
End of the car’s design cycle
Cars are usually fully redesigned every five years or so, getting updates to both internal and external components. This is known as the model design cycle. When it occurs, dealers are always eager to clear out the old and make room for the latest and greatest on their lots. Automakers too, tend to promote low-priced car lease deals, financing options, and cash-back incentives before the new model’s impending arrival.
Before purchasing a vehicle, consider if that model is due for a redesign before purchasing. Waiting until the new, redesigned models have arrived could mean even greater savings than simply just buying an older model.
End of the car’s life cycle
A car’s life cycle ends when an automaker decides to entirely stop building that model of car. These discontinued cars will likely have the steepest discounts both from the dealer’s eagerness to sell as well as the natural price depreciation.
This depreciation is great for buyers, but not so good for leasers since this vehicle won’t retain high residual value. If you are planning on long-term ownership, depreciation may be of little concern.
Another important factor to consider is why the vehicle model is being discontinued. If it is a matter of changing styles, then that is of little importance if the outgoing model still suits your taste. But if the change is a result of poor performance or reliability, you may want to consider other options despite the low price tag.
The all-time best time to buy a car is…
No matter what time of year you end up purchasing a car, the best time to buy a car and ensure you get a good deal is to shop around before you need one. Waiting until your current vehicle is no longer running means that you’ll have less time to research and negotiate – putting you, the buyer, at a hefty disadvantage. A salesperson may also be less likely to give you a deal on a car because you’ll have less leverage since they’ll know you really need that vehicle.
Starting the car-buying process before you truly need a new car has other advantages too. With no time crunch, you can take your time to shop around and get preapproved for an auto loan. This will give you a better idea of what you can afford so you don’t waste your time at a dealership and potentially give you more negotiation leverage when discussing financing with the dealer.
It’s strongly recommended to get a pre-approved loan in place before heading to a dealer so that you are prepared with a pre-planned budget and cannot be tempted by the tactics of an experienced salesperson.
Article last modified on July 13, 2023. Published by Debt.com, LLC