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People are always looking for a way to game the system and save money on major purchases. Much of this thinking revolves around zeroing in on the best time to buy a particular item. Need a new TV? Shop on Black Friday or around the Super Bowl. Flying somewhere? Buy your plane ticket on a Tuesday and fly out on a Wednesday.
It’s no different for cars. Ask anyone, “When is the best time to buy a car?” and you’ll get answers ranging from the end of the month to “wait until the new models come out.” There are as many theories on this topic as there are days in the year. And, oddly enough, there is a grain of truth in many of them.
Simply put, here’s our advice: The best time to buy a car is when you need it and feel ready to buy, regardless of the time of year. Car buying can be stressful, and it can take more than a month to go from deciding what to buy to actually closing the deal. Why add to that pressure by trying to squeeze your shopping into the last day of the month or a holiday weekend when everyone has the same idea?
But if you’re a shopper who really wants to home in on the very best time to buy, let’s look at your options.
When the month is coming to an end, dealers might be a few cars short of a sales quota that would win them a big bonus. Salespeople will have more motivation to make a deal with a buyer and might deeply discount cars, making up any money lost with the bonus. This is the time when you shouldn’t sleep on the car deal. Keep in mind, however, that if the sales team met its quota earlier that month, salespeople may not be as motivated to give you the screaming deal you might be expecting. This is difficult to know ahead of time, but if you’re in the midst of negotiating and the dealer offers you a super-low price, take a moment to ask your salesperson why the dealer is willing to potentially lose money on this sale. If the reason makes sense to you, and the price is considerably better than your research says it should be, it could be a sign the dealer is trying to make a sales goal.
If you’re feeling nervous about buying in a short end-of-month timeframe, test-drive the car in which you’re interested earlier in the month and close the deal as the end of the month approaches. Also, many new-car incentive offers are good for a few days after the month ends, which gives you a bit of a buffer.
If your primary objective is to buy or lease a new car at the best price possible, Edmunds data indicates that December’s year-end sales events will give you a “perfect storm” of savings.
You should look for a vehicle from the outgoing model year that has generous incentives. According to Edmunds data, December has the year’s highest discount off MSRP (6.1 percent on average) and the highest incentives. In recent years, it also has had the largest inventories, with more vehicles from the outgoing model year on dealer lots. Automakers and dealerships want to close the year with strong sales. They also want to get rid of the prior model-year cars that are taking up space, so they’re motivated.
Each manufacturer handles the “sell-down” differently, so some car dealerships will have a better selection of outgoing year vehicles late in the year, while the pickings may be slim at others. Be sure to check Edmunds’ Incentives & Rebates for customer cash rebates, low interest incentives and lease specials.
While the data shows that December is the best time of the year to buy, there are also a few other viable months. In other words, if you need a car in January, there’s no need wait 11 months to get a good deal.
The discounts on new cars typically follow a trend that coincides with the introduction of new models. In general, the more new cars there are coexisting with old models, the better the savings.
Least Discounted Months
Better Discounted Months
Most Discounted Months
January through April are generally slow selling months and have the smallest discounts off MSRP. In fact, the month with the smallest amount off MSRP is February, with an average discount of 5.7 percent. Things get better in the summer months: The introduction of new cars drives down prices on the outgoing models. And finally, the discounts improve the most the closer you get to the end of the year.
If you need a car in October and want to get the best deal, you might want to wait until December, even though you’ll run the risk of having fewer cars to choose from. This will give you additional time to do more research on the right car for you. You’ll also be able to get more price quotes.
Early in the Week: This tip is more about the level of attention you can expect from a salesperson than about getting a killer deal. Weekends are typically the busiest time at a dealership. The salesperson might be juggling multiple customers, and the finance office is likely to be a bottleneck. If you show up on a Monday or Tuesday, however, there will be less foot traffic. You can ask plenty of questions and the transaction should take far less time. In some parts of the country, however, dealerships are closed on Sundays. And as a result, Monday is a pretty busy day of the week. If that’s the case for you, go on a Tuesday or Wednesday.
All the new model-year cars used to debut in the fall, making the end of summer a good time to shop for leftovers. These days, however, there is no unified new model-year season. For example, we see cars from the upcoming model year debuting as early as March of the current calendar year. Nevertheless, Edmunds data indicates that the end of the summer still is a sweet spot for outgoing model-year vehicles.
“August and September are when we generally see automakers make the most decided transition into the new models,” said Edmunds senior analyst Jeremy Acevedo. “These summer months correspond with a bump in incentives, particularly low APR financing on the outgoing model year vehicles.”
Something to note: It’s worth looking at the incoming model-year cars to see what features have changed and to get a feel for pricing. It’s rare, but there have been instances when a car from the incoming model year has had better incentives than a car from the outgoing model year, particularly if you’re looking to lease.
This happens when the manufacturer is going to continue making a certain car model but is about to completely redesign it. You can see some serious savings on the outgoing design. True, you are buying a car without the latest styling or technology, but if you’re more bargain hunter than trendsetter, this might not matter to you.
Sometimes the manufacturer announces that it will stop making a car altogether. There’s potential in this situation for even bigger savings. You should know that the car will depreciate steeply if it’s being discontinued, but if you plan on keeping it for a while, it won’t affect you. It’s also worth looking into why the automaker pulled the plug on a given vehicle. Is it a matter of changing tastes, or was the car truly bad in terms of performance or reliability? In recent years for example, SUVs have surged in popularity and Ford has since discontinued many of its sedans. Going further back, vehicles such as the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet, never really found an audience and the Pontiac Aztek had a face only Walter White could love.
It’s hard to miss the inflatable eagles, gorillas and wacky waving tube men that dot car lots, to say nothing of ads that promise “rock-bottom” prices. Does a “Star-Spangled Sale-a-Bration” mean savings for you? It can, but be prepared for a busier-than-normal showroom. Ideally, you want to do your research and test-drive before the holiday and close the deal on the weekend. Or, better yet, sew up the deal on the first weekday after the weekend. Here’s a deeper dive into shopping on a holiday weekend. And here is a list of the three-day holiday weekends, along with a brief rating of each:
It’s the biggest retail shopping day in the U.S. And people have been known to camp out hours for deals on big-screen TVs and other electronics. The same shopping fervor happens on car lots after Thanksgiving. In recent years, automakers and dealers have been offering more incentives, discounts and “doorbusters” as a means of capturing some of that retail excitement. Black Friday also signals the end of the model year, so you’ll see greater discounts on outgoing models.
If you want to shop on Black Friday, you’ll need to do some pre-Thanksgiving planning, such as getting a value on your trade-in, getting preapproved for an auto loan from your bank or credit union, and taking some test drives. Also, make sure you read the fine print on any Black Friday deal ads that seem too good to be true. If you’re willing to brave the crowds, here are more tips for car shopping on Black Friday.
New car models used to debut in the fall. But these days, there is no single time of year. Vehicles for the next model year can debut as early as the spring of the current year. And some cars don’t debut until the spring or summer of their model year. In other words, you’ll see some 2020 vehicles for sale as early as the spring of 2019. Some 2020 models won’t show up in dealerships until halfway through 2020.