How to Buy a Car
The word “best” can be open to a bit of interpretation, particularly when it comes to times to buy a new car. A lot of factors can interact, and it can happen that most of them – or even all of them – will fall into place at the same time. The next thing you know, you're walking out of a dealership with nice, new keys in hand and getting behind the wheel of your dream car – without breaking the bank.
The best time to buy a new vehicle isn’t necessarily just a single date, week or month. It’s a matter of factors and stars aligning to pinpoint where circumstances are likely to converge and when. Figuring this out ahead of time can require a little research.
Why Some Times Are Better Than Others
Car Dealers are just like any other business. Their goal is to make money, so your goal of getting a good deal on a new car should be to pinpoint a time when the dealer probably isn't raking in a lot of dollars for one reason or another. They need to sell you a car to make their sales targets more than they did last week or will next month, so they’re often more flexible about working with you and willing to offer incentives.
Here’s where research comes in. It can help if you know what type of car you want to purchase, and to have an idea of what that vehicle is currently selling for. Don't neglect to include options packages, if possible. You should easily be able to hunt up the information online or make a few phone calls to dealerships. A dealer who's offering your dream car for $35,000 isn’t giving you a deal if the car generally sells for around $35,000 in your area.
And as for those must-sell-a-car dates when dealerships are particularly hungry, they’re often easy to identify. Look for times of heavy advertising and giant red flags flying in front of the dealership, trying to catch the attention of drivers motoring by. Be alert for key phrases, such as “cash rebates.” They’re a pretty good sign that the dealer is at least temporarily desperate to move cars off its lot.
Read More: What Does Cash Back Mean at a Dealership?
The Best Day of the Week
So when are those commercials likely to start hitting the airwaves and when do those flags begin flying? It’s most likely not going to happen on a weekly basis, but that doesn’t mean you can’t close a sweeter-than-average deal by narrowing down your efforts to one day: Monday. Tuesday might work, too, in a pinch.
You might have to call out of work, but a significant percentage of other potential car buyers probably aren’t going to be doing that – including the salespersons at the dealership. They’re most likely coming off the high of many weekend sales when most consumers are likely to shop. The showroom is so empty it echoes. You’ll have their undivided attention, so they might be more open to negotiating a deal with you.
In fact, more than one salesperson might beeline in your direction when you arrive, trying to engage you first. And they might be more likely to throw a few extras into your deal because there aren’t six other customers waiting in line behind you. Those extras and incentives might be the difference between getting you to agree to a sale or not selling a car that day at all.
There’s one caveat here: Some states don’t allow auto dealerships to open for business on Sundays. Tuesday might be your best shot if you’re shopping in an area that confines car-buying weekends to one day. Mondays could catch some spillover buyers in this case.
The Best Week of the Month
If Monday is good, a Monday at the tail end of the month might be even better. Just as auto dealerships need to sell cars to stay in business, salespersons need their sales bonuses to help them pay their own bills. Many dealerships offer their employees monthly bonuses based on the volume of their sales, and some actually require that their salespeople sell a certain quota each month just to keep their jobs.
You should have a shot at nailing down a good deal and a sweet discount if the salesperson is one or two sales short of quota during the last week of the month and the clock is ticking down when you walk into the showroom.
This is where it can help to know how much that car you want typically sells for. It’s a sign that the salesperson has probably already met their quota if they begin negotiations at this price or even higher. It might pay to move on to a different dealership if this happens.
The Best Months of the Year
The end of the year is usually considered to be a pretty good time to buy a new car. Think October, November and December, and December is probably the best. You’ll know it’s time when dealerships begin advertising their “year-end sales events.” Edmunds indicates that you might want to be patient and wait a while, if possible, if you get the urge to buy a new car at some point from January through April, although the summer months aren’t particularly terrible.
Sales quotas begin to come into play again at the end of the year. Salespersons are under some pressure to wrap the year up on a high note and meet annual quotas, not to mention the fact that they’re probably going to be doing a lot of personal holiday spending themselves so they’ll want a little extra income – read commissions here – to help with that. Another factor contributes during this time of year as well. The dealership itself wants to begin the new year with the newest models on their showroom floors. Cars from the old model year that have been sitting there since August must go. Out with the old to make way for cars from the new model year.
The downside to this approach is that there’s probably a reason that car has been sitting ownerless since August. Maybe the color makes you groan a little. You might have to settle a bit in exchange for that great deal, and a lot of other car shoppers are probably operating on the same agenda so available stock at the end of December might be a little picked over.
Read More: What Is the Best Month to Buy a Car?
The Best Holidays
There’s almost no such thing as a bad holiday when it comes to car shopping. Auto dealerships seize the opportunity to pitch discounts at these times of year.
Salespersons can reach a desperation point by New Year’s Eve – the last day of the month and the last day of the year – if they haven’t yet met their quotas or goals. You might want to consider setting aside that bubbly as the clock ticks down toward midnight and going car shopping instead. In fact, New Year’s Eve is considered by many in the industry to be the very best day to buy a car all year.
The same factors that make Mondays and Tuesdays good days for buying cars can contribute to Christmas Eve as well. You might have the dealership’s entire staff at your disposal, eager to make you a deal because so few others are out there car shopping.
Dealerships also love Memorial Day. In fact, you’ll probably encounter a good many sales events during any long, three-day weekend, including President’s Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day. President’s Day comes in at the end of the list, however, because it’s in February, a month during which discounts tend to really bottom out.
Then there’s Black Friday, the shopper’s holiday. That salesperson who’s negotiating on a new car with you probably has their own holiday shopping looming on the horizon as well, so they’re more amenable to pushing sales through. This event also coincides with that end-of-year countdown and those vehicles that have been languishing on lots since summer.
Other Timing Considerations
Ideally, all these factors will dovetail on the calendar for you, as they do on New Year’s Eve. But other considerations can add to the equation as well, and they’re not always tied to an easily identified and specific date.
Auto manufacturers officially begin offering new versions of their cars – and sometimes even entirely new models – to dealerships at the end of the model year. This usually occurs sometime in autumn, but not always. It's one of the factors that earmarks October, November and December for good deals because car dealerships want to make room for them.
October might be a good time to buy if the model year is expected to wrap up in November, but December might be a wash if it happened in November unless the dealer still has a relative glut of older models available. And, of course, your “new” car is going to be a year old in a matter of weeks or even days when the new models roll out.
There’s no carved-in-granite date when new models will arrive across all manufacturers. It’s even been known to happen in the spring on an isolated basis, and summer isn’t out of the question, either. But it’s relatively easy to zero in on when it’s about to occur.
Keep an eye out online and in print publications for reviews of the newly-arriving models. This is a good sign that they’re going to be hitting the dealerships soon, so dealers are starting to feel nervous about moving out their older inventory. They’ll likely be more generous with their incentives to prompt you into buying both last year’s models and the new ones that are about to begin rolling off the assembly lines. Edmunds indicates that the best time to shop is when lots are overloaded with both new and older models.
Read More: Leasing a Car vs. Buying a Car
Redesigned and Retired Models
News of radically redesigned models is something else you’ll want to be alert for when you’re looking at those reviews. It sometimes happens that manufacturers will give a certain model a serious overhaul with numerous new features and a new design. This can prompt deep discounts on the previous year’s model, particularly if the redesign occurred because the older model just wasn’t popular or selling. Yes, you’ll be buying a “dated” vehicle that not many other consumers wanted, but that might not bother you if you’re set on nailing down the very best deal available on a new car.
And you’ll most likely get an off-the-charts discount if a model is being retired entirely – it's not going to be manufactured any longer. But it’s said that for everything you get, you must give up something, so expect some immediate and radical depreciation in your new car's value if you go this route. This shouldn’t be as big of a consideration if you’re planning to hold on to the car for a number of years, however.
Shopping for a Car in the Time of COVID-19
Finally, the national economy and historical events can also affect dealers’ willingness to negotiate and move mountains to sell their cars. The coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and 2021 has been a classic example.
You might have noticed that not many new models arrived on showroom floors in December 2020. The virus delayed the release of many new arrivals, pushing those end-of-year deals into the spring.
But 2020 proved to be a boon for car shoppers nonetheless. Sales plummeted in March and April when many auto dealerships were forced to temporarily close down. This prompted a wave of very nice incentives heading into summer, according to Consumer Reports, including offers of 0 percent financing and longer-than-usual loan terms of up to seven years – anything to get autos moving off their lots. Down payments have been deferred on some deals for several months. Cash-back offers have been extended as well.
Keep alert for these offers are to extend into 2021. Go online to the dealer’s website or the manufacturer’s website to find out what’s available.
Read More: Cheapest Way to Buy a Car
- Bankrate: When Is the Best Time to Buy a Car?
- Edmunds: When Is the Best Time to Buy a Car?
- Consumer Reports: Is Now the Right Time to Buy a Car?
- Consumer Reports: Now Might Be the Right Tie to Buy a New Car
- Allstate: When’s the Best Time of Year to Buy a Car?
- CARFAX: When Is the Best Time to Buy a Car?
- Autotrader: What Is the Best Time to Buy a Car?
- Car and Driver: When Is the Best Time to Buy a New Car or Truck?
Beverly Bird has been writing professionally for over 30 years. She is also a paralegal, specializing in areas of personal finance, bankruptcy and estate law. She writes as the tax expert for The Balance.