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When is the Best Time to Buy a Car?

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A new car is a major investment. So every bit of savings you get can really add up when it comes to your final purchase price. And when you have the flexibility to choose when to buy your car, you can cash in with some incredible deals.

Face it: When you buy your car matters. In this post, we’ll look at statistically proven times of the year that you can save thousands on a new car, some days you should steer clear of the dealership, and how you can maximize your savings once you’re ready to purchase a brand new vehicle on that magic day.

So, let’s dive in and uncover the best time to buy a car.

The best time and day to buy a car

Morning or evening? It’s true that there’s some anecdotal evidence that supports buying a car near closing time. The theory is that showing up late in the day will land you a better deal, since your dealer is anxious to close up shop. But the discount you get – if any – depends entirely on whether your salesperson’s desire to get home quickly actually outweighs his willingness to stick around for an extra hour or two.

On the other hand, you can find solid statistics on which days of the week turn up the most savings. TrueCar data from 2015 shows that weekdays, on average, offer savings of 0.3 percent to 0.6 percent more off the MSRP than do Saturdays and Sundays.

Plus, the time and day you walk in the door can make a big difference in terms of the speed of your transaction and the service you get. “If you come early in the morning mid-week,” says Ron Montoya, senior consumer advice editor at Edmunds, “you’re going to get more attention from the salesperson.”

The best time of the month to buy a car

In most cases, your dealer will have an end-of-month sales quota to meet. So if the end of the month is rolling around, he may be willing to deal if a sale could get push him over the goal line.

“Dealerships want to make their sales goals for the end of the month, so they might be a little bit more aggressive with deals,” shares Montoya. “But sometimes they’ve already met their sales goals.” He notes that you can feel your salesperson out and see if he seems unresponsive to your negotiation at month’s end.

The best time of year to buy a car

If you’re serious about savings and you’re willing to wait, the end of the year typically offers the very best deals on a new car. Why? Because the year end has a number of factors that all work in your favor.

First, the end of the calendar year typically coincides with the end of a vehicle’s model year. So, if you’re willing to pick up the outgoing model instead of the newest one, a dealer may be more than willing to hand it off to you for less. In fact, by November and December, more vehicles for the new model year are sold than those for the outgoing year. As a result, Edmunds data from 2012 through 2016 shows that, on average, December yields the best discounts of the year (with an average 6.1 percent discount off the MSRP), followed by November (6.0 percent off MSRP), and October (5.9 percent off the MSRP).

Average Discount off MSRP by Month of Sale

Data from 2011 – 2016 car sales (courtesy of Edmunds)

Second, if you stop in at the very end of the year, you may also enjoy the combined benefit of end-of-month and year-end sales quotas. “During the end of the year, the auto makers want to close out their sales year and sell the most vehicles they possibly can,” shares Montoya.

Third, by the fall, your dealer is typically swamped with too much inventory as a result of the changing model years. Edmunds data further reveals that inventory is, on average, higher in the final three months of the year than in any other months. As a result, dealers are looking to move last year’s models and make room for newer cars.

Still, says, Montoya, “It’s a bit of a tradeoff. At the end of the year, you may not have the same level of selection. Do you want the newest styles and newest features of vehicles or do you want a great deal? If you want a particular color and you’re very set on it, don’t sit on it too much.”

Other good times to buy a car

Besides end-of-month and end-of-year deals, there are some other special times to remember if you’re hoping for incredible savings on your brand-new car.

A few excellent times to shop for deals include the following:

  • The end of the car’s model year: Keep in mind that your car’s production year may not necessarily wrap up at the end of the calendar year. Montoya states that deals on the outgoing model can typically be found any time a car is remodeled or refreshed.
  • Whenever there’s a rebate up for grabs: Dealers typically put a rebate offer on the table when they’re looking to unload excess inventory.
  • Over three-day holiday weekends: Look for special sales around Memorial Day, Labor Day, President’s Day, and other Monday holidays.
  • Black Friday: Not just a day to save at the department store, Black Friday has the added benefit of landing in the year-end discount period. And it could garner you some end-of-month savings as well.
  • New Year’s Eve: In addition to being a holiday, New Year’s Eve is your dealer’s last chance to meet December’s and the year’s sales quota.
  • New Year’s Day: While most people are staying warm inside and recovering from their New Year’s Eve party, TrueCar reports the highest single-day savings (8.5 percent off MSRP) occur on January 1st.

Of course, big sales days can bring big crowds, so do as much legwork as you can before your purchase day actually arrives.

“Start doing your research during the week,” advises Montoya. “Test drive the older and newer model years to see which your prefer. Make up your mind. Then just close the deal over the holiday weekend.”

The worst time to buy a car

Now that we’ve covered the best time to buy a car, what’s the worst time to land big savings on a new car? When that vehicle has just recently started coming off the production line. “You’re not going to find as many discounts on a brand-new model year,” says Montoya. “If you wait for four or five months, you can get a much better deal on it.”

Other times to avoid the dealership (if you can wait) include

  • The spring: In general, the new model year is just getting going, and people are looking to spend their tax refunds on a new ride in the warmer weather.
  • The beginning of the month: Remember that the end of the month can secure you some extra savings if your dealer needs to catch up quickly to meet his monthly sales quota. But at the start of the next month, he’s got no such incentive with 30 days of sales ahead of him.
  • When your credit is suffering: If you can take some extra time to pay off debt, reduce your spending, and clear up any credit issues, you’ll be in a much better position for financing your new car.

Montoya’s secret for avoiding mark-ups? “When vehicles have been redesigned, that’s not the best price you’re going to get on it,” he shares. “If you look at the one that it’s replacing, you’re going to get a much better deal.”

Tips to ensure you’re getting the very best deal

It’s the big day! You’re off to the dealership.

“But you want to feel completely prepared and confident with your purchase,” says Lindsey Duke, a CarMax spokesperson. So how can you make sure that you’re getting the best deal and the easiest purchase experience?

  1. Consider the costs. When setting your new-car budget, don’t just think about the purchase price. Weigh the costs of financing, gas, insurance, registration, and maintenance. Try LendingTree’s Auto Loan Calculator to calculate how much your monthly car payments will be.
  2. Do your research in advance. Before you set foot in store, assess your vehicle needs, read up on expert reviews, and check safety and usability tests on your favorite cars.
  3. Track down the exact car. Call dealers or check online to locate the precise make, model, and color you’re looking for in a new vehicle. Then schedule your test drive.
  4. Take care of all your test drives. If you’re test driving more than one car, schedule everything around the same time. That way, you can compare each vehicle while they’re fresh in your mind.
  5. Get a sense of the local market. Scope out sales, incentives, and rebates. And use a site like TrueCar or Carmax to find out a reasonable price for the exact car you’re considering.
  6. Secure some firm quotes. Nail down a handful of quotes online, over the phone, or in person at a dealership. “Call and ask for the internet and sales manager,” recommends Montoya. “Get about three prices. If one dealership has a better price, you can either take it or use the price as leverage in negotiations.
  7. Get prequalified before you head to the dealership. “Sometimes people show up at the dealership, they see their dream car, and then they’re disappointed when they go to sign up for financing,” says Duke. So review auto loan options at your bank and online and get pre-approved before accepting the dealer’s offer. MagnifyMoney lists the best auto loans for 2018. MagnifyMoney is owned by LendingTree.
  8. Prepare for a trade-in. “Know what your existing car is worth,” says Duke. If you’re unloading your old car, make sure you’re getting its value before you sign on the dotted line.
  9. Review all your paperwork. Read over your contract, confirm your insurance coverage, study your financing agreement, and double-check that you’ve gotten the deal you negotiated so carefully.

In the market for a new car? If you have even a little bit of wiggle room in terms of when you make that big purchase, you’re in a position to use the calendar to your advantage. With an eye out for those special times of year in the auto sales industry, you can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars off your car’s price tag. And, with a bit of extra attention, you can ensure that you maximize your savings and buy your new car with confidence.


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