If you believe the car ads, “There's no better time to buy than NOW!” And while that bit of theatrics is intended to elicit a sense of urgency in a shopper, there’s something to be said for the element of timing. There certainly are times of the year – and even specific months or days – that are better for buying a car than others.
Automakers and dealers provide financing, cash-back, and leasing incentive offers every month. Sometimes these offers stay nearly the same year-round, but others fluctuate far more – thus putting the emphasis on timing. These changes are a result of changing inventory, model-year changeover, even financial market forces.
Using U.S. News & World Report’s Best Price Program, as well as other outside studies, we have been able to determine some of the best times to buy. But just remember, these times aren’t convenient for every shopper, and you may need a vehicle right now, which brings us to our first point.
Before You Need to Buy a New Car
If your daily driver is on its last legs, there’s no value in waiting several months for deals to pop up. If you wait months, your car could be in such poor shape that when you decide to buy, you’ll lose any advantage in negotiation. If your car is functioning and running well, you are in a far better position to work with a dealer than if your other option to buying a car was walking to work.
Even if your next purchase is quite a ways off, start test driving cars now. A year or so out from picking up a new vehicle will provide you with a no-pressure timeframe to test drive and learn about the cars you’re considering. It will also help you become comfortable with walking away from a sales pitch if you don’t like how the process is going. This is the shopper’s strongest tool in getting a deal.
There are more than a few myths about car buying. Some of the more popular ones suggest that you can score a deal by going into a showroom on a busy weekend, or right before they are about to close – but the data says otherwise. These kinds of tactics don’t offer any advantage, and they could put you under the same pressure as the salesperson to get a deal done.
A 2016 study from TrueCar found that shopping on a weekday will offer a better chance of getting a deal, with average savings hovering around 8%. Shoppers that buy a car on Monday have saved as much as 8.1%, which is the best average savings among all days of the week.
The thinking behind this is that Mondays are not as busy, and a salesperson might have more time to negotiate. If you come prepared and ready to negotiate, that added time is on your side. Most lenders are also open and ready for your business on a Monday. If a dealer (or lender) had a big weekend of sales, they might be more in the mood to haggle on the price of a single car.
The Month of May
Here’s another old myth: “Springtime is a bad time to buy a car.” The rationale behind this bit of car-buying folklore is that everyone who has been cooped up for winter is now finally out of the house again, and they’re looking to make the purchase that they didn’t want to venture out for in the cold of winter.
This logic falls short the moment you consider Memorial Day weekend and all of the promotions associated with it. Automakers and dealers lay out big incentives during this holiday, and often the days before and after it. So, if you wait until the end of May, you can take advantage of some great deals.
May is also a big month for SUVs – perhaps because all that snow is still fresh on the minds of shoppers. Manufacturers actually compete for business, and will offer incentives on midsize SUVs like the Nissan Murano.
The Month of October
The new year may start January 1, but for automakers, the new model year starts months before that. Not every car has the same year-to-year changeover date, and some go on sale as early as the previous summer while being sold alongside the old model until. It’s these outgoing vehicles that may be promoted with aggressive incentives, so as to make room for new inventory.
For example, the Subaru Outback was completely redesigned for the 2020 model year, with an all-new touch screen setup and more. But, if you could live with the existing technology in the quite-capable 2019 Outback, dealers were likely willing to cut a good deal on one of those outgoing models back in late 2019.
Finally, many automakers and dealers have big promotional events surrounding Columbus Day weekend and Halloween. Whenever there is a holiday, check to see what the incentives are. You never know: a dealer might even do a promotion like “Don’t Get Scared of These Groundhog Day Deals!”
The Month of November
Have you been paying attention to what we’ve been saying about holidays? Well, November has the biggest shopping holiday of them all, Black Friday. Dealers have gotten in on the madness, and have turned the day into a week-long event with plenty of offers to be had.
Again, like October, think about outgoing vehicles that are about to be replaced with a newer car or are being sold alongside a newer car. It is important to remember that unless you can find a truly solid deal, avoid SUVs and crossovers this time of year. Or, at least be realistic about the fact that it is winter, and everyone else under the snowfall is thinking about traction and ground clearance.
For example, the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon are both being replaced for the 2021 model year. The current platform used by these SUVs has been in production for a while. For this reason, these big V8 family haulers may be a candidate for a deal due to their age – regardless of the time of year.
The Month of December
While model years for new cars vary based on when the car is ready for production, the dealers themselves are closely tied to the calendar year. As December rolls around, some dealers may start sweating their annual sales goals. If it doesn’t look like they’ll meet those numbers, you may be able to play this for a great deal.
If a dealer can hit annual sales goals, there may be a bonus in play for them. This makes it very attractive for them to let a car roll off the lot with very favorable terms for the shopper.
Finally, what was said about October and November also rings true for December, and that’s the need to move old inventory. Any car from the outgoing model year that has not been sold by now could be burning a hole in the dealer lot. You might not get a giant red bow on the roof, but you could get a great deal.
New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day
According to TrueCar, the average consumer could save 8.5% on New Year’s Eve, and 8.3% on New Year’s Day, so maybe save the champagne and noisemakers for another night.
The reasoning for this is the way automakers and dealers work with the calendar. If the end of the month falls on a holiday or weekend (like is always the case with New Year’s), the next sales month doesn’t actually start until the next working day. It’s why some incentive offers say in the fine print that an offer expires on January 3 rather than January 1.
This means that everything said about December applies to New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, and even more so, as these are the final hours of a salesperson’s year to hit those goals.
Live in the Moment: Go When There are Incentives
As much as it might pain you to miss out on a deal, it will be far more painful if your car has broken down because you were holding out several months for a potential deal. There are incentives year-round, especially now, and the best way to maintain the leverage in a negotiation with a salesperson is if you can easily walk away. You can’t do that if you took an Uber to the dealership.
So, think about that new car before you need it, start your research early, and keep an eye on deals month-to-month. Check our deals pages and articles “early and often,” and you might find a deal on the car you’ve been looking for – even if it was before you seriously needed a new car.
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