Buying a used car rather than a new one is a fantastic way to save money. To save the most money, you have to buy the right used car, make sure it is mechanically sound, and buy it at the right time.
When you choose the right day, month, or season to buy, you can minimize the amount you have to pay and potentially score a financing deal that will save you even more money over the life of your auto loan. The best times to buy a used car often, but not always, mirror the best times to buy a new car.
We’ve identified 10 of the best times to buy a used car on the following pages.
1) Before You Need One
It might sound obvious, but the best time to search for a great deal on a used car is before you really need one. At the very least, you’ll want to start researching your options early, so you’ll be prepared when the time comes to say farewell to your current ride.
If your current car is on its last legs or broken down in the driveway, the urgency to buy a replacement will likely overtake your ability to spend the time it takes to make a smart purchase. If it's not drivable, its resale value will take a huge hit when you try to sell it or trade it in.
Once you have found a model that fits your needs and budget in our used car rankings, you can start looking at affordable financing options, used car deals, and models that are available in your area.
2) Around Certain Holidays
The time around some holiday weekends provides excellent opportunities to buy used cars, for a few reasons. According to a 2016 study by iSeeCars.com, the best holidays to find a deal on a used car at a car dealer are Veteran’s Day, Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving), and Christmas Eve.
Save for the holidays mentioned above, avoid those holidays when families typically gather, such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Easter Sunday. Not only are dealers likely to be light on staff, but private sellers are more likely to be focused on family events, rather than selling the family car. Fewer sellers in the market on any given day typically means higher prices.
Because holiday weekends are popular times of the year to buy new cars, with generous incentives and big sales on car lots, there are loads of vehicles coming back to the dealers as trade-ins or lease returns. Private party sellers will also be trying to get rid of their old cars so they can take advantage of the deals.
In the days after a huge weekend sale, buyers will likely find car lots stuffed with vehicles awaiting refurbishment or shipping to auto auctions. Most dealers would prefer to sell those used cars to you, rather than at the deeply discounted price they're likely to get at an auction.
3) Toward the End of the Month, Quarter, or Year
Car salespeople and their dealerships will have sales quotas that they strive to hit each month, quarter, and calendar year. Buying a used car toward the end of those periods is an excellent way to get a deal. The end of the year is a particularly good time to buy.
As their compensation is often tied to meeting or exceeding a goal, salespeople are likely to work harder to make the sale. You may be able to get a larger discount on the car, a better deal on your car loan, or some extras (such as an extended warranty) thrown in.
In the week or so following the last day of the month, quarter, or year, there will likely be more used cars on dealership lots from trade-ins and lease returns. You want to try to hit the sweet spot between the big rush on new vehicles and the time dealers send their excess stock to auction.
4) On Good Weather Days
You know how a seller can hide dents, scratches, and other appearance defects on used cars? They can sell the vehicle on a rainy day when those issues are hard to see. Not only will you have to pay to repair them later, but they can reduce the car’s value.
Instead, you should buy your used car on a nice day, when you can do a full visual inspection of the exterior and interior of the vehicle, plus its tires, wheels, and glass. You'll be able to identify issues you can use to negotiate a better price for the car.
Nice days also bring out more private-party sellers, who may take more time to clean and polish the vehicles before putting them up for sale.
5) During the Off-Season
Another route to get a great deal is to zig while the market zags. Demand for convertibles in the Snowbelt, for example, is low during the winter, making it an excellent time to buy that used Mazda Miata you’ve had your eye on since last summer.
Four-wheel-drive SUV sales tend to be stronger in the early winter months and just before school starts in the fall. Fuel prices also tend to rise in the spring, making some owners want to sell and softening the price they can demand for SUVs that don’t get great mileage.
This strategy doesn't work as well if you're shopping at large national used car retailers. They continuously shift their inventory around the country to carefully match the car market and control supply and demand. They’ll ship more SUVs to snowy areas in the winter and truck their convertibles to Arizona and Florida.
6) When There Are Deals
Certified pre-owned vehicles (or CPO cars) are frequently available with manufacturer-supported financing incentives. They provide buyers with interest rates that are well below the average in the marketplace. The best financing deals are zero percent offers, but they are getting hard to find as market interest rates climb.
True CPO vehicles are only available at the brand’s franchised dealerships and typically have higher price tags than equivalent non-certified used cars. However, they're the only used cars that you'll usually find with automaker-sponsored deals.
You'll often see heavily advertised sales at used car dealerships. Take those sales with a grain of salt, as the entertainment value from the inflatable dancing figures on the lots is often the most tangible benefit of the sales. Before you buy any used car, you'll want to have a good idea of what the car is worth and what you should be paying. Just because the sign says it is a deal, it doesn’t mean that it is a bargain.
7) Winter: Yes – Spring: Not so much
Some times of the year are better for buying used cars (and new cars, for that matter). Nobody wants to be slogging across dealer lots or driving across town to test drive a private party used car in the dead of winter, so demand (and prices) tend to be lower in the winter months.
Springtime, on the other hand, brings some of the highest demand and prices of the year. It’s a nice time to have a new or new-to-you car, so buyers tend to be more plentiful.
The time around New Year’s is kind of the trifecta of perfect buying conditions: It’s winter, it’s a holiday, and it is year-end.
8) Around Your City’s Auto Show
Anytime there are a lot of people buying new cars in your area, the supply of used vehicles will naturally climb. This is particularly true during auto show season, when dealers and manufacturers promote new cars and people trade-in or sell their old ones.
The auto show effect will often last for several weekends, as buyers visit dealers to take test drives, purchase cars they saw on the auto show floor, and trade in their current vehicles.
9) After New Models Have Come Out
When automakers launch new or redesigned models, they often see a spike in sales of those new cars. That often coincides with many of the previous-generation models coming back off lease or being traded in for the new model.
In other words, buying a used version of a recently redesigned model can save you serious money. Since many buyers seek the latest and greatest technology, car prices for outgoing models naturally take a dip when new models arrive.
10) When You Are Properly Prepared
The final time you can find serious savings has nothing to do with the day of the week or time of the month. It’s when you are ready to buy. The best route to saving money is to be fully prepared before your car-buying odyssey begins.
That means researching the used car you want to purchase by using resources such as our used car rankings and reviews. It means taking the time to know your credit score and get a preapproved financing deal in place before you start shopping.
When you are fully prepared, you can wait until the perfect time to get a great deal on just the used car that you want.
More Shopping Tools From U.S. News & World Report
The expert researchers and journalists of U.S. News Best Cars have your back, no matter where you are in the car-buying process. We’ll show you how to buy a used car, how to choose between a new and used car, and how to finance your purchase.
When you’re preparing to buy, you should check to see if there are money-saving deals available on any certified used cars you are considering. You’ll find dozens of the best offers on our used car deals page.