The value of a new vehicle usually falls as much as 20 to 25 percent the minute it's driven off the dealer's lot. Depreciation is probably the biggest expense you'll incur during the first five years of ownership. So it only makes sense that you buy the car at the lowest possible price. That doesn't necessarily mean you have to learn the fine art of haggling. Simply going to the dealership at the right times of year already gives you an advantage. Here are the best times of year to buy a car and save money:
Right Now (Fall 2008)
Okay, this may not feel like a good time to buy a car. The stock market turmoil has severely damaged our sense of financial security. Auto loans are harder to come by, especially for buyers with weak credit.
But the truth is that car manufacturers and dealers are desperate to move inventory right now. We have the compounding effects of economic turmoil (translation: low dealership foot traffic) and a glut of inventory as dealers attempt to clear 2008s from their lots and simultaneously sell new 2009s. As a result, they're offering great rebates, incentives and financing terms on both 2008s and 2009s and dealers are willing to negotiate the price on just about any car:
If you are in the market, don't feel that you need to rush into the first deal you see. Be patient. Give yourself plenty of time to negotiate. Few cars are likely to fly off the lots anytime soon. Before you set foot in the showroom, make sure you get dealers to compete for your business. In addition to the special deals available right now, the following times of year can present smart car buying opportunities in any market:
End of Model Year
A car's "model year" more or less describes when it is produced. Before a manufacturer releases the new model year, dealers want to get the previous years off their lots. New model-year cars are more desirable since they almost always command higher sticker prices than previous models. Having the old model years around for comparison isn't in the dealership's best interest. So why not help the dealership out - and help yourself to some savings?
Most new model years begin showing up on lots in late summer (many 2009 models are on dealer lots, even though we're still in the 2008 calendar year) and continue through the fall. There are also usually a few stragglers that come out in winter or even further into the new calendar year. That means that in most cases, you can get a brand-new 2008 car for a steal, simply because there's a 2009 model sitting right next to it. But before you rush out to get those previous models, make sure you are okay with buying one. Obviously, a discount is the upside, but there's also a downside. Consumer Reports explains: "If you want to trade that car in two years from now, it will be appraised as a three-year-old. But if you typically drive your car into the ground, short-term depreciation won't matter much."
Also make sure you know if the newer model is a carryover or a redesign. A carryover is almost identical to the previous model and hasn't changed much, except maybe for the addition of new features. A redesign, on the other hand, means the manufacturer has more substantially tweaked the car's performance, exterior or interior. It may make sense to buy a carryover as a previous model. But since a redesign is essentially a different car, thoroughly test the previous and new models to make sure you choose the right one. Of course, you'll get deeper discounts on previous model years that end up having redesigns - and that goes double for those that end up being discontinued.
Long weekends and holidays are prime times to shop for a new car because dealerships are expecting you. They almost always have incentives, rebates and financing deals to entice shoppers. You'll probably hear about these sales on TV or the radio, but it's a good idea to research them ahead of time so you can find the best deals out there.
End of the Month
Because car salespeople have monthly quotas, they'll be more likely to make deals near the end of the month - usually during the last week or even weekend. However, don't expect that every salesperson you come across is going to give you a good or fair deal right away. Some will, but others will be more difficult and could try to take advantage of you. Make sure you're prepared by consulting resources such as the U.S. News guides on buying a car, financing a car, and surviving the dealership.
End of Calendar Year
Just as they have monthly quotas, dealerships have yearly quotas as well. This makes the end of the calendar year another prime time to buy. Cars.com notes: "Automakers often look to close the year with strong sales as they prepare for January and February -- traditionally bleak sales months in the car business." Again, since salesmen may be scrambling to sell you a car, make sure to do your research ahead of time and prepare yourself.
How Can You Take Advantage of Today's Market?
If you're in the market, check out this month's best car deals to take advantage of the opportunities these tough times present for car companies and dealers.