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When is the Best Time to Buy a Car?

Last Modified: October 27, 2018 by Jeff Ostroff

You've been shopping for a new car, truck or SUV, so when is the best time to lease or make the big acquisition? Does the timing really matter? The easy answer is "yes," timing can be critical, and buying a new car, truck or SUV at the right time can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Equally important is doing your research in advance to learn as much as possible about the vehicles you're considering; from MSRP, standard equipment, options, colors, trim levels, to rebates, destination fees, financing options and more. Many websites such as TrueCar gives you the dealer invoice price for the car. An educated consumer will get a better deal than a buyer who only skimmed the vehicle brochure.

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Here are a few timing tips to help get a good deal on a new car, truck or SUV:

End of Year Sales Events

Car dealers do their best wheeling and dealing at the end of the year. Manufacturers usually have big incentives to move the inventory during the Christmas season because some people make their new car purchase their family's Christmas gift. For most dealers, December is their biggest sales months.

There's another reason for all the Christmas season car advertising flooding TV, radio and YouTube in December. Manufacturers and dealerships want to move unsold inventory off the lots before the end of the year. It all about the numbers: They want to carry as little inventory as possible into the next year. Dealers are willing to do whatever it takes, including losing money on a deal, to meet yearly sales objectives. The best days for car buying at the end of the year? The last week of December, between Christmas and New Years.

An example is a friend of mine, Janice, who spent the last two days of the year shopping for a a new Lexus ES. She got reasonable offers from multiple dealers, but later, over the phone, got the dealers competing against the other. Finally, one dealer caved on the last night of the year, giving her the deal she wanted. The dealer wanted to go home and head to a party.

End of the Month

Not everybody can wait until the end of the year to buy or lease a new car. Manufacturers and dealerships have monthly sales goals, usually with generous bonuses for a the sales manager and the salespeople. Once you have decided on a model, check the incentives on the model you are interested in. It's easy to look up on the manufacturer's website to determine what offers are available. Keep in mind, if the website is asking for your zip code, enter it because often the manufacturer is offering additional regional incentives.

Get pricing for the vehicle online, determine the MSRP without the incentives and after the incentive before you go shopping. We recommend visiting the dealership between the 18th and 22nd of the month to start the process. Don't finalize the deal just yet. Wait until the last couple of days of the month for serious negotiations.

Model Year Changeover

Car pricing follows an interesting pattern: Prices are discounted when the fresh models appear. Buying a new car from the previous model year can save thousands versus purchasing a similar vehicle from the next model year. Many times there were only insignificant changes were made between the two model years like new paint or interior color options. Generally speaking, the new model year vehicles appear between August and October.

Big incentives are likely if the prior model year has been a slow-selling, possibly because the consumers know that a completely redesigned model is arriving soon. A redesign generally includes a restyled exterior, new interior design, new high tech options and next generation features.

Use the dealer's website to check available inventory of last year's new car models. The dealer will be very motivated to sell those vehicles to make room for this year's model. The downside is that the features or color you desire might not be available on the vehicles in stock. Please note, you are getting a model year older vehicle, so expect your resale value to be lower versus the new model year. However, many people would rather save a lot by purchasing last year's model to save thousands of dollars.

Test Drive and Negotiate in Person

These car buying tips also apply to shopping online. These days you can do everything online from researching the model, options and colors, to securing financing and even knowing the value of your trade-in and the monthly payments. The same is true if you are leasing: You can determine the down payment, term and monthly payments before stepping foot into the dealership. However, you should always test drive the car to see if it drives as expected before agreeing to a deal either online or at the dealership. You can negotiate using email or social media and then try for a better deal when you enter the dealership.

Holiday Sales Events

Another good time to buy a car is at the holiday sales events that manufacturers create to move inventory throughout the year. Usually these events will coincide with significant rebates and special financing. Besides the Christmas season, the weekends around Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day are usually ripe for heavy promotion. A dealership that has an oversupply of certain models is likely to add extra discounts.

In conclusion you aren't going to get the best possible deal even if you follow the timing tips listed above unless you do your homework. Research as much as possible about the vehicle and pricing, and then negotiate hard for the best deal. As the old adage goes, if you fail to prepare, prepare to fail. It applies here, too, if you want the best deal, prepare!

To become an expert negotiator, make sure to read our new car buying guide.

CarBuyingTips.com has affiliate relationships with multiple web sites. We are paid referral fees for leads or sales generated from visitors that click on some links or fill out certain forms on this site. Please view our advertising policy page for more information.