As it often is, the internet is rife with stories and anecdotal evidence about when is the best time to buy a car. Some bleat that the end of the month is the best time, while others encourage customers to brush off their winter boots and go into the showrooms at the height of a winter storm. Both theories are predicated on the fact that low levels of dealer traffic automatically equate to a better deal.
The real answer is a lot more nuanced, of course. We’re here to tell you that neither of the above examples is totally accurate – but they’re also not totally false. Drawing on years of experience at the dealer level, plus a few conversations with sources who will understandably remain unnamed, this article will help you leverage the right time to buy a car and secure the best deal.
We will preface this post with a word about current events. The global pandemic has thrown a large wrench into the world’s automotive supply chain, creating shortages where none would usually exist. This has had the effect of, in certain markets, limiting the number of vehicles available for sale – both new and used. The lessons of supply and demand have swung into high gear. This means that, as of this writing in mid-2021, it is most definitely a seller’s market.
To the dismay of many shoppers, the short answer to the question “when’s the best time to buy a car” is a resounding chorus of “not now.” Still, some tips and tricks are universal; we’ll talk about those here.
Best time of the year to buy a new car
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A familiar refrain around dealerships is that “it’s tough to compete with Santa Claus”. Pagan rituals and holidays aside, it is a fact that much of the buying public turn their attention to more immediate matters when the calendar flips into the month of December. The same consumer attitude tends to rear its head when the credit card bills for those holiday purchases start to show up in January.
This permits the shrewd car shopper to take advantage of a predictable situation that is not of their own making. After all, car payments don’t stop simply because there’s a festive tree in the corner. With the attention of many people focused just about everywhere other than a car lot, some places may be more willing than normal to shave a few dollars off purchase prices in order to make a deal and post numbers on their Big Board o’ Sales. While not every dealership pays its salespeople on a commission basis, they all need to keep the lights on.
But remember that sales staff, commissioned or not, are also human beings. Showing up five minutes before closing time on Christmas Eve won’t help you get a good deal, nor will keeping the dealership team two hours after closing time simply because you won’t leave without a free set of floor mats. Use the calendar to your advantage – December and January are indeed generally good times of the year to buy – but also employ a modicum of common sense to your timing.
Best month to buy a car
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The old trope that September was the best month to buy a car is just that – old. As with all good myths and misconceptions, this commonly held belief does have its roots in truth. Decades ago, car manufacturers would generally roll out new models in the autumn, meaning they would be eagerly trying to move any remaining stock from the previous year lest they compare poorly to the new-and-improved cars that are set to arrive.
In the 1950s, this was especially important since automakers would often give their cars brand new styling each year. Fun fact: there is an urban myth that car companies chose September in which to introduce their new vehicles because it was the time of year in which farmers would be flush with cash after harvesting their crops. If you’re picturing a hardworking couple strolling into a dealership wearing overalls whose pockets were stuffed with dollar bills, you’re probably not too far off reality.
SEE ALSO: Car Buying Tips For New and Used Cars
Today, the rollout of new vehicles is much less predictable, with several 2022 models already introduced by various manufacturers as your author writes this post in April 2021. We will concede there is still a flurry of new-car activity towards the end of a calendar year, however. It behooves the smart shopper to pay attention to the timing of the new model introduction, at least for the segment in which they are shopping, especially if the upcoming replacement is markedly different than the current model.
A good example of this phenomenon would be the 2022 Hyundai Tucson, a small crossover-type vehicle that looks decidedly different than the old model it replaces. Pandemic-related issues aside, leftover 2021s may be had at something of a discount. This method can also be applied when significant powertrain changes are made to a vehicle. When the 2011 Ford Mustang showed up with a new 5.0L V8 engine, those left holding the bag with a 4.6L-powered 2010 model had a tough sell on their hands.
Best time of the year to buy a used car
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Repeating the refrain that the calendar year 2021 is unlike any other, with vehicle supply rendered unpredictable thanks to pandemic-related events and a global shortage of certain computer chips, there are still some universal truths to the major elements of trying to find a good time of year to buy a used car.
Remember the advice we dispensed just a moment ago about not buying a vehicle during ‘new car season’ lest the deals be less favorable? Yeah, not everyone heeds that warning. Alert customers searching for a good used car can use this to their advantage. How? Thanks to this behavior, there are likely to be a few more trade-ins at this time, assuring either better selection or a raft of salespeople itching to move all that metal off their lots.
Of course, bricks-and-mortar dealerships aren’t the only people selling used cars. Private sellers can also be a good source of second-hand metal. Use some simple powers of observation: if the seller is driving an updated model of the car they are trying to hawk, then chances are good they were offered what they considered to be a subpar deal on a trade-in value. Also, try to avoid buying a used car during tax season. Not everyone is as responsible with their refund as you are, leading to more than a few instances of people offering ‘silly money’ for a vehicle since they are (temporarily) more flush with cash than usual.
Best time to buy a truck
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Don’t discount the notion that it’s a good idea to walk into a showroom at any time other than a weekend. Saturdays are by far the busiest time for dealer staff, and salespeople might be juggling multiple customers (“ups”, to use industry jargon) and there’s likely to be a bottleneck in the finance offices. Shop early in the week, when there’s generally less foot traffic. This goes for all types of vehicles, not just trucks.
Another time of year to consider is the oft-forgotten end of a fiscal quarter. Most companies operate on a quarterly basis, using December as their year-end. This means the months of March is the last chance for a dealership to “make their quarter” or “fulfill Q1” in terms of meeting targets set either at the local or national level. The same logic applies to June and December for Q2 and Q4, respectively. September often marks the close of Q3, a month in which most dealers are flush with customers, so this concept may not be as applicable then.
The disadvantage of this ‘last minute’ approach is one really needs to be ready to buy at that moment. If a dealer is close to reaching some sort of target or bonus level, they may be apt to offer a deal that cannot be replicated at a future date. Calling on dealers mid-month to test drive the vehicles you wish to compare helps alleviate that pressure, since you are not trying to evaluate a vehicle itself and the financial deal during the same visit.
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