Learn the best time to buy a car to save money on this huge purchase.

By Kristine Gill
July 01, 2020
Advertisement
Getty Images

Buying a car—new or used—is notoriously expensive. We’ve all heard the rumors that the best time to buy a new car is when dealers are trying to reach sales quotas, but is that true? And even if it is, how much can you truly expect to save by buying a car then? It turns out that there is some strategy to car shopping, and our experts have tips on when to head to the dealership so you’ll know the best time of year to buy a car and keep your finances (mostly) intact.

When is the best time to buy a car? It’s not when a new model first hits the showroom floor.

If you’re eyeing the latest model of your favorite make, Kimberly Palmer, a personal finance expert at NerdWallet, says you might want to wait. Wait, or get a great deal on the second-most recent model, because major sales regularly take place right as the newest model is about to hit the showroom floor.

“Dealerships are usually trying to move the older model off their lot as quickly as possible,” Palmer says. “That generally means fall for U.S. carmakers.”

Michelle Madhok, an online shopping expert and founder of deals site She Finds, says to aim specifically for September, when that push begins.

“They want to get the newest models into the showroom, so that’s also a good time to negotiate,” she says.

The myth about quotas is true: Dealerships and individual car dealers are usually working to meet quotas and goals for each quarter and, oftentimes, each month. You can try to play the system by shopping at the end of a month or financial quarter (the end of March, June, September, and December) to negotiate with a dealer who is eager to have your business. It’s one way Madhok says you can try to get a good discount or bargain on financing.

“Dealers are also under pressure to meet monthly sales targets, so shopping at the end of the month can also mean you’re more likely to score a deal,” Palmer says.

In addition to quarterly goals and monthly goals, dealerships are also eager to meet annual sales goals, so Palmer also suggests shopping in December as the year comes to a close.

“That’s why you’ll see those car commercials with the big bow on the hood,” Madhok says.

Even if your new vehicle isn’t a Christmas gift, December is also a good time to buy if you’re on the market for luxury brands. Madhok says these makes aren’t as keen on sales as the more mainstream dealers, but you will see them trying to move inventory at the end of the year as well.

“They don’t discount cars as much, but they will give you a better deal on leases and financing in December,” Madhok says.

Research from ISeeCars shows that buying during the weekday, when traffic at dealerships is lower, will give you a better shot at a deal than on weekends, when sellers are busier with more customers.

The best time to buy a used car is not the same as the best time to buy a new car, but there are some times when used cars might be on a slight discount.

Research by ISeeCars shows that the best time to buy a used car coincides with major holidays, including Black Friday, and other sale weekends, such as Veteran’s Day. Three-day weekends, such as the Martin Luther King Jr. Day long weekend, will also have sales. Surprisingly, Christmas Eve is also a good bet, as the sales year comes to a close.

Every car has its tell-tale sign of coming to the end of its usefulness: the radio stops working, the power lock doors give up. Or maybe that grinding sound has returned. You know better than anyone when it’s time to start thinking of replacing your vehicle, which is why experts say you should really plan a new car purchase in advance.

Doing so will not only prevent a minor crisis that could leave you without transportation; it will also ensure you have the upper hand as you shop around for a car you truly want at a price that won’t break the bank.

“Dealers make the most money when you’re desperate, in a rush, and don’t have time to really comparison-shop,” says car buying expert Gregg Fidan, founder of RealCarTips. “If you feel your current vehicle may die on you, start preparing right away.”

Keep an eye on your mileage and do some research on the expected lifespan of your car. When you have a rough date or year in mind, mark your calendar and start shopping around a few months in advance. Fidan says this is a good time to test-drive vehicles, develop a relationship with the dealer, and think about pricing later.

“Your job now is to simply stay in touch with these salespeople, follow back up with them at least once a month and ask for updated pricing, and ask them to send you any special deals that come up—the good ones will stay in touch with you,” Fidan says.

When you’re ready to negotiate, the end of the month is usually best, Fidan says. But you should plan to get at least five bids from various dealerships before making your choice.

In the meantime, keep your current car in tip-top shape. Milking every last mile will ensure you have more time to plan your next buy.