For some, the answer to this question may seem perfectly simple. The best time to buy a car is whenever I either want to buy one, or need to be one, right? Well, if you have the money and the will, there’s nothing wrong with that idea. However, if you want to get the best-possible deal on a car and get the most bang for your buck, then there are some timing guidelines that are worth following.
Below, we’ll be looking at the best times to buy a car: times of the month and year, and even days of the week where dealers are more open to negotiation and cars tend to be better priced. Let’s take a closer look.
Best Time to Buy a Car: Specific Days
Though there may be strict rules about car dealerships selling cars on all weekend days, they are invariably open and thus busy with customers. If you go at the weekend, you might have a handful of salespeople trying to deal with multiple customers all at once. This makes it much harder to get into the weeds with the salespeople, ask more questions and talk about a really good deal on a car.
If on the other hand you go there on a Monday or Tuesday, there will likely be far fewer people there, allowing you a lot more time and attention from a staffer. You can ask all the questions you need, and because there are so few customers in, the sales staff may be much more willing to talk about a deal. Boosting sales on those quiet days is always good for them and helps them improve their monthly numbers.
One thing to note, however, is that in some parts of the US, it might be impossible to go to a car dealership on a Sunday. States where this is the case include Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, New Jersey, Maine, Indiana, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Missouri. In these states, it’s therefore possible that Monday might be busy as people who can’t go on Sunday may arrange to go on Monday, which often makes Tuesday and Wednesday the quietest 2 days.
The biggest shopping day in the US also applies to cars, with some deals even being quite hard to believe at first glance. On Black Friday, those interested in getting the best deal on car financing may have the most luck. It is often the case that besides the price being reasonable, the terms of the finance are even better, with 0-percent APR being offered for 4 years or more on some models.
Another reason Black Friday is a good purchasing time is because it is the usual marker for the end of one model year and the start of the next. So if you were looking for great deals on 2021 models, Black Friday would be great because it marks the beginning of the 2022 model year. Dealerships have to clear out as much of the 2021 stock as they can before they start pushing the 2022 models.
One small drawback on Black Friday, of course, is the crowds. If you can put up with the huge numbers of people all clamoring to get their hands on a new car all at once, then you’ll be okay. If you’re not a fan of crowds, then perhaps avoid it.
Other Specific Holiday Days
Black Friday is just one specific holiday day where great car deals are available. Others include Presidents’ Day, which is on the third Monday of February, where many dealers are trying to boost sales in the quiet early months of the year. Discounts aren’t always the strongest in the early months of the year, but if you’re buying a pre-owned car or unsold stock from the previous model year, you can get great deals.
While the summer in general marks peak price season for cars, there are a few standout days where dealerships are willing to offer better deals, including Memorial Day at the end of May, and July 4th. They aren’t the biggest discounts you’ll see throughout the year, but if you find yourself in need of a car in the summer months and can’t wait for the fall, then these days are the ones you’ll likely find the best deals.
Finally, there’s Labor Day in September, which is traditionally a bumper sales period for cars as new models are trickling in from the OEMs so it’s a big final push for selling off the previous year's stock before the formal end of the model year comes on Black Friday.
Best Time to Buy a Car: Periods of the Year
End of the Month
Just about every dealership runs using sales quotas, and these are counted monthly. Quotas are often used to calculate bonuses and awards like “Employee of the Month” and such. It’s not a 100-percent way to guarantee discounts, however, as the team in question at any particular dealership may have already fulfilled their quota by the time you get there.
A good time to strike is early in the last week of the month when there’s more chance that there will be at least some team members pushing to meet or exceed previous months’ numbers.
If you’re using the end-of-the-month strategy, you should realize that deals you strike may not be good for long. If other buyers are there vying for those last critical sales figures, then you could potentially miss out if you let any deal drag on too long. One sign that sales staff are trying to meet goals is when they offer you cars at prices that are significantly below any price you researched as possible.
End of the Year
The end of the calendar year is the absolute latest time any dealership can reasonably sell cars with the same model year attached without resorting to rock-bottom pricing. Not only does December generally offer better discounts (see below), but buying right at the end of the year means catching unsold stock that needs to be shifted in order to make room for the imminent wave of new model year vehicles that are incoming after the official shift in model year at Black Friday.
It’s typically a mixed bag. As with the end-of-the-month strategy, you might come across dealerships that have already done quite well this year and therefore are not as desperate to shift quite as much stock. In general, however, while the selection may not be as rich at every particular dealership, there are still usually great deals to be had at the end of the calendar year wherever you go.
Specific Month of the Year
Following on from the previous point, December is typically cited as the best overall month of the year to get a new car deal. First of all, being at the end of the calendar year, December is the last month in which dealerships have a chance to sell off the previous model year’s stock before they are fully committed to pushing the next one. Space on the lot is precious and they need to create as much as possible.
On average, according to data from Edmunds, dealerships will offer discounts of around 6.1 percent in December, which is the highest of any individual month. There are typically other incentives on top of that like better financing deals, and so on. For most buyers, the best combination, then, is to look at the final week of December, which brings together the end-of-the-month strategy, end-of-the-year strategy, and the general good discounts of December.
Having said all that, it’s not to say that you can’t get great deals in other months of the year. It’s hard to say so broadly what every month can offer, but a year can be divided up as follows:
- January to April - Least available discounts on new cars, but strong deals on pre-owned cars because of slow overall sales. Incentives might outnumber actual discounts in these months.
- May to September - Good combinations of discounts and incentives, but early summer often sees prices staying high. The end of the summer period is when bigger discounts start to appear.
- October to December - The highest number and scope of discounts are available in this 3-month period.
Model Design Cycle Changes
Another great tip is to look for times of year when specific OEMs are preparing to announce changes to their model lineup. This is harder to predict since all OEMs essentially work to their own schedules. Broadly speaking, Black Friday marks the end of one model year and the beginning of the next, but some automakers release models early or announce key changes at different times.
For example, if one company announces that they’re bringing out a facelifted model of one of their popular sedans, then it means the new model year will bring more change than usual. A typical model year change brings a few small changes, but nothing major. If there’s a facelift coming up, however, differences will be greater and therefore potential discounts on older models will be greater.
If the new model year is bringing out a total design overhaul, which might happen once every 5-8 years, then the older model discounts can be even greater.