When buying a new car,
Timing is Money.
Smartest day of the year to buy a car
Based on average percentage off MSRP
Smartest month to buy a new car
Sales goals are closing and incentives to sell are high
Best day of the week to buy a new car
You tend to get better deals on slower days
When it comes to getting a great deal on a car purchase, experts agree time is on your side: You can save big by being smart about when you visit the dealership.
You'll be able to drive the hardest bargain if you can plot your purchase across a full year or even the span of a season. But even if you need a car in a matter of weeks or days, you can still time your shopping trip strategically to land the best possible deal.
The key to timing your car-buying is understanding the supply and demand cycles that affect car sales. Getting to the dealership at times when few others are shopping can be a big advantage. When traffic is slow, dealers are more inclined to, well, deal.
As with any industry, car sales has its seasons and cycles—times when business is hot, and when it's not. In an effort to manage this, car dealers and manufacturers have devised strategies to spur sales in slower periods—price cuts, rebates, and the like. Sometimes these incentives are advertised, other times they are not; either way, if you know enough about them, you can use them to your advantage.
Business cycles also affect dealers' motivation to cut deals, said Kelsey Mays, Senior Consumer Affairs Editor at Cars.com.
"As dealers look to clear out old inventory in the tail months of the year and make room for the following model year, incentives are a frequent tactic to move the metal," he said.
The Most Wonderful Times of the Year
Citing statistics from AutoData Inc., Mays noted that "Later months in the year—particularly September and December—have seen higher average incentives in recent years. Conversely, the early months have seen some of the lowest incentives."
Indeed, eagerness to make room for newly arriving 2018 models was a major contributor to Labor Day weekend car bargains, and the flow of new models means bargains are continuing through September.
A TrueCar.com study, comparing the average percentage savings off manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP, or sticker price) for each day of the year further revealed several findings:
- Bargains on various vehicle classes differ throughout the year.
- Back to school promotions make August the best month to buy a minivan.
- Sports cars don't sell well in the winter, so dealers often price them to move in warm-weather months.
- Average negotiated savings vary by vehicle class as well: You may be able to get 10% or more taken off the sticker price for a large pickup, but you may only shave 4% to 5% off the MSRP of a subcompact.
- Desire to clear inventory (and meet annual sales goals) for the new year makes December the best month overall for a variety of car categories.
- New Year's Day is the best day of the year to get a great car deal. As revelers recover from the midnight merriment, traffic at car dealerships is very low. The previous year's vehicles officially become last year's models, and dealers can often still book sales that day as part of their annual close, providing one last chance to boost their year-end numbers.
The Month-End Advantage
It's not always possible to plan your car shopping months ahead of time. If your daily ride is beyond repair or has suffered a fatal mishap, long-term strategies may be impractical. But timing know-how can still help you swing the best deal available within your deadline.
The single best short-term option you can exercise is to wait until the last few days of the month to make your purchase. Dealerships and salespeople typically have performance goals (and financial bonuses) tied to monthly sales numbers. That makes them highly motivated to close deals before month's end and puts you in a stronger position to ask for price breaks.
Days of the Week
Even if you only have a few days to make your car purchase, you can boost your negotiating power a bit by choosing the right time of the week to visit the showroom. In keeping with the goal of shopping when dealership traffic is slowest, try to avoid weekends, when the vast majority of car buyers find it most convenient to shop. Going midweek, during normal business hours (but not the lunch hour) can eke you out some savings opportunity. The TrueCar study found the biggest savings on Wednesday, but it edged out Monday by the slightest of margins. There really wasn't much savings difference from one weekday to another, but they all compared well to the weekends.
Timing Isn't Everything
While shopping at opportune times can save you money, there are some additional steps you should consider, no matter when you visit the dealer, to make the car-buying process as smooth as possible:
- Decide how much you want to spend before you begin shopping, and stick to that amount. Avoid "price creep" and don't let the salesperson or finance manager shift focus from total cost to monthly payment amount.
- Check your credit report and credit scores ahead of time to make sure there won't be any surprises when you seek financing.
- Line up one or two auto loans for your desired purchase amount from your bank or credit union. Many dealers may match or beat their terms, and that's great. But resist any dealer efforts to get you to spend more on a car because of the "savings" they get for you.
- Negotiate with multiple dealers and secure a few out-the-door offers in writing, then leverage those offers to get one dealer to beat the next.
- Use any advertised cash-back rebate as a starting point for negotiations, not an endpoint. If there's an advertised $500 rebate, see if you can get $600 or more.
- "Dealer prep" charges cover whatever had to be done to make the car ready for sale, which may be as little as washing and detailing. You should be able to get any associated fees waived easily.
Finally, says Cars.com editor Mays, "Always be willing to walk away from the deal."
If you approach the car-buying process knowing what you want to spend, understanding that salespeople can and will negotiate on price, you can strike a great bargain. When you're in a strong bargaining position, negotiating can be fun. Enjoy the ride.
Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer or other company, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. All information, including rates and fees, are accurate as of the date of publication.
This article was originally published on September 27, 2017, and has been updated.