Sunday, February 25, 2024

When Is the Best Time To Buy Cars? (2023 Guide)

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Key Takeaways

  • New Year’s Eve and Christmas Eve are the best holidays for car buying.
  • Shop in the fall to get discounts on existing stock before new models come in.
  • Depending on the location, Monday or Tuesday can be the best time to shop every week.

Buying a car is one of the biggest investments you can make, so it’s important to save as much money as you can. In this article, we at the Guides Auto team will tell you the best times of the week, month and year to buy a car. We’ll also break down the best holiday deals.

Current State of the Car Market

It’s especially important to look for the best times of year to buy because the auto market is struggling with inflation, supply-chain issues like the microchip shortage and more.

“Projections for car prices in 2023 are dicey, at best,” says Julie Bausch, managing editor of Car Talk, the companion website for the long-running NPR show of the same name. “The industry is still recovering from the production issues and shortages caused by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. There is a little evidence that prices are beginning to ease, but things are still a bit inflated for the moment.”

According to Kelley Blue Book, the average new car in the U.S. sold for $49,507 in December 2022, hitting a record high. While prices fell for the next two months, February’s average of $48,763 was still 5.3% higher than the figure in February 2021.

KBB also reports that the average used car in the U.S. cost $27,143 in December 2022, down $1,050 from the same time in 2021. Costs decreased again in January, dipping to $26,510.

Overview: When Is the Best Time To Buy Cars?

In general, it’s best to wait until the end of the year to buy a car. But if you can’t wait that long, there are other times of year when you can still get great car deals, incentives and rebates.

The best time of year to buy a car is from October through January 1, with December as the standout. This is usually the case for both new and used cars.

Car prices drop toward the end of the year because auto salespeople are in hyperdrive to push inventory out before the new year and meet their sales quotas so they can earn hefty cash bonuses. To earn their target incentive pay, the staff must meet sales goals during a set time frame, which could be toward the end of the month or the year.

“The same rules generally apply to both new and used cars,” says David Chou, co-founder and CEO of Motorenn, a startup that buys and sells luxury vehicles. But according to Chou, corporate goals or incentives could mean you’ll see greater swings in pricing when you negotiate for a new vehicle compared to a used one.

When Are the Worst Times To Buy a Car?

One of the worst times to buy a car is the beginning of the month because car salespeople aren’t fighting as hard to meet their sales quotas. The months with the least discounts are January through April, according to Edmunds. The weekend is another bad time to get a great deal, but holiday weekends are exceptions.

What Holidays Are Best To Buy?

Most people are familiar with local car dealership commercials that urge people to take advantage of clearance sales. But some car-shopping holidays are better than others.Illustration of the seven best and worst holidays to buy a car

New Year’s Eve and Christmas Eve

If you can, hold out until New Year’s Eve to buy a car. As mentioned, the end of the year is when car salespeople are trying to hit their sales goals for the end of the year, the quarter and the month.

This is why the Christmas season — specifically, December 24 and December 27 to 30, according to Carfax — is another prime time to go to dealerships. Foot traffic is light during this time.

Memorial Day Weekend

Memorial Day weekend is another ideal time for car shoppers. It’s the holiday weekend that launches the summer sales. During this time, car dealerships have the biggest inventory of outgoing models.

Black Friday

Since Black Friday falls near the end of the year, you should be able to get good deals. And because it takes place during the end of the model year, current models will be discounted more.

Labor Day

While Labor Day doesn’t rank as one of the best holidays for deals, it typically brings more car inventory and competitive pricing. That means more choices than at the end of the year.

Fourth of July

Similarly, the Fourth of July has a nice selection of new and current-year cars on the lot. This is ideal if you have a specific car or car options in mind.

Presidents Day

You may want to avoid Presidents Day weekend since it takes place during the slowest time of year. According to Edmunds, the average discount off the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) in February is about 5.7%, which is the worst markdown of the year. End-of-the-year holidays are far more likely to yield the best deals.

What Time of Week Is Best To Buy?

Monday is usually the best day of the week to buy a car. This is when showrooms will be the least busy, which means you’ll likely get more time and attention from the sales staff and have more time to go on test-drives.

Edmunds suggests Tuesday is a better option than Monday if the car dealership is closed on Sunday. Dealerships that close on Sunday are often much busier on Monday because salespeople are catching up with their work. Automotive dealerships are far busier on weekends, but you could get lower car prices on a holiday weekend.

What Time of Year Is Best To Buy?

If you aren’t able to go car shopping at the end of December, May is another good option. Unlike in wintertime, you’ll have a large stock of the departing models to choose from.

You’re also likely to find competitive deals toward the end of any month or quarter. This is when car salespeople are more motivated to slash sticker prices even if it means they’ll get lower commissions. The lower commissions are balanced out by getting company bonuses for meeting quotas.

End-of-the-Year Deadlines

Like the end of the calendar year, the end of the model year is a prime time for buying a car. Dealers offer more discounts and rebates at the end of a model year because they want to make room for the next year’s new supply. You can also probably get deeper price cuts on models that are selling slowly or are about to be redesigned or discontinued.

End of the Model Year

A great time to buy is when a car’s model year has passed. While other shoppers are more interested in buying newer models, you can get a lower-priced older model. This could especially work if you don’t care about the bells and whistles the new model may have.

Model years generally end around Labor Day for domestic brands (those made in the United States) and in October or November for imports (those made in other countries). New car models generally start arriving in September or October.

End-of-Car Cycles

Along with end-of-the-year sales, you should take advantage of end-of-cycle deals. There are two cycles to keep in mind if you want savings: an end-of-car-design cycle and an end-of-car-life cycle.

End-of-Car-Design Cycle

This is when an automaker completely redesigns a car model. Similar to the end of a model year, there are attractive sales for outdated models.

End-of-Car-Life Cycle

This is when a car is discontinued. You can save even more money than you would on a car that’s being redesigned. Even though cars depreciate quite a bit with end-of-car-life cycles, they’re worth considering if you want to keep a car for the long haul.

For safety reasons, it’s important to know why a vehicle is being discontinued. If it’s due to lack of interest, that may not be a big deal. However, if that car model has low performance or is undependable, you should probably walk away from it.

How To Get the Best Deal on a Car

To save money, don’t just rely on buying during a peak car shopping period. Being prepared and knowing how much car you can afford will make you less likely to go over budget. This can also help you avoid having the car salesperson talk you into something that isn’t right for you.

You’ll also have greater haggling power — no matter how good a deal is — if you get preapproved for an auto loan from your bank or credit union and compare the offer to dealer financing. Protect yourself by reading the fine print and asking about other incentives, rebates and financing deals.

If you have a less-than-desirable credit score, try to improve it before you go car shopping. This is especially helpful if it’s January or February, when discounts and lower sticker prices are scarce.

Graphic showing seven tips to improve your credit score

If you plan to trade your current car in, here are some things you can do before stepping foot into a showroom:

  • If you have an auto loan, ask your lender what the payoff amount is.
  • Get an estimate of your car’s trade-in value.
  • Collect service records and other paperwork for your car.
  • Get your car detailed.

When Is the Best Time To Buy Cars?: Conclusion

The best time to buy a car has several answers. Your best bet is to buy between October and January 1. December is particularly ripe for deals, discounts, rebates and other incentives. This is because car salespeople are aggressively working to meet their monthly, quarterly and yearly quotas.

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