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Why You Should Pay Attention to Car Model Cycles

If you’re thinking about buying a new car, you should be paying attention to automotive model cycles, redesigns, and face-lifts. While this may seem a little too “car geek” to you, we promise it’s a good idea.

Paying attention to car model cycles can save you money, help you get a better deal, and ensure that you get the best possible value when buying your next vehicle.

How so? We’ve got all the answers here. But first, let’s take a quick look at the meaning of the terms model cycle, redesign, and face-lift mean.

Some Definitions

In general, new cars are fully redesigned about every five to seven years, depending on the automaker and vehicle segment, according to Matt Degen, an editor with Cox Automotive, the parent company to Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book. Degen said, “that does not include mid-cycle refreshes.”

In between redesigns, cars are given face-lifts every three years or so to help keep them looking fresh. This is called the automotive “model cycle.” These exist for virtually every car company except Tesla, which doesn’t use model years. Instead, Tesla updates its cars on the fly.

So what exactly is a redesign, and what is a face-lift?

Face-lift

Think of it this way: A face-lift is a subtle or minor update designed to keep a car looking fresh and modern. Face-lifts often include updated headlights and new bumpers, wheel designs, paint colors, and occasionally some new features or tech gadgets.

In recent years, they often mean added safety technology, like pedestrian-detection systems. If a car were a house, a face-lift would be akin to remodeling your kitchen or landscaping your yard.

Redesign

What is a car redesign? That’s a completely new car from the ground up. Think new styling, a new chassis, suspension, brakes, features, and interior. Almost always, a redesign includes a new engine.

Sometimes models get new names when they’re redesigned, such as when the Jeep Liberty became the Jeep Cherokee. Continuing the house analogy, you could compare a car redesign to building an all-new house.

Why Do You Care?

So you get the whole redesign and face-lift thing, and you understand the automotive model cycle, but who cares? What difference does it make when you’re buying a car?

Here’s How It Can Make a Difference

  • Impacts final cost: Understanding when a car is about to be or has just been updated can play a huge role in how much you pay for your vehicle.
  • Saves money: Armed with the right knowledge, you can save thousands of dollars — or spend thousands extra when you didn’t need to.
  • Knowledge is power: This knowledge can also keep you from buying an outdated car.
  • You might wait to buy: It can also ensure that you correctly decide to wait a little longer for a brand-new one.

Saving Money

For a good example of how you can save money by understanding automotive model cycles, consider the Kia Sorento, which is all-new for the 2021 model year. Before its latest update, the Sorento hadn’t been fully redesigned since 2014, making it one of the oldest midsize SUVs on the market.

Sometimes dealers still have examples of the old model on their lots, selling alongside the new. The result is that the old Sorento models should cost much less than the new one, and Kia dealers will be much more willing to offer discounts on the outgoing model. Later, as the 2021 and 2022 models become used cars, the newer, fresher design will command a higher price even on the used car market.

As a result, shoppers looking for a good deal might want to look for a car or truck that’s about to be updated. Likewise, drivers who weren’t aware that a specific vehicle is about to be redesigned might overpay simply because they didn’t know about the all-new version.

Resale Values

Resale values are another good reason to pay attention to model cycles. A car’s price usually doesn’t change much following a redesign. But a new model tends to hold its value a lot better than an outgoing version.

As an example, consider the Subaru Outback. The vehicle was redesigned for the 2020 model year. The base-level Outback’s price stayed roughly the same between 2019 and 2020. The used 2019 Outback in the base model with typical equipment, and mileage is available for an average price of around $22,800. That is far less than the $26,300 average price of the base 2020 model.

The reason for this price jump is that the latest body style is almost always more desirable than the outgoing version so that it will hold its value better. If you had known in 2019 that the Outback was about to be redesigned, you could have waited for the new version and dramatically improved your resale value in the process.

RELATED STORIES: 5 Car Redesigns That Totally Flopped When New But Are Bargains Today

High-tech Differences

For a good example of potential technological differences between model cycles, you’ll want to consider the Chevy Tahoe. Like the Kia Sorento, the Tahoe is also new for the 2021 model year, and like the Sorento, the Tahoe hasn’t been updated in several years (in this case, since 2015).

As a result, the previous version of the Tahoe leaves a lot of equipment to be desired. For example, only the new model offers an independent rear suspension for a smoother ride, a rear camera mirror that turns the rearview mirror into a wide-field monitor, front and rear pedestrian alert, and more.

If you’re into technology and want those features, you’ll have no choice but to wait for the new model. And that’s something you wouldn’t know if you weren’t paying attention to model cycles and redesigns.

Our Advice

When you’re looking for a new car, don’t just look at statistics and pricing. Also, be sure to read reviews and ask around to figure out if a car is about to be redesigned, face-lifted, or heavily updated, or if it just went through any of those.

One way to get a quick check on what’s coming is to read about or attend major domestic auto shows. The pandemic has put many of the shows on hold. When they come, look for auto shows like those in Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, or New York.

Learning a car’s model cycle and redesign timetables could save you money, keep you from spending too much, and ensure that you get the best possible combination of pricing and features.

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Editor’s Note: This article has been updated for accuracy since it was originally published. Sean Tucker contributed to this report.

Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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