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When Is the Best Time to Buy a Car?


The best time to buy a car is in late December when yearly, quarterly, and monthly sales goals converge. If a dealership needs to sell just a few more cars to unlock several tiers of incentives from the automaker, it could make sense to sell those cars at breakeven or better if that’s what it takes.

Fortunately, there are plenty of other ways to shop smartly throughout the year. We’ll tell you about those, the worst times to buy, and more.

Leverage These Times for Buying Cars

1. End of the Month

Buying at the end of the month is always a good idea, as car dealers work hard to meet monthly sales quotas. Salespeople sometimes get financial bonuses assigned to their monthly sales quota. That means they’re willing to lose money on a car or two at month’s end to make even more money by reaching their bonus.

2. End of the Quarter

And then there’s another period you could use to your advantage: the end of the quarter. Buying a car at the end of March, June, September, or December often leads to even better deals than buying at the end of the month, as dealerships are trying even harder to reach sales goals.

Best Day of the Week to Buy a Car

Monday tends to be the best day of the week to purchase a vehicle.

While it’s good to shop for a car at the end of the month or quarter, there’s an advantage to shopping at the beginning of the week. Studies have shown that car buyers get better deals shopping on Mondays than any other day of the week.

These findings are likely because car dealerships don’t get very busy early in the week. So, sales staff can spend more time negotiating.

Best Holiday to Buy a Car

The best holiday to buy a car is New Year’s Eve. The timing is perfect on the last day of the year because it’s the end of the month, the end of the quarter, the end of the year, and a holiday when you might find incentives available on top of being the best possible time to buy a car. New Year’s Day is great, too, because holiday incentives usually extend through the first couple of days of January.

New Year’s is ideal. However, many other holidays on the calendar work to your advantage for car buying. Dealerships use just about any holiday with a 3-day weekend attached to it, like Presidents Day, Memorial Day, or Labor Day, for incentives to entice potential car buyers. Memorial Day, in particular, usually brings excellent incentives that often extend to more of the month of May, making that month a good one for car shopping.

Other holidays like the Fourth of July and Black Friday bring deals for car shoppers as well. Since Black Friday is toward the end of the year, you’re likely to find good deals on cars from the outgoing model year as the dealership tries to clear the way for vehicles from the upcoming model year.

Since holidays are usually busy times at car dealerships because of the well-advertised deals available, it’s good to get your car shopping done as much as possible before you even set foot on the dealer lot. Shop around on Autotrader and narrow your selection to a few specific cars.

This preparation will save a lot of time at the dealership, and your salesperson will really appreciate it if you already have what you want in mind. If you’re planning on financing the car, try getting pre-approved for a loan with your financial institution before you go to the dealership. It’s also a good idea to value your car trade-in ahead of time and consider using our Instant Cash Offer tool that brings the deal to you from various dealerships. You can choose the offer you prefer or use it to negotiate.

RELATED: Why is Trade-In Value Lower Than Retail Value?

Best Time to Buy a Used Car

The best time to buy a used car is in the last quarter of the year, between October and December. Some of the same strategies that apply to the best time to buy a new car apply to used cars, but not all of them. Like new cars, it’s good to shop for a used car early in the week and toward the end of the year. However, holiday deals and new car incentives usually don’t apply to used models.

The last quarter of the year is peak buying season for new cars. Many of those new cars are bought by folks who trade in their cars to the dealer. Those trade-ins become used car deals available to you that the dealer wants to get rid of to make room for new models from the upcoming model year.

Not only do you get good prices on used cars toward the end of the year, but you also get a great selection. These opportunities exist because of the influx of trade-ins dealerships often see toward the end of the year from drivers buying new cars and trading in their old ones. If you want the savings that come with a used car purchase and a wide variety, waiting toward the end of the year creates another advantage when shopping for a used car.

Consider the Previous or Outgoing Model Year

A good way to use timing to your advantage when buying a new car is by getting a vehicle from the previous model year. You can also get a good deal by purchasing a new car toward the end of its model year, for example, a 2022 model in December of 2022.

Traditionally, new model year vehicles start to come out in the fall of the previous year. For example, a 2023 model will debut in the fall of 2022 — and dealerships usually want the old stock gone before the new model arrives. But that doesn’t always work out. And if a 2022 model is still on the lot when a 2023 model arrives, dealerships will usually offer heavy discounts on the older model to sell it.

That said, there could be some drawbacks to this. If you buy last year’s model, and the new version is substantially changed or updated with a new look or new features, you won’t have the latest and greatest in technology or design. For some shoppers, that’s a deal breaker, but other drivers who just want the best price probably won’t mind.

Another potential drawback of buying from the previous model year is that you can’t be too picky. You’re limited to buying something that the dealer has sitting on the lot. If you have your heart set on a specific color, certain wheels, or particular features, you may not find exactly what you’re looking for in a dealer’s inventory from the previous model year. However, if you’re flexible, this is a great strategy to get a good deal on a new car.

When Do 2023 Cars Come Out?

Typically, manufacturers like to introduce a new model year car in the fall of the previous year. However, these days they’re unveiling cars throughout the year. As a result, many model year 2023 vehicles can already be found in dealerships across the United States.

Manufacturers prefer to get a jump on the new model year vehicles, including if it’s a special release. This eagerness means you may see a 2022 model sell for 18 months instead of a year when the 2023 model debuts in a more traditional timeframe. This expanded window gives buyers of those early models six months free of car depreciation because, after that period, their car will still be considered a year-old model.

Worst Time to Buy a Car

The worst time to buy a car is early in the month or on a Saturday when the dealership is at its busiest. Dealers typically aren’t in a rush to hit sales targets when they have a whole month ahead.

Some exceptions to this timing are when holiday incentives continue early into the following month, like New Year’s Day and sometimes Memorial Day.

Saturday is a popular time to shop for a car for obvious reasons: most people work during the week when the dealership is open. It’s hard to get a good deal on a car when the sales staff is busy, and the finance office is bottlenecked. Not only does the salesperson not have a lot of time to give you undivided attention, but if you don’t buy the car you’re looking at, someone else likely will. These factors combined make it tough to get a good deal on a car on a busy Saturday.

TIP: Did you know you can search for a new or used car by budget?

Final Thoughts on the Best Time to Buy a Car

As a general rule of thumb, the later in the year you’re shopping for a car, the better deal you’re likely to get. Shoppers will typically see the most attractive incentives available for new cars in October, November, and December. This period is also when dealers see an influx in trade-ins, making it a good time to shop for used cars as well.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea to buy a car earlier than October as long as you use the timing and strategies we’ve outlined above.

Related Car Buying Stories:

FAQ

When do 2023 cars come out?

It used to be that new cars for sale debuted in the fall for the next model year. That’s still true, kind of. Today, new vehicles come out throughout the calendar year. For example, in March of 2021, we already knew there would be a 2022 Chevrolet Bolt EUV, a utility version of the Chevy Bolt electric car. While manufacturers can introduce all-new models anytime, they will often announce updated or replacement models closer to the end of the calendar year.

Why are new model year launches important when shopping for a new car?

You can benefit by paying attention to new model launches. Generally speaking, you can get a better deal on last year’s model when a new model comes out. Want a great deal on a new car? Look for 2022 models in November or December of that year or January or February of 2023. Dealerships will want to sell the “old” version of a given car and might make you a deal. However, this only works if you’re willing to buy one of the vehicles left on the lot at the dealership. Start asking for special paint or rare options, and the “deal” part of the formula will go away quickly.

Renee Valdes
Renee Valdes
Renee Valdes is an author and editor with Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book. She edits and writes stories about vehicles, including advice on how to buy and sell cars in an ever-changing world. Valdes also edits and authors stories about the ins and outs of car insurance from a consumer’s perspective. When she is not editing or penning the latest automobile advice, Valdes is enjoying photography,... Read More about Renee Valdes

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