BUYER’S GUIDE: The Best Time to Buy a Car

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Chevrolet pickup trucks and SUVs are seen at a dealership in Silver Spring, Maryland

It might be tempting to run out and buy a new car whenever the whim strikes, but timing your purchase could save you some money. Sometimes it’s not an option because your old clunker simply gives up, but if you can plan, then make sure you walk into the dealership at a time when you’re likely to get a good deal.

The best time to buy depends on several factors including where you live, the time of year, and the type of car you want to purchase. Use this guide to figure out when you should walk in and make a deal.

Shop During the Winter

You may think standing in a car lot checking out your new ride on a blustery winter day doesn’t sound like fun. You’re probably right, but it’s the perfect time to buy. Historically, the winter months see greater discounts as dealers try to lure people out into the cold weather.

Bundle up, grab a hot coffee, and go for a test drive when it’s cold. There won’t be as many other folks looking for a car, which means you’ll have a little more time and a little less pressure to rush back to the dealership. Even the sales process can be more relaxed.

If you’re looking for a summer car like a convertible, don’t wait until spring. These cars often sit on lots through the winter and dealers would much rather sell them than keep cleaning the snow off of them every time there’s another storm. You can get a good price on a convertible during the winter when no one is thinking about dropping the top.

During the winter, you’ll also find a wider selection of cars on dealer lots with winter features. This is especially true if you live someplace that sees harsher weather. Things like heated seats and steering wheels are at the top of everyone’s list and there will be a greater on-hand selection of cars with those features during colder months.

Wait Until the End of the Month

Salespeople have performance goals and those numbers are often tallied up at the end of the month. Walk through the doors late in the month and you may find a salesman eager to hit his monthly quota and a sales manager just as ready to cut you a better deal.

Even better, walk in at the end of the quarter or the end of the year. Sales numbers are hugely important for dealerships. Take advantage of this by shopping when there isn’t much time left and coming back in a few days means your sale won’t help the current quarter’s numbers.

They’ll be especially happy to move a car off the lot if its been sitting awhile. Take a look at their on-hand inventory and see if there’s a car right there that can be sold rather than having one shipped from another dealer. They really want to move what they have as the month comes to a close.

Shop Late in the Day

A slow day is good for no one, so arriving closer to closing time means you may have a dealership ready to post some numbers before they lock the doors. Especially if the weather has been rough, there’s a good chance the sales staff has been sitting around more than a little bored and really needs to sell some cars. Give them something to do and you could get a good deal.

Shopping later in the day can also speed up the process. Everyone is ready to head home rather than spend half the night haggling with you over the price of your new ride. They want to get it done and get back home, so helping you get the car you want quickly and then sending you on your way is more of a priority. You might walk in after dinner one night and have a new car in your garage by bedtime.

Wait Until the End of the Year

It’s all about getting rid of those year-end inventories when December rolls around. Old inventory is never good for a dealership, especially when that inventory is perceived as outdated simply because it’s the previous model year. In reality, there often isn’t much of a difference from one model year to the next.

Do some research before you walk into the dealership and see if there were significant changes to the car you are considering purchasing. Sometimes there are big differences, but other times it’s nothing more than a new paint color or a few convenience features. Buying the previous model year could save you money and get you a fantastic car.

As cars for the new model year roll in, they need to sell the outgoing models simply to make room. They need the space on the lot and they need the cash flow. If you don’t need the newest model in your driveway, then wait until December, buy the outgoing model, and save some money.

The longer you wait, the better the deal. Be aware, however, that your choices might be limited. They aren’t going to have huge numbers of last year’s model with every configuration you can imagine. The cars rolling off the deliver truck aren’t going to be last year’s either. A little flexibility will go a long way toward finding a good car.

Even if you’re shopping for the upcoming model year, there are still deals to be had as New Year’s approaches. Year end sales numbers are big for dealerships and automakers. They really, really want to sell you a car so it’s a great time to buy.

Don’t Buy in Springtime

Once the snow melts and the sun starts shining, people start to think about replacing their old cars. If you walk into the dealership on the first warm day of the year, then you’re going to find alot of other people there with the exact same idea.

People come out to shop when the weather warms, which means the dealer has more leverage. If you don’t buy at the price he wants to sell, then there’s likely someone else walking through the door who will gladly pay that price. Your negotiating power is compromised when cars are selling fast.

Spring is also when tax refund checks show up in mailboxes. That creates an instant down payment for many buyers further increasing the chances that the dealer will be able to get the deal he wants rather than the deal you need.

It’s a popular time to buy, which means dealers aren’t offering as many discounts and incentives as they do the rest of the year. You’ll pay more if you shop when the flowers bloom so hold off and go for a walk in the park instead.

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Nicole Wakelin

Nicole Wakelin