The Best Time to Buy a New or Used Car

While deals are few and far between right now, you may have more luck if you wait for the month's end or holidays to purchase your next car.

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Up until the middle of 2020, the auto sales followed a regular cycle, both from month to month and year to year, that provided regular opportunities for getting a deal on a new or used car. With supply-chain issues driving a shortage of new and used cars, that’s no longer the case for many models. The cars, trucks, and SUVs that are in-demand are rarely discounted these days, and you may even have to pay a premium or dealer markup for these vehicles.

However, if you limit your search to models that are easily found on dealer lots, some of the old rules still apply. There’s also hope that the car market may return to something resembling normal toward the end of 2022 as the supply-chain disruptions ease. While the following tips are no longer as universal as they once were, understanding the dealership’s sales tactics and timing your purchase can still unlock deals for certain models.

The Best Time of the Month to Buy a New Car

Most dealerships base bonuses on sales quotas, which are typically broken down into monthly, quarterly, and/or yearly targets. Car shoppers can take advantage of this schedule by timing their entry into the showroom to coincide with these push times. At the end of a month, salespeople looking to meet their goals may be eager to cut the price or provide alternative incentives such as low-interest financing to finalize a sale. In the current situation, with the most desirable vehicles essentially selling themselves, salespeople will only be looking to make a deal on the vehicles that have been sitting on a lot for at least a month, if not longer.

The seller will want to move quickly, so those wary about buying a car on the same day they go to the dealership should scope out and test-drive vehicles earlier in the month. Then again, if the sales team has already met its quotas for that term, then there may be no juicy deals on the table.

The Best Months to Buy a New Car

Some months are better than others for saving money, particularly the last three of the calendar year. Shopping for a car in October, November, or December is your best bet to get a deal, as sales teams feel the pressure to meet looming end-of-year quotas often affecting their bonuses.

The Best Holidays to Buy a New Car

Those willing to give up a few hours of their holidays to buy a new car may find a sweet deal. The week between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve usually sees the most discounts. According to Scot Hall, executive vice president of operations at SwapaLease, "Similar to end-of-month deals, holiday promotions can sometimes come with bigger discounts simply because dealers are trying to meet or exceed end-of-year goals. What’s more, manufacturers also want to ultimately sell more cars, so they sometimes work with their dealer partners on aggressive incentives toward the end of the year. Especially for luxury brands, they’ve traditionally worked hard to make each year a ‘December to remember’ for their customers who may be interested in buying or leasing a vehicle."

If you can’t make it to the dealership during the winter holidays, make a plan to visit the showroom on Presidents’ Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, Memorial Day, and Black Friday for the best new-car savings.

The Best Months and Holidays to Buy Used Cars

Used cars don’t follow the same trends as new ones. Data analysts at iSeeCars, a used-car research site, analyzed over 32 million sales from 2018 to 2019 and found that the top three months for used-cars sales were January, February, and December.

One reason for this could be that new-car shoppers, motivated by holiday deals, often pull the trigger in December, leaving dealerships with a surplus of trade-ins by year’s end. You’ll want to sign the paperwork on a used car in January or February, if possible. For the best deal, aim for Martin Luther King Day or Presidents’ Day, which respectively offer 39.2% and 32.5% more deals than the average day, per iSeeCars.

Model-Year Changeover

One final thing to consider when timing your car purchase is the arrival of new models. Pre-pandemic/chip shortage, these used to show up on dealer lots around fall, but these days, delivery dates vary considerably. If you see a flurry of reviews for a new model appearing at the same time online, though, that’s an indication that the latest models will likely start showing up on dealership lots soon.

Once they do, dealerships will work hard to clear out their old stock, as it's easier for them to advertise and sell new products compared with older ones. This is particularly true for model lines that saw a significant redesign or generation change (typically bringing updated styling, better tech, revised powertrains, etc.) with the new model year, as many people want the latest gear. If you’re not concerned with having the flashiest, freshest ride on the road, though, you can likely pick up a slightly older model at a bargain.

However, you need to take depreciation into account. You’ll almost certainly get more in resale value from the newest model than the one-year-old, especially if the latter lacks the latest tech or design language. But if you keep your car for a long time—say, more than five years—the difference in resale value between a 2021 and 2022 model will come down, and you can feel good knowing how much money you saved upfront.

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Sami Haj-Assaad
Sami Haj-Assaad is an award-winning automotive journalist who has contributed to several automotive, electric vehicle, luxury lifestyle, and technology publications. His work isn't just limited to the written word, as he's also hosted YouTube videos and podcasts. Having grown up in the '90s, he has a strong sense of attachment to that era's style, though he also loves to geek out about the modern, futuristic tech and powertrains rolling out today.