Winter in colder climates often means less foot traffic at auto dealers and more pressure to meet sales quotas. And since dealers typically get the next model year at the end of summer, many are eager to move the previous model year off the lot.

By timing your purchase for winter you may be able to take advantage of slow sales. If you’re in the market for a car now, you may also benefit from a car market that is slowly recovering from the pressures of the pandemic.

Vehicle supply levels have been increasing after the recent microchip shortage, which reduced new vehicle manufacturing and caused prices to skyrocket. As inventory improves, prices are beginning to descend. But deals and incentives are still not as widespread as they were prior to the pandemic, so timing your purchase wisely can still be a big help.

Dealerships are trying to meet quotas 

It’s no secret that dealerships operate on monthly and annual quotas. These influence bonuses and commissions offered by both the dealership owner and manufacturers the dealership works with.

This is why the end of the year can be the perfect time to buy. Not only are salespeople under pressure to meet their monthly quota, but they’ll also want to snag last-minute sales for the end of the fiscal year.

Of course, not every dealership operates on a January to December financial schedule. But in general, you may be able to use the system to better negotiate a deal.

End-of-year sales

Franchise dealerships — dealers that have a direct relationship with a manufacturer — may offer rebates and low rates on new cars from the current model year. But year-end sales are common regardless of a dealer’s franchise or independent status.

Since dealers are trying to meet sales quotas, you might see big drops in the sticker price alongside rebates. If you’re not a strong negotiator, take advantage of winter sales. It may help you get a good deal.

You may secure a good interest rate

Applying for a car loan at the right time of year can also help you secure a good interest rate. Reach out to multiple lenders and request interest rate quotes to ensure you are getting the best deal. Even if you have a lower credit score, it is still possible to get an auto loan. Having a cosigner with good credit can aid your chances of getting your loan approved. Keep the following in mind when shopping for car loans:

  • Research loan types and interest rates.
  • Negotiate for the best terms.
  • Receive all promises in writing.
  • Understand the fine print.

Fewer people are shopping

The cold of winter and a busy holiday season often keep people from car lots. And slow dealership traffic extends into January and February, making them great months to shop for a car, says Mike Quincy, auto tester and writer with Consumer Reports.

The same negotiating rules apply regardless of the time of the year. Quincy recommends that you know what the dealer cost is and work up from there, instead of down from the sticker price.

“You’re just probably going to have a more captive audience for a salesman when you go in the winter months because they don’t see many people,” Quincy says. “These tactics should be effective.”

New models are being released

Dealers typically start getting new models at the end of summer or the beginning of fall. This means current model-year cars that have never been driven off the lot have depreciated in value.

“A leftover model, in general, can be a good deal if you’re the kind of person who drives their car into the ground,” Quincy says, noting that could be 100,000 to 200,000 miles.

And even if you’re buying used, waiting for the newest models to hit the lot is worthwhile. After all, depreciation will still take its toll. The car will be just as good, but you may be able to negotiate a lower price because it’s an older model.

Winterized options may be available

Part of your negotiation strategy should include winterizing your car. Beyond comfort factors, like heated seats and steering wheels, focus on winter wipers and snow tires as part of the overall package.

“If you’re not willing to make that investment, your safety is being compromised,” says Lauren Fix, car expert and editor-in-chief of Car Coach Reports. Cars with high-performance tires may not fare as well on icy roads. Snow tires typically cost the same as all-season tires, but there may be additional fees related to their installation when you’re purchasing a car.

Winter is also a good time to test drive a car you’re considering buying. This is especially true if you live in regions that experience wintry weather conditions. By test driving with snow or slush on the ground, you can gauge what it’s like to drive the car in the worst conditions.

When to wait until spring

Winter can be a good time to get a good deal, but it’s not the only time to shop. If you’re prepared to negotiate the price and come in with financing, it might make sense to wait until spring or later to start shopping.

  • Most of the manufacturer deals are for new cars, so if you’re buying used, there’s not much point in winter shopping. Plus, you don’t want to be caught in snowy or icy weather if your used car isn’t properly winterized.
  • And if you’re shopping for a used car through a private sale, you’ll be less likely to find deals in winter. It may also be harder to schedule a personal meeting to check out the car.
  • Car shopping in warmer climates may actually be worse in winter since the weather is more pleasant. Most advice anticipates you live somewhere with a cold winter, so you may want to wait until the temperatures climb in the spring to go shopping.
  • If you expect a large tax refund or winter bonus that can be used as a big down payment, wait until spring. After all, the less money you need to take out, the more you’ll save overall — even if you miss the bigger winter deals.
  • It may seem counterintuitive, but dealerships will start receiving 2024 models in late 2023. If you want a 2023 model, hold off until late summer. This way, dealers are pushing the 2024 model, and you can get a good deal on the “old” model year.

The bottom line

In general, buying a car in the winter will help you secure a better deal. With low foot traffic and a shift toward new inventory, you have plenty of room to negotiate a good price. It is important to figure out how much you can spend on a car before applying for a car loan, check your credit score and shop around for the best deal.

Learn how your interest rate can affect your monthly payment and total car loan cost with our car loan calculator.