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When is the best time to buy a car?

Red car in parking lot
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The best time to buy a car is usually around the end of the year, since salespeople will be trying to meet their quotas and may offer steep discounts. However, you should also consider holidays and the beginning of the week. If you’re searching for the best moment to drive off the lot with a significant discount, consider these tips. 

Three of the best times to buy a car 

Before you buy a car, it’s smart to first consider timing. Certain months of the year and days of the week are better than others. 

1. Mondays 

Monday can be the best day of the week to buy a new car; other potential shoppers are often at work, so representatives at car dealerships are focused on anyone who comes in the door. 

“Come Monday, everyone has made a lot of good sales and enjoyed the activity of a busy weekend,” says Brian Moody, executive editor at Autotrader. “If you call or email a dealer on a Monday, there is a chance that you’re going to get either a better deal or simply more attention. If the person has more time, they might throw in something extra such as free oil changes or free car washes.” 

2. End of the year, month and model year

In terms of the best time of the year, October, November and December are safe bets. Car dealerships have sales quotas, which typically break down into yearly, quarterly and monthly sales goals. All three goals begin to come together late in the year. 

“The end of the month, the end of the quarter, the end of any period is usually a good time to go,” Moody says. “That’s when there might be bonus opportunities for the salesperson or the dealer that give them extra incentive to want you to leave in a new car.” 

In addition to the end of the calendar year, it’s important to keep an eye on the end of the model year — the time frame when the newest versions will start hitting the road. Moody says that the fall is generally when manufacturers begin releasing new cars, but there are some exceptions. “If you pay a little bit of attention to see when the press is starting to share reviews about new cars,” he says, “it means the release is imminent.” 

If you’re considering buying an older model, Moody suggests waiting for an updated version. “While you might be able to land a deal on the older model, it’s wise to consider holding out for the updated version. It’s very rare that an all-new version of a model comes out, and it’s $5,000 more,” he says. “It’s usually a few hundred dollars more, but it includes all kinds of new features and better gas mileage.”

3. Holidays

Holiday sales can also offer deep discounts. Here are a few holidays that are especially great for buying a car: 

  • Presidents Day: The first few months of the year tend to be slow for all consumer activity, including auto sales, but some manufacturers work to spur spending over Presidents Day weekend. 
  • Memorial Day: Summer is typically among the most expensive times of year to buy a car, but dealers tend to cut prices back around Memorial Day. Next year’s models tend to trickle out around midyear, reducing the price of cars already on the lot. Beware of big crowds, though. As the weather improves, there may be plenty of other buyers looking to score the start-of-summer deals. 
  • July Fourth: Plenty of dealers will work to entice car buyers around the celebration of America’s independence. However, if you don’t need a car immediately, consider whether you can hold out for potentially bigger discounts available closer to the end of the year. 
  • Labor Day: The unofficial end of the summer is officially one of the busiest times for buying a new car. According to Zo Rahim, economics and industry insights manager at Cox Automotive, the week of Labor Day accounts for more than 2 percent of all new car sales in an entire calendar year. 
  • Black Friday: Car dealerships take part in the Black Friday sales craze just like the rest of the retail industry. In addition to manufacturer-offered incentives, you may be able to get better deals from your salesperson. “For example, around Christmas, the person who’s helping you might want to get home to his or her family and be more eager to wrap up the sale,” Moody says. 
  • New Year’s Eve: If you can swing it, New Year’s Eve may be one of the best days of the year to shop for a car. Salespeople could be facing monthly, quarterly or yearly quotas on New Year’s Eve, and if they meet their sales goals, they could earn a hefty bonus. This could make finding a favorable deal easier. 

How to get the best deal at the dealership 

Regardless of when you decide to buy a car, you’ll need more than perfect timing in order to get a good deal. You’ll also need a complete understanding of your finances to know if you qualify for the best auto loan rates. “Know what you can afford,” Moody says. “If you see an offer for zero percent financing, it’s for people with excellent credit.” Getting a few quotes from independent auto loan companies can help you gauge if the dealer is offering you a good deal. 

Take the time before buying a new car to improve your credit score, and do research ahead of time to save the most money you can. Doing some upfront research can help you avoid common car-buying mistakes and give you negotiating power when you arrive at the dealership. 

Supply chain considerations 

Global parts shortages resulting from the coronavirus pandemic and supply chain issues have caused car prices to skyrocket. In July 2021, Kelley Blue Book found that new-car transaction prices were 8 percent higher than prices of July 2020, and CBS reported that the shortage could continue through 2023. If you’re looking to buy a new or used car, this lean inventory will likely mean that you’ll pay a higher base price and receive fewer discounts until the shortage is resolved. 

The bottom line 

Waiting for the best time to buy a car requires patience. If you can wait, time can be your ally. Cars almost always depreciate, so waiting for the right time of year to buy a car — or the right month, or the right day — can help you save thousands.  

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Written by
Rebecca Betterton
Auto Loans Reporter
Rebecca Betterton is the auto loans reporter for Bankrate. She specializes in assisting readers in navigating the ins and outs of securely borrowing money to purchase a car.
Edited by
Student loans editor