Drawn by offers of good deals, many people shop for cars on long holiday weekends, such as Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day. While sale advertisements usually focus on three-day time frames, some manufacturer- and dealer-sponsored incentives may actually begin before the weekend and continue for some days after it.
Still, many busy people will use just these three weekend days to find and buy a car, not realizing how intensely busy dealerships will be. If you shop on holiday weekends, do the bulk of your research at home and arrive at the dealership early, particularly if you intend to test-drive. The volume of shoppers picks up as the day goes on.
Assuming you only have three days to shop, we've sketched out a start-to-finish plan below. If you've done preparation ahead of time, the process can go much faster. If you can do some of your research during the week leading up to the holiday sales events, so much the better.
Day 1: Research at Home
1. Financing decisions: Tackle financing questions first and the rest of the process will be much easier. Do this at home and, if possible, well ahead of the weekend. Ask yourself if you want to take out a loan and buy a new car. Or, can you afford to pay cash for a used car? Perhaps you want to take advantage of a leasing special you've seen advertised lately. Your choice in these areas will lead you on three different paths.
2. Set your budget: A good rule of thumb is that your monthly payment (whether buying or leasing) should not be more than 20 percent of your monthly take-home pay. If you have two car payments, the total should still be no more than 20 percent of your take-home pay. Use our Affordability Calculator to guide you.
3. Read reviews: If you already have a car in mind, read Edmunds.com reviews of the vehicle by expert road test editors. Also check consumer reviews of the car you are considering. Then, take a moment to see what other cars compete with the one you have selected. If you don't yet know what you want to buy, build a list of three "target cars" to test-drive.
4. Check incentives: Check to see if customer rebates or manufacturer financing is available for the cars you are considering. Keep in mind that some holiday-related manufacturer incentives might actually be in place before the weekend, and may extend past it. Check the sale dates at Edmunds, in dealer advertisements and on manufacturers' Web sites.
5. Look for Price Promise offers. The Edmunds.com Price Promise® program assures car shoppers a guaranteed, up-front price on a specific car. When you find a Price Promise offer on the car of your choice, print out the certificate and you are ready to go to the dealership to conclude the deal — a real time saver. It's a good idea to call ahead and make sure the car is still available. Here are other tips on how to use Price Promise to buy your next car.
If there's no Price Promise offer on a car you want, shopping through a dealership's Internet department will save you time and money. You can easily communicate with the Internet manager by phone or e-mail. However, on the actual holiday weekend, communication may be slower due to the high volume of inquiries.
6. Plan your test-drive: Work with the Price Promise dealership or use the Edmunds.com Dealer Locator to find a highly rated dealership. With a phone call, e-mail or text message, now available in the Edmunds car shopping app, you can ask the Internet manager for a test-drive appointment for the following day. Explain that you'll be making a purchase decision later in the weekend. As noted earlier, the dealership might be swamped with shoppers by the middle of the day. Beat the rush and set your test-drive appointment for the early morning.
Day 2: Test-Driving, Zeroing in on Your Car
1. Test-drive your target cars: Arrange to drive the chosen models back-to-back so differences will become apparent and you can make an informed decision. Test-drive the car the way you intend to use it. If you regularly drive in the mountains, make sure you climb a hill near the dealership. If you do a lot of highway driving, try to get some highway on the test-drive. If you think you need an extended test-drive, be realistic: Dealerships may find it difficult to accommodate you on a holiday weekend. Plan to come back during the week. For more information read How to Test-Drive a Car.
2. After the test-drive: If you are absolutely sure you've found the right car, you can proceed to the deal-making process. But many people will want to sleep on a big decision. If you are undecided, leave the dealership. If you like the way you've been treated, say you'll be back if you decided to buy the car.
3. Follow-up research: Some questions might have come up during your test-drive. Do you want to do more research on safety features? Do you need to consider other financing and pricing issues? Now is the time to take care of those questions by visiting Edmunds.com.
4. Locate your car: You might already have a Price Promise offer in hand for a specific car at a local dealership. If so, skip ahead to Day 3. But if you are still searching for a car with a hard-to-find color or unusual option package, you'll use other tools. Search for a match on Edmunds.com by going to the home page and entering the year, make and model of the car you're considering. You can expand the search area and filter the options until you find what you want. Then, call or submit Internet requests to dealers to get price quotes for the car, if they have it on their lots.
Day 3: Making Your Deal and Taking Delivery
If you're using Price Promise, your price is set and you can skip to Step 4. If you're not using Price Promise:
1. Review your price quotes: Take the quotes you got from the local dealers and compare them to the average price paid on Edmunds.com. To get an accurate price, configure the car with all the included factory-installed options. If your price is below the average price paid, you are getting a better deal than most other buyers in your area. Consider agreeing to this deal, but remember to read the next steps to insure you get this price without extra fees and expenses.
2. Maximize incentives: Confirm that you factored available incentives into your final price.
3. Test your price: If you want to try to get an even lower price, call competing dealers and ask them to beat the deal you have in hand. But you might only cut the price by another $200-$400, or even less. If you're already at the dealership, it may not be worth the trouble of shopping around more to save a few dollars.
4. Handling paperwork: Since the dealership is likely to be crowded on a holiday weekend, you can call ahead from home and ask the dealer to prepare the purchase or lease paperwork to speed up the transaction. Be sure to bring the essential documents you'll need to conclude the sale; it'll make the process go much quicker.
5. Inspect the car: Make sure there are no scratches or dents from the shipping process.
6. Review the contract and be smart about extras. In the finance and insurance office, make sure the dealer includes all your agreed-upon prices and terms in the contract. Be ready for the sales pitch on aftermarket items and the extended warranty.
7. Final steps: You are probably dying to get your new car home. But if you don't absolutely need the car, arrange for pickup the day after the sale. Here's why: When business is booming, car dealership detail departments often have less time to spend making cars perfect, especially if there is a long line of cars to be delivered. That could mean getting a new car that is clean, but doesn't sparkle. You'll also get a more relaxed walkthrough of the vehicle's key features if you take delivery after the weekend.
8. Enjoy your new car! You did an excellent job researching and negotiating a great deal in a short span of time.
To find a dealership that knows how to treat shoppers right, please visit Edmunds.com's Dealer Ratings and Reviews.