Spring 2022 update: The ongoing semiconductor chip shortage and subsequent vehicle shortage has caused prices for both new and used cars to hit record highs.
"Shrunken inventory continues to wreak havoc on both the new and used vehicle markets," said Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds' executive director of insights "Shoppers who can actually get their hands on a vehicle are committing to never-before-seen average payments and loan terms."
As a result, car shoppers today face a limited selection and price hikes from either dealer-added (often non-negotiable) accessories or "market adjustments." Discounts of any sort are scarcer than the cars themselves, leaving the buyer with no negotiating power. There's also a greater sense of urgency to make a quick decision on a deal because the car may not be there if you take the time to think about it.
This means that these are far from normal times in terms of both the selection of cars available and the lack of discounts you may encounter. If you need a new vehicle today, we suggest starting your shopping process sooner rather than later since the chipset shortage will likely affect pricing and inventory at least through 2022.
If you're shopping for a new or used car in today's difficult marketplace, please see "Car Buying Tips for 2022" for our experts' targeted, data-driven advice. Note that the article below was originally written before the chip shortage when vehicle prices were relatively stable and predictable. If the shortages continue, there may be a so-called "best time to buy" for the foreseeable future. The best time in the current market is when you find a dealer that has the vehicle you want and is willing to sell it to you at MSRP or better, without any additional options that you may not need.
That said, many of the major elements of this story still ring true. Outgoing models are more likely to get a discount, highly anticipated new models are less likely to be discounted and you're more likely to get good service during the week than on a busy weekend. When the automotive market stabilizes, there's a good chance that the deals will fall into patterns similar to those described below.
Buyers are always looking for a way to game the system and save money on major purchases. Much of this thinking revolves around zeroing in on the best time to purchase a particular item. Need a new TV? Shop on Black Friday or around the Super Bowl. Need a new winter coat? Shop in January.
It's no different for cars. Ask anyone, "When is the best time to buy a car?" and you'll get answers ranging from the end of the month to "wait until the new models come out." There are as many theories on this topic as there are days in the year. And, oddly enough, there is a grain of truth to many of them.
When are the best times to buy a car?
- End of month
- End of the calendar year
- Best month to buy a car
- Best day to buy a car
- End of the model year
- End of the car's design cycle
- End of the car's life cycle
- Three-day weekends
- Black Friday
- Best time to buy a used car
Simply put, here's our advice: The best time to buy a car is when you need it and feel ready to buy, regardless of the time of year. Car buying can be stressful, and it can take more than a month to go from deciding what to buy to actually closing the deal. Why add to that pressure by trying to squeeze your shopping into a certain day of the week or a holiday weekend when everyone has the same idea?
But if you're a shopper who really wants to home in on the very best time to buy, let's look at your options.