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When Is the Best Time to Buy a Car?

Tips on when to buy a car to get the best deal


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?

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.

Best time of the year to buy a car

End of the month

When the month is coming to an end, dealers might be a few cars short of a sales quota that would win them a big bonus. Salespeople will have more motivation to make a deal with a buyer and might deeply discount cars, making up any money lost with the bonus. This is the time when you shouldn't sleep on the car deal. Keep in mind, however, that if the sales team met its quota earlier that month, salespeople may not be as motivated to give you the screaming deal you might be expecting. This is difficult to know ahead of time. But if you're in the midst of negotiating and the dealer offers you a super-low price, take a moment to ask your salesperson why the dealer is willing to potentially lose money on this sale. If the reason makes sense to you, and the price is considerably better than your research says it should be, it could be a sign the dealer is trying to make a sales goal.

If you're feeling nervous about buying in a short end-of-month timeframe, test-drive the car in which you're interested earlier in the month and close the deal as the end of the month approaches. Also, many new-car incentive offers are good for a few days after the month ends, which gives you a bit of a buffer.

End of the calendar year

If your primary objective is to buy or lease a new car at the best price possible, Edmunds data indicates that December's year-end sales events will give you a "perfect storm" of savings.

You should look for a vehicle from the outgoing model year that has generous incentives. According to Edmunds data, December has the year's highest discount off MSRP — 6.1% on average — and the highest incentives. Automakers and dealerships want to close the year with strong sales. They also want to get rid of the prior model-year cars that are taking up space, so they're motivated.

Each manufacturer handles the end-of-the-year selldown differently. So some car dealerships will have a better selection of outgoing-year vehicles late in the year, while the pickings could be slim at others. Be sure to check Edmunds' Incentives and Rebates for customer cash rebates, low-interest incentives and lease specials.

Best month to buy a car

While the data shows that December is the best time of the year to buy, there are also a few other viable months. In other words, if you need a car in January, there's no need to wait 11 months to get a good deal.

The discounts on new cars typically follow a trend that coincides with the introduction of new models. In general, the more new cars there are coexisting with old models, the better the savings.

Least discounted months

  • January
  • February
  • March
  • April

Better discounted months

  • May
  • June
  • July
  • August
  • September

Most discounted months

  • October
  • November
  • December

The months of January through April are generally slow-selling ones and have the smallest discounts off MSRP. In fact, the month with the smallest amount off MSRP is February, with an average discount of about 5.7%. Things get better in the summer months: The introduction of new cars drives down prices on outgoing models. And finally, the discounts improve the most the closer you get to the end of the year.

If you need a car in October and want to get the best deal, you might want to wait until December, even though you'll run the risk of having fewer cars to choose from. Waiting will give you more time to do more research on the right car for you. You'll also be able to gather more price quotes.



Best day to buy a car

Early in the week: This tip is more about the level of attention you can expect from a salesperson than about getting a killer deal. Weekends are typically the busiest time at a dealership. The salesperson might be juggling multiple customers, and the finance office is likely to be a bottleneck. But if you show up on a Monday or Tuesday, there will be less foot traffic. You can ask plenty of questions and the transaction should take far less time. In some parts of the country, however, dealerships are closed on Sundays. And as a result, Monday is a pretty busy day of the week. If that's the case for you, go on a Tuesday or Wednesday.

Best times to buy a car

End of the model year

All the new model-year cars used to debut in the fall, making the end of summer a good time to shop for leftovers. These days, however, there is no unified new model-year season. For example, we see cars from the upcoming model year debuting as early as March of a calendar year. Even so, Edmunds data indicates that the end of the summer is a sweet spot for outgoing model-year vehicles.

Edmunds analysts say that August and September are when they generally see automakers make the most decided transition into the new models. The summer months tend to correspond with a bump in incentives, particularly low APR financing on outgoing model-year vehicles.

Something to note: It's worth looking at the incoming model-year cars to see what features have changed and to get a feel for pricing. It's rare, but there have been instances when a car from the incoming model year has had better incentives than a car from the outgoing model year, particularly if you're looking to lease.

End of the car's design cycle (before a redesign)

When the manufacturer is going to continue making a certain car model but is about to redesign it completely, you can see some serious savings on the outgoing design. True, you are buying a car without the latest styling or technology, but if you're more bargain hunter than trendsetter, this might not matter to you.

End of the car's life cycle (discontinued model)

Sometimes the manufacturer announces that it will stop making a car altogether. There's potential in this situation for even bigger savings. You should know that the car will depreciate steeply if it's being discontinued, but if you plan on keeping it for a while, it won't affect you. It's also worth looking into why the automaker pulled the plug on a given vehicle. Is it a matter of changing tastes, or was the car truly bad in terms of performance or reliability? In recent years, for example, SUVs have surged in popularity and many domestic automakers have discontinued many of their sedans. Going further back, vehicles such as the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet never really found an audience and the Pontiac Aztek had a face only Walter White could love.

Best holidays to buy a car

Three-day weekends

It's hard to miss the inflatable eagles, gorillas and wacky waving tube men that dot car lots, to say nothing of ads that promise "rock-bottom" prices. Does a "Star-Spangled Sale-a-Bration" mean savings for you? It can, but be prepared for a busier-than-normal showroom. Ideally, you want to do your research and test-drive before the holiday and close the deal on the weekend. Or, better yet, sew up the deal on the first weekday after the weekend. Here's a deeper dive into shopping on a holiday weekend. And the following is a list of the three-day holiday weekends, along with a brief rating of each:

  • Presidents Day: February is the month with the smallest discounts off MSRP, so this is unlikely to be the best month to buy.

  • Memorial Day: This holiday kicks off the summer buying season and is a solid time to get a deal. It's also when you will have the largest selection of outgoing models to choose from. Shop around this time if you're particular about a certain color or option package.

  • Fourth of July: There should be a greater mix of incoming and current-year vehicles around the Fourth. It's worth taking a look at what's on the lot if you're unsure whether you want the car from the outgoing or the incoming year.

  • Labor Day: This holiday is the sweet spot in terms of selection and competitive pricing. It's not the very best of the year in terms of savings, but you'll have more vehicles to choose from than if you waited for the year-end deals.

Black Friday

It's the biggest retail shopping day in the U.S. And people have been known to camp out for hours for deals on big-screen TVs and other electronics. The same shopping fervor happens on car lots after Thanksgiving. In recent years, automakers and dealers have been offering more incentives, discounts and "doorbusters" as a means of capturing some of that retail excitement. Black Friday also signals the end of the model year, so you'll see greater discounts on outgoing models.

If you want to shop on Black Friday, you'll need to do some pre-Thanksgiving planning, such as obtaining a value on your trade-in, getting preapproved for an auto loan from your bank or credit union, and taking some test drives. Also, make sure you read the fine print on any Black Friday deal ads that seem too good to be true. If you're willing to brave the crowds, here are more tips for car shopping on Black Friday.

What time of the year do new car models come out?

New car models used to debut in the fall. But these days, there is no single time of year. Vehicles for the next model year can debut as early as the spring of the current year. And some cars don't debut until the spring or summer of their model year. In other words, you'll see some 2022 vehicles for sale as early as the spring of 2021. Some 2022 models, meanwhile, won't show up in dealerships until halfway through 2021.

Best time to buy a used car

October through December is a good time to buy a used car. These months coincide with the peak new-car buying season at the dealership, which means more trade-ins are entering the used car inventory. More trade-ins translate to a better selection of used cars — and better prices, especially if the dealership is trying to hit its end-of-year quota. And if you're truly looking to get the best price on a used car, you'll want to shop in December.

Final thoughts on when to buy a car

As we've noted, you'll find many opportunities throughout the year to get a great deal on a new car. Ultimately, the best time to get a new car is when you need one and only after you have completed your research.

Figure out the market value of the car using Edmunds tools, and factor in any incentives and rebates. Take a look at our new or used inventory where we rate a number of the vehicle prices to assist with negotiation and provide perspective on whether you have a fair offer. Watch for unexpected add-ons. Then make your deal. In the long run, this approach makes more sense than trying to predict the effects of weather, holidays, and the seasonality of your car purchase.


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