The Best Time to Buy a New or Used Car

Here's the best—and worst—time of year to buy any kind of car.

As a bona fide car-shopaholic, I'm often asked when is the best time to buy a new or used car. The answer is surprisingly complex. After exhaustive investigation, I’ve found out not just the best time to buy a new or used car, but I'v narrowed it down to the best months and even days to buy a car. The seven important tips for buying a car aren't limited to just timing, but also when is the best time to buy a new car versus a used car. We also lay out key pitfalls to avoid when making your purchase.  

Whether you are just beginning your search or ready to buy a car tomorrow, read these seven tips on when (and what) to buy—and what to avoid.

1. Some days are better than others

The good news for you eager folks out there, we are elbow-deep in the best time of year to buy a car right now. Black Friday sales and the holiday season isn’t just for deals on TVs and clothes, according to Cars.com. It also happens to be one of the best times to buy a car. That’s why you hear about the Lexus December to Remember and Subaru’s Share the Love event so much this time of the year. Manufacturers are actively trying to woo you into buying a car. 

At the end of the year you’ve got dealerships scrambling on multiple fronts. Towards the end of the month, dealers are always trying to make their monthly sales numbers. They are typically more apt to cut you a deal on buying a car to hit their sales targets when they know they are only a few cars away.

2. Watch for end-the-quarter deals

Not only are the last few days of the month great but if that month happens to be the end of a quarter it can be one of the cheapest times to buy a car. This really gets kicked up a notch at the end of the year. There is no tomorrow for you to buy a car. Dealers want that metal moved before next year.

It’s one thing to have old models on the lot when the new models are out. It’s another thing to have old models on the lot when the new year has begun. This can lead to desperation for dealers still holding new cars from the previous model year. That makes the last week in December arguably the best time to buy a new car. You may even want to buy yourself a car for Christmas, according to Time.com. So why not treat yourself this holiday season?

But what if you’re not ready to buy a car during the best time to buy a car? Does that mean buying a car should wait a whole year? Absolutely not. There are other times which rank right up there with the best time to buy a car. You can always go towards the end of the month or the end of the quarter. However, dealers are always offering up car buying deals throughout the year.

3. Take advantage of 3-day weekend deals

One of the best times to buy a car is during three-day holiday weekends, according to Edmunds. Think President’s Day, Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day sales. This can be a great time for new car deals but maybe the best time to buy a used car. Think about the seasonality of these holidays. President’s Day is in the dead of winter, Memorial Day kicks off the summer and Labor Day marks the end of summer. There are certain types of used cars that dealers don’t want to keep on their lots and watch depreciate.

Looking for a four-wheel-drive truck or SUV? Perhaps you should think about buying a car like this around Memorial Day as the summer is about to kick-off. Sports cars and convertibles? A car buying tip for those is to buy them in the dead of winter. Who wants to buy a new car and keep it in a garage for four months before driving it? Seasonality has a lot to do with used car prices.

4. Buy during auto shows

If you’re set on buying a new car rather than a used one, you can also get a great deal during special events like auto show sales. If you live in an area where a car show comes to town, dealers will likely have deals, making it one of the best times to buy a car. They’ll offer huge cash-back incentives, low APR financing, and lease specials. And if you have an auto show in your area, check it out yourself. You’ll have a giant showroom of all new cars from different brands to compare. Growing up in Chicago, going to the auto show was like a second Christmas for me. 

Thinking back to the dealer’s need to get the previous model year off the lot, buying these cars when the new model hits the showroom is a great idea. With new models coming in with upgraded features, dealers push to get the old model year out of the way. This is especially true when dealers have lots of inventory stopping them from getting more of the new model.

5. There is a worst time to buy a car

After figuring out the best time to buy a new car, the worst time to buy a car should become pretty obvious. Basically, the opposite of the best time ends up being the worst time. If the end of the month, quarter, and year are good times to buy a car then the beginning of the month, quarter, and year are the worst times to buy a car. Dealers are less likely to cut you a dealwhen they know they have plenty of time ahead of them. Rather than give you concessions, they can take their time and play hardball with you a little.

The worst time of the year to buy a car is in springtime, according to lender USAA. Not only are people crawling out of their winter hibernation, but they’ve also got deposit money in the form of tax refunds. This leads to a lot of shoppers out there willing to spend money. That puts a huge demand for cars and can lead to increased car prices and fewer deals.

6. Avoid the start of the new model year

The start of the new model year is a bad time to buy the newest model car. If you check out the pricing data on Truecar.com, the real deals come on the previous model year as dealers are pushing to get this inventory off the lot. If you come in trying to get the brand new model while last year’s model is discounted, dealers will seize the opportunity to make you pay full price.

7. Don't buy convertibles in summer or SUVs in winter

Remember that the seasonality of used car prices works both ways. While buying a convertible in the dead of winter is smart idea, buying one during Memorial Day or Fourth of July is likely to cost you more. When the weather is nice, there’s increased demand for these open-air vehicles, notes All American Auto Dealer. If you’re SUV shopping, you may want to avoid buying those when there’s a foot of snow on the ground. Have you ever tried to buy a snow-blower at Home Depot during the first blizzard? Good luck finding a deal.