Black Friday: Good Day for Buying, Bad Time for Browsing at Car Dealerships

Dealership traffic roughly doubles the day after Thanksgiving, so do your homework, experts say.

Car Dealerships Take Sunday Off
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Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and the unofficial start to the holiday shopping season, should bring some of the best deals in years on new vehicles, thanks in part to bloated dealer inventories. But consumers looking to take advantage of holiday sales should be braced for crowds and plan ahead to make the most of their time and money, advise experts at Edmunds. 

"Incentives reached near-record levels in October, so we expect automakers to continue to sweeten savings as the year winds down," Jessica Caldwell, director of industry analysis at Edmunds, said in a release. "With slower sales of 2017 model year vehicles, automakers and dealers are more likely to leverage fully the Black Friday holiday as an opportunity to thin bloated inventories to make room for 2018 models."

One of the biggest car shopping holidays of the year, Black Friday accounts for 15 percent of total November sales, according to Edmunds research. That means dealership traffic roughly doubles, so best to come prepared.

"You should already know what car you can afford, whether you are leasing or buying, and have narrowed your list to about three models at most," said Matt Jones, a former car salesman and senior consumer advice editor at Edmunds. "When you're at the dealership, make sure you ask your salesperson if you're getting all of the incentives available on the car. Sometimes they're not advertised, and if you don't ask, the salesperson isn't necessarily obligated to bring them up."

Here's what not to do, according to Edmunds: 

1. Go window shopping on Black Friday. You wouldn't pick that day to go window shopping at Walmart, and starting your car shopping on Black Friday would be a mistake, too. It's a day geared for buying, not browsing.

2. Wait until Black Friday to get your trade-in appraised. If there is a CarMax near you, get an appraisal there a few days before Thanksgiving. That way, you have a trade-in amount for comparison at the dealership on Black Friday. If no CarMax is available, it is still a good idea to get your trade-in appraised in advance. Your local dealership should be able to give you a price.

3. Assume you'll have to negotiate for hours to get the lowest price. Chances are good that prices you'll be offered on Black Friday are already at or near rock bottom. 

4. Sign up for a zero-percent APR loan without first checking to see if there is a cash-back offer. It might actually save you more money.

5. Assume the car you've got your eye on will automatically get a dramatically after-Thanksgiving discount. Not all carmakers will have Black Friday specials, and not all dealerships will be offering extra-special deals. Visit the carmaker's website, check our Incentives and Rebates page, or reach out to your local dealership ahead of time to see what Black Friday specials you can expect.

This is what you should do: 

  • Get a head start on research: Maximize your time by gathering as much information as you can beforehand. Look for rebates and incentives in advance to get a good baseline for comparing deals. Call to check inventory and get price quotes and call competing dealers to ask them to beat the deal you have in hand.
  • Schedule an early test drive: If your schedule permits, test-drive vehicles in advance of the holiday weekend. If that's not possible, schedule a test drive as early as possible on the morning of Black Friday to beat the crowds.
  • Sort out your paperwork beforehand: Call the dealership and see what paperwork you can complete online or from home. Before heading to the dealership, make sure you have in hand all your necessary documents, such as your driver's license, insurance information, and loan paperwork.
  • Read the fine print: When you're looking at a deal, make sure you're talking about out-the-door terms, including interest rates, sales tax, and car fees. You can always negotiate the car's price more aggressively to offset other components of the deal.