What’s the Best Time of Year to Buy a Used Car?

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Buying a used car can be a stressful experience. Between researching different options, taking multiple test drives, and dealing with the stereotypical used car salesperson, there’s a lot that can challenge your sanity in the process. Despite the stress, the process can be worth it if you get the right car for the right price. If you take your time, try out different options, and really focus on what you want out of a vehicle, finding the right car can be straightforward. 

Finding that magical deal, however, can be more challenging. Unless your local dealership has the car you want with an attractive price already on it, you will have to time things right to get the best deal. Don’t get us wrong, some haggling may still be necessary to get the price down, but you can increase your chances of getting a good deal by shopping at the right time. If you don’t have a pressing need for a used car today, here are the best times you should shop around for the best price or deal.

Around the Holidays

Shopping around the holidays (especially around Black Friday, Memorial Day, or at the end of the year before the New Year holiday) has long been an effective way to get a deal on almost anything. Car buying is no different since car dealerships will often run holiday deals to get in on the action. Don’t forget the lesser holidays that don’t last a whole month (like President’s Day) when looking at what dealerships are offering.

Just be prepared for some competition. Holidays are when everyone shops, so the dealerships may be flooded by like-minded potential customers shopping for the best deals as well. The increased competition can make it difficult to get the best deal possible since dealerships will have less incentive to hit rock-bottom prices. 

During the Off-Season

You don’t have to wait for the “best day” or holiday weekends to get good deals. Local dealerships often experience peaks and valleys in sales throughout the year. While larger, nationwide dealers can keep up with changing demands, the local dealerships have a harder time. Focusing on the off-season for a local dealership (which can vary) is a great way to get a good deal and support some local business at the same time. 

The off-season can partly depend on the type of vehicle you are looking for. Off-roading and all-wheel-drive vehicles, for example, have less demand in the early summer and fall when the extra traction isn’t required. Convertibles, on the other hand, won’t have much demand in the winter and spring.

Dealership Deal Days (or Weeks)

Holidays aren’t the only time when dealerships will run specific deals. Local dealerships, in particular, often have scheduled or “surprise” deal days to entice customers to come in when they don’t have the natural drive of the holidays. While the competition can still be strong for a good deal, this is a great way to buy a used vehicle at other times of the year.

The trick is keeping an eye on local dealerships advertising better deals. They’ll often announce the deal (via local newspapers, websites, billboards, etc.) early to generate awareness and buzz before the big date. If you see the deal ahead of time, you can prepare for it. 

Winter and Summer

Used car prices don’t plummet during the summer and winter months, but many dealerships often feel the pressure to sell around these times for a variety of reasons. During the winter, for example, there is often less interest from customers to come in and test drive vehicles in bad weather. Customer interest generally increases again in the springtime.

For the summer, dealerships often are keen to sell used vehicles around July and August to make room for new models coming out. Before the new models are released, dealerships may run last-minute deals and price cuts to clear out the inventory more quickly than at other times of the year. 

Near the End of a Quarter

Most businesses track quotas and sales in quarters. Salespeople who may be lagging behind in the sales quotas will often start to feel the pressure to sell inventory when the deadline is on the horizon. So, you may be able to take advantage of this pressure by shopping around near the end of each three-month cycle.

The same logic holds true if the dealership tracks sales and quotas by the end of the month or year. Basically, any time the clock is running out is the perfect opportunity for you to come in to get a good deal or some negotiating leverage. 

After New Model Releases

New model releases, especially after a new generation or redesign is out, can persuade people to trade in their old vehicles for the shiny new ones. The sudden surplus of slightly-used and CPO vehicles can create a lot of supply and little demand, prompting dealerships to lower prices and offer incentives to move older versions of the car. 

The effectiveness of this approach depends on the specific make and model of the new release. Popular cars generate more buzz, getting more sales and turnover with previous model year trade-ins. In other words, if you’re looking for a new car that’s coming out with a major upgrade or release, you can save more money going with a previous version.

During the Quiet Hours

Just like any business, dealerships have peak and slow hours throughout the day. Slow points, like the middle of weekdays, make it more challenging for salespeople to meet any weekly targets they may have. This can once again put the pressure to actually move used inventory greater than when a particular dealership is experiencing higher customer traffic, like on weekends. 

You shouldn’t expect to get a major deal when shopping during the slow points of a day, but it can give you a little bit of an edge in negotiations. Competition for the same deals and used vehicles is also lower since the majority of potential customers will still be at work or with family. If you have the time to come when other people aren’t around, take advantage of it.