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

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

Wouldn’t you love to walk into a dealership, take a look through the lot, and end up driving away with the car of your dreams without feeling like you got the short end of the bargain?

Yeah, me too.

This isn’t to say that all car salesmen see their customers simply as marks to be milked for all they’re worth. On the contrary, a good salesman knows a satisfied customer is more likely to do business with them again in the future, so they’ll make sure their clients don’t feel like they’re getting ripped off.

However, car salesmen still need to look out for themselves first, and their customers second. After all, their main goal is to make money for the dealership, right?

But what is the best time of year to buy a used car? There are definitely times throughout the year in which salesmen will be a little more lenient with their pricing, as well as the terms, conditions, and deals they can offer their clients. As a customer, if you know when these times are, you’ll have a much better chance of getting a deal that doesn’t make you feel as if you’re breaking the bank.

Throughout the Year

There are two recurring moments throughout the year in which you’ll have a good amount of leverage when purchasing a new vehicle: at the end of each month, and at the end of each sales quarter.

A salesman’s performance is most often assessed by his ability to reach and exceed his sales quota. If a salesman has been tasked with selling ten cars per month, he’ll do just about anything in his power to reach that number.

Now, this isn’t to say that a salesman will be able to just give cars away if they haven’t hit their quota – they still have to operate in the best interest of the dealership as a whole. But they’ll be much more likely to take what they can get, and not try to upsell you on features and additions you really have no need for.

Even salesmen who have met their quota will be more likely to make sales on their clients’ terms toward the end of a cycle rather than going for “big kills.” Sales bonuses usually outweigh the commission they’d get from selling a fully-stocked vehicle instead of the standard model, so salesmen who have already met their quota will be more likely to try and pad their bonus stats by selling you the scaled-down model you asked for in the first place.

If you absolutely need a new car right away, you should try to do whatever you can to at least wait until the last week of the month to make your decision. The more time you have, the more options you have as well.

Specific Times of Year

There are two times of each year in which it is most beneficial to buy a car. If you’re not in dire need of a new vehicle, but you know you’ll need one within the year, you should take advantage when these moments roll around if you want to get the best deal possible from your local dealership.

End of the Year

You’ve almost certainly heard commercials advertising “clear the lot” sales at the end of the year. During the holiday season, dealerships will do whatever they can to sell their current inventory.

The individual salesman will want to increase his yearly sales numbers, and perhaps pad his bonus statistics as well. As mentioned before, he’ll be content making bare-minimum commission if it means his yearly numbers will look good.

However, unlike during other times of the year, salesmen often have the dealership’s blessing to sell whatever they can come the end of the year.

For one thing, the dealership as a whole will be looking to meet their annual quota. The business needs to be able to provide evidence to car manufacturers that it will be able to do what it sets out to do: sell cars.

Furthermore, dealerships need to “clear the lot” at the end of the year simply because time is moving on. Even brand new cars that haven’t been taken off the lot lose their value once the newest model is released. Even if the newest model isn’t available at that specific dealership, a model that is, by name, a year older, will still carry less value.

And, of course, dealerships have a finite space in which to house their inventory. When new cars come rolling in, the old cars need a place to go. Dealerships will do whatever they can do sell the old models – especially if their only other option is to junk the old ones.

So it might seem that, as a consumer, the best time to purchase a new vehicle is at the end of the year. However, you should also keep in mind that, at the end of the year, most of a dealership’s best inventory will already have been purchased, and you’ll have to take what you can get.

But there is one more time during the year in which you can maximize your gains at the dealership.

The Automobile Harvest

The late summer and early fall may be the best times of the year to hunt for a new car.

This is the time in which the following year’s models begin to be released, and dealerships start to turn over their inventory. Though there may not be the sense of urgency there is toward the end of the year, dealerships will start to make sacrifices as long as they can make sales during this time of year.

The late summer is also far enough away from the end-of-year sales that customers might not want to wait to purchase a new vehicle. But it’s also close enough that dealerships will want to make as many sales as possible before the value of their inventory drops significantly. Because of this, the dealership will again be likely to bend toward the customer’s needs rather than focusing on the upsell.

Lastly, unlike the end of the year, dealerships’ inventories will still be decently stocked during the late summer months. So while you may not get the absolute best price for a new car during this time of year, you also won’t end up settling for a car you only chose because it was the cheapest and most readily available model.