Summer 2021 update: The COVID-19 pandemic has affected vehicle production worldwide and brought factory closures, limited staffing, and a global shortage in semiconductor chips that are essential components in a modern vehicle. As a result, fewer new vehicles are available on dealer lots. According to Edmunds analysts, new vehicle inventory at dealerships nationwide was down by 48% at the end of April compared to a year ago. Upwards of 12% of shoppers in April were paying over sticker price for new cars, and prices are rising for both new and used vehicles as a result.
This means that 2021 will not be a normal year in terms of the selection of cars available and the discounts you may encounter. Edmunds experts advise consumers in the market for a new car to start shopping sooner rather than later since they expect the chipset shortage will likely affect pricing and inventory through at least the second half of 2021.
If you're shopping for a new or used car in today's difficult marketplace, please also see "Shopping Tips During the Global Microchip Shortage" for our experts' targeted, data-driven advice.
This article was originally written before the pandemic when vehicle prices were more stable and predictable. That said, many of the major elements still ring true. The fall and winter should bring the largest discounts, and vehicles that are being redesigned or discontinued should still provide the potential for greater savings.
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. Flying somewhere? Buy your plane ticket on a Tuesday and fly out on a Wednesday.
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.
· End of month
· End of the calendar year
· Best month to buy a car
· Best day to buy a car
· End of the model year
· End of the car's design cycle
· End of the car's life cycle
· Three-day weekends
· Black Friday
· Best time to buy a used 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 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 wants to home in on the very best time to buy, let's look at your options.
End of the month
When the month is coming to an end, dealers might be a few cards 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 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, 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 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.
The months of January through April are generally slow-selling ones and have the smallest discounts off MSRP. 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.