Best Time to Buy a Car

Car Dealership New Stock

Buying a car is never easy. In these times of vehicle shortages, the process has evolved a bit and has become more difficult in many ways. Today, and in days before the market disruption, timing matters when you buy a car. This story will help to explain the best time to buy a new car, and cover both today’s unusual market, and the expected recovery period to follow.

Should I Buy a Car Now?

The quick answer to the question, “should I buy a car now,” is “probably not.” Unlike many automotive publications, Car Talk is not funded by automakers or dealers, so we can tell you honestly, there hasn’t been a worse time to buy a car in modern history. However, there are a few exceptions.

You may need to buy a car. If you find yourself in this situation, we can help with some strategy around the timing of your needed purchase. You may also be purchasing a car to add to your household fleet, and it may be a purchase you should make. However, you need to be able to invest some time and have patience if you don’t want to overpay.

While nobody at Car Talk would ever pretend to be an economist, we do know one thing for certain - prices of everything are rising, have been rising for well over a year, and are not showing any indication of slowing down. Therefore, the idea that you can wait out this period of high prices and limited inventory may prove false.

All of that said, if your current vehicle gets the job done, but you simply want a newer car, give the decision some serious consideration. If spending up to $3,000 on your current vehicle worth $10K or more will put that vehicle into good condition and make it reliable, waiting a year to see what happens with the market makes good sense, and it is advice we have taken ourselves and offered to our friends and family network.

What to Consider Before Buying a Car?

Car Talk exists in a world that celebrates the automobile. We offer content about how great the newest vehicles are. Particularly new electric vehicles, and vehicles like Ford’s all-new Maverick hybrid pickup. We are sincere in saying that the cars coming to market in 2022 are fantastic. However, are they really coming to market?

Before you decide you want a Tesla Cybertruck in Silver, with the 22-inch rims, a spray-in bedliner, and FSD, let’s step back. There is no Tesla Cybertruck. Nobody has ever purchased one. You can order one online, but that model was “announced” years ago. It may be years before your order is filled. Yet, the constant media hype around that vehicle could easily give you the impression that the truck is something you can actually buy right now.

Then there are the models that are sort of here. The new Ford Mustang Mach-E, Hyundai Ioniq 5, Toyota RAV4 Prime, and Volkswagen ID.4 are all fantastic new EVs which we would recommend to any buyer. However, they are built in minuscule numbers. In Q1, the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid outsold the complete list of these vehicles because automakers can’t get the batteries to build them. Be sure the vehicle you want can actually be purchased.

And if you do want a hot new model, and you can find it, don’t be shocked if the price is $5,000 or more over the sticker price. Dealers are routinely marking up the most popular vehicles by $5K or more today. And it isn’t just dealers. Tesla uses no dealers, but it had about a dozen price increases over the past year or so. The Model Y increased in price twice in one week in March.

We have done our honest-to-goodness best to give you a real-world view of what buying a new car is like. With that out of the way, here is a fact; Car sales have not dropped that much in volume. The U.S. auto industry will still deliver over 16 million new cars in 2022. You can be one of those folks if you want to be.

When Are The Best Times to Buy a Car?

Car Talk knows that timing is important when buying a new car, but wanted to hear it from someone who actually sells cars. We reached out to a salesperson working at one of the largest brands. We'll call him Jeff, because that is his name. We asked if timing still matters given the vehicle shortages. Jeff told us it certainly does.

Within our list of the best times to buy below we will insert Jeff’s insights when applicable. Before we go too far, here is Jeff’s new car buying philosophy;

“The best time to buy from my perspective is when you find a vehicle you really like and feel comfortable going ahead with the purchase.”

Sounds simple, but finding the vehicle you want is the real trick in today’s market.

Best Times to Buy a Car

Below we have compiled a list of some of the best times to purchase a car throughout the year, and how they may apply to your particular search for a new vehicle.

Before You Need One

Buying a new car before the car you own has a major breakdown is wise for many reasons. First off, a running car of any type today is worth good money. This is perhaps the best time in history to sell or trade in a used car. Some used cars are selling at prices above the same brand new model. We spoke to a Mazda dealer in the metro Boston area who explained why. He told us that used vehicles are here right now. They are in front of you. That has value. He can have a new Mazda for a customer in about four weeks, but he has shoppers arrive via Uber who want a car that very day. They buy used cars at prices higher than new ones because they simply cannot wait. If your beater runs, passes its state inspection, and you are ready to buy, don’t wait for the transmission to explode.

End of the Month

Our salesperson expert Jeff told us, “The best time in a normal buying environment could be at the end of each month. Many dealers are trying to earn more vehicle allocations and reach internal and external volume goals.” In other words, the dealers have quotas they wish to meet. You can take advantage of a good deal by helping them when the sales period is about to end. Some dealers also are awarded bonuses of sorts when they exceed sales quotas, so you can still find a good deal even if they had a great month.

Mondays

Why Monday? One reason is that Saturday and Sunday are busy days in the car selling business. Mondays are the first day of the work week, and you may find dealerships are slower on this day of the week, assuming it is not a holiday Monday. Jeff told us, “I don't think there is a best time of the week to buy. One interesting dynamic might be that on a day where there is not much walk-in traffic, or maybe it has been raining all day, dealers could potentially offer customers better deals just to get some units sold that day.”

Three-Day Weekends

America celebrates its dozen or so national holidays on Mondays whenever possible. With the day off, dealers plan ahead to have a full staff, and as much inventory as possible on hand for test drives. Some three-day weekends, for example President’s Day, are important for dealers. Jeff told us, “Dealers typically try to have huge volume numbers around holidays and holiday weekends. They may be inclined to offer better deals than on a regular day.”

The Month of May

May has traditionally been a good month for car shoppers. Memorial Day is an important holiday for dealers and automakers. The deals that are created around that day are not always just one-day offers. Shoppers can often find rebates and deals in May that are related to the Memorial Day sales events. One other reason May is a fine month during which to buy a new car is the winter is over and the towns and states have had time to repair the roads from winter pothole damage. Who wants to drive out of a dealership and be behind the sanding truck on the way home? Buying in May might give you six months before you get that first windshield chip directly in your line of sight, or knock the wheels out of alignment hitting a monster frost heave.

Christmas Season and New Years

Many brands, particularly luxury brands, don't have a steady rate of sales throughout the year. Many rely on holiday season buyers to make the year successful. Those big red bows on cars during the run-up to Christmas and New Years are a good sign that deals can be had. We suggest starting shortly after Thanksgiving. With inventory shortages, the holiday deals will likely work best if you can take the keys before December 31st.

First Business Day of the New Year

Although the holiday deals might end January 1st, the first business day of any new year seems like a logical time to low-ball a dealer on a new car. Every business wants to start strong, and you might score a deal if you dangle a purchase on day one of the new year.

Black Friday

Black Friday is America’s new Christmas. Every industry that makes anything consumer-focused now prepares for this day and offers deals. The auto industry is no different. Be ready. This is one time when it may actually be a “day” that you have to enjoy the deals.

When There Are Incentives, Rebates, or Financing Deals

Our colleague owns a publication called GM-Trucks.com. For years, the publication employed a person to write stories around the $10,000 rebates that GM offered on trucks from time to time. GM would put so much cash on the dash, the trucks would get flat spots on the tires. This was routine until the recent market disruption. It will likely return. If you have a favorite brand, you can even set up daily Google alerts using the keywords “Rebate and Your Brand Your Model.”

It seems obvious that those days are on hold, however Toyota had a rebate program running last month on the Prius. So, your specific model will be the determining factor here. Actively watch for rebates and discounts on the model you may want in the coming year. Be ready.

October through January 1st - End of the Model Year

Fall and early winter are an ideal time to look for a new car in normal circumstances. Many, if not most, new cars begin their new model year a bit early. The calendar year is not aligned with the car’s model year for any brand anymore. When the model year changes, the old and new model year cars (all new) sit side by side. Obviously the older model year cars are just crying to be sold first. Help your dealer move them into your driveway.

When a Car Has Been Redesigned or Discontinued

In normal times, and we pray they return, there is a great time to shop for cars if you don’t care about it being the newest of its type. Every five years or so, almost every popular model is redesigned. When that happens (in normal times) the new, but last-generation model may be sitting on a dealer lot directly next to a new version one model year newer. Those outgoing (but new) leftover vehicles look like day-old donuts. I like day-old donuts, and if they are cheap, I love them. If you feel that way too, watch for the couple month period where the old and new models exist side by side. It’s happening to the Honda Civic right now. Or would be, if there were any in stock.

End of the Dealer’s Fiscal Year

Your author has a weakness for Mitsubishis. Medication has not helped. Because of this, I shop for Mitsubishi plug-in hybrid crossovers non-stop. My local dealer in Metro Boston is a great listener. He finally told me, “Look, our fiscal year ends in August. If I ever have a best time to move inventory off my lot for silly low prices it is August. So call me then.” If you want a certain brand, ask your car dealership’s sales manager which month is the best. They might be honest with you.

What Are The Worst Times to Buy a Car?

Let us think about the worst time to buy a car. Hmm…It is now. Right now!

Yes, stepping back from the days and months that are best, right now is a bad time. Like with housing, it is a seller’s market for automobiles today. We pray this story ages horribly.

For more details on when not to buy a car, see the list above and plan accordingly. Don’t be striding into a car dealership just after the “Blowout Sale!” has ended, stepping over a deflated waving man to force an exhausted salesperson to take your money. If the floor of the dealership looks like a college keg party happened last night you missed your window. If there are tumbleweeds rolling across the empty storage lot, keep driving.

The first four months of the year have the least amount of deals in normal times, with the notable exception of the February President’s Day events.

Buck up old chum. It won’t be long before dealers will be standing in front of a long row of cars in any color you like saying, “So, what’s it gonna take for you to drive this beauty home today?”

You Have A Lease About To Come To An End - What To Do Next

If you are driving a car today that you are leasing, rejoice! Nearly every lease written 39 months ago included a clause that allows you to buy it when the lease expires. Over that span of time, the vehicle shortage and crazy inflation have worked in your favor. Big time. The buy-out value was set back before the dollar devalued by 20% and when dealers had hundreds of new cars on the lot.

Buying out your leased vehicle, even if you plan to trade it or sell it in the near future, may be a very wise decision. For one thing, you avoid the whole fiasco of trying to buy in a market without inventory. For another, if you turn that vehicle in you may be walking away from thousands of dollars in equity.

Put simply, a car coming off a lease is a very valuable thing to have right now. Think long and hard before you opt out of the purchase clause.

FAQ

When is the best month to buy a car?

From a financial standpoint, the fall and early winter months tend to be the best. However, more than months, specific times of the year offer good buying windows. The Christmas holiday season, Presidents Day, Memorial Day, and your dealer’s fiscal year-end are all good times to look for bargains.

Are car prices going to keep going up?

Most definitely, yes. Trying to wait out the inventory shortage may not be wise. Inflation running close to 10% per year means car prices are likely to climb for the foreseeable future. Tesla had two price increases in one week in March.

What day of the week is best to buy a car?

Seasoned sales people say that a quiet or rainy weekday is often a good time. Some dealers may want to do a single deal on a very slow day.

Are deals around holiday events real?

For the most part, they are real. Many luxury brands do a lot more business near holidays than they do in normal months and weeks.

When can I find a good deal on a Honda Civic?

Any model that is undergoing a design change and new model year presents an opportunity for buyers. Look for overlap of the old and new models and opt for the outgoing (still new) model.

Our special thanks to Toyota Jeff for his insight and collaboration with Car Talk on this article.

Editor's note and disclaimer: Car Talk is supported by our fans, readers and listeners. When you click on some of the links on our website, we may receive referral compensation. However, you should know that the recommendations we make are based on our independent editorial review and analyses.