The Best Time Of The Year To Buy A Car

Black Audi R8 V8My 13 year old SUV named Moose feels like it’s on its last legs. There’s a loud whiny noise every time I turn the steering wheel, which likely means the power steering box is cracked. Moose drips engine oil everywhere he goes and now he leaks coolant!

With a Blue Book value of only around $3,000, spending ~$1,000 to fix doesn’t seem prudent. It costs around $100 to fill up his 24 gallon tank and he only gets roughly 16 miles per gallon. Luckily I only drive about 6,500 miles a year.

The other reason why I’m looking to buy a new car is due to the advancement in safety features. Better brakes, better traction control, and more airbags would be nice. I’m not even sure my airbags work after 13 years!

One of my all time favorite things to do is spend time at a car dealer. There’s nothing like inhaling that new car smell and taking the latest models for a spin for free. All told I’ve probably visited a car dealership 25 times in the last 12 months and probably over 100 times in the last five years. Call me thorough, crazy, an enthusiast, or simply a consumer who shows great constraint for not spending any money on one of his favorite things. Whatever you say there’s nothing better than finding something you love to do that’s free.

THE BEST TIME TO GET THE BEST DEALS ON A CAR

Car salespeople probably hate me, but that’s good for those of you who are looking to get some insights into exactly when is the best time to buy a car. You see, I LOVE to negotiate. Finding sales people’s breaking points is a scintillating experience. It’s a respectful battle based on gamesmanship and false compliments e.g. “Have you lost some weight Sam? You deserve to buy this new car!”

If you ever want to work on your negotiation skills, practice at a car dealership. They are consistently some of the most aggressive sales people in any industry. This post will focus mainly on the best times to buy a car and not so much on negotiating tactics.

* Tax Season. Ask any small business owner who is not in the tax business and they will tell you that business always sees a cyclical slowdown in April. The reason being that plenty of people owe taxes by April 15. I personally owed a surprising five figure tax bill due to a retroactive law that raised taxes by 3% for those who make more than a certain amount in California. As a result, I didn’t spend money on anything other than necessities in March and April. (See: What Happens If I Don’t Pay My Taxes?) From my position as an online publisher, I see an increase in search traffic related to saving money and reducing taxes as opposed to search results relating to making more money, buying stuff, and going on vacations. Time period: March, April.

* Memorial Day Weekend. Memorial Day is the traditional start of Summer. After researching car incentives for over 10 years, Memorial Day Weekend, and the following 30 days, is the absolute best time to buy a car. One of the key reasons is that auto dealerships need to clear inventory for next year’s models which come out in the Fall. For example, the 2014 BMW 335i Coupe will come out in August 2013. This launch cycle is consistent with practically every major auto manufacture in existence. Memorial Day Weekend will also have brand new left over inventory from the previous year. These are often the best deals because you not only get a new car, you get a huge discount, and a warranty that starts at the time of purchase and not the time of manufacture. For example, I found a 2012 BMW 335i Coupe for $11,500 off to $44,700. Time period: End of May and the month of June.

* Labor Day Weekend. Labor Day Weekend marks the end of Summer and the beginning of Fall. Vacation is over and its back to the salt mines baby! A lot of people blow plenty of money during the Summer and the last thing on their mind is to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a new vehicle. Besides, folks who were looking for a new vehicle probably bought one just three to four months earlier during Memorial Day Weekend. However, because the following year’s models are now out in the Fall, current year models start looking very dated. Any left over current year models will be heavily discounted. Unfortunately, you will also be tempted by the new models! Time period: End of August, early September.

* End Of Year. There are always going to be end of year holiday sales. The best day of the year is probably the day before and the day after New Years where one day makes a car one year older or one year newer. Blue Book values plunge the first day of the New Year for example. Your new 2013 car come January 1, 2014 just doesn’t sound as new as on December 31, 2013. Time period: End of December.

If you just can’t wait for any of these four time periods, then at least wait until the end of the month. Car salespeople have quotas, and those who are lagging are the most motivated to sell you a car at the lowest of margins. It’s up to you to find the hungriest or greenest car salesperson at the dealership! The best time to refinance a mortgage very closely mimics the best time to buy a car due to similar sales incentives.

ONE NEGOTIATION TIP TO REMEMBER

If there’s one negotiation tip I’ve come away with after speaking to hundreds of car salespeople is that you must always be willing to walk away to get the best price. Even after you’ve spent an hour negotiating, walk away for a bit and go through the pros and cons. Get some lunch or literally go for a nice long walk. During this time period of wait, your salesperson will be wondering if you’ll ever come back. He’ll start doing the math on how much lower he’ll be willing to go if you do come back.

If you’ve decided now is the time to buy the car, go back and wait until he offers something extra before you start negotiating again. You should already have in mind through online research what the invoice, MSRP, and second hand price are for the car you like. Now it’s a matter of you being patient enough to get the deal of the year!

As for replacing Moose, I brought him to my trusty mechanic of 11 years to see what was wrong. He told me that I needed to replace my power steering pump and hoses as expected. Given that he’d have to take off the radiator to get in there, I told him to also replace my serpentine belt. You’re supposed to replace the belt every 100,000 miles and Moose already had 120,000 with no change! All in all, the cost came out to $880 vs. $1,600 if I were to take Moose to the dealer. Please never go to the dealer for service. If my mechanic said I’d have to spend more than $1,000 I would sadly have traded in Moose for a newer vehicle.

Recommendations:

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Sign up for Uber and get a free ride! Uber is one of the cheapest and most convenient ways to get around town. They are much cheaper than a taxi (~30% less) and much more reliable because you hail them through an app and can track their progress. There’s never any cash or tip to pay since everything is linked to your Uber account. If you sign up for Uber, you get your first ride up to $30 for free!

Updated: 9/14/14

Regards,

Sam

 

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

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Comments

  1. says

    Greg likes to play good cop/bad cop when we buy. I’m always the bad cop. I think it helps to be willing to walk out the door if you don’t get the deal you want. We have done that before and they’ve waved us back in. Having cash for the purchase helps as well!

    • Barb says

      My parents play good cop/bad cop. Mom is bad cop. My parents usually buy a new car in the fall when the new models come out. For a while, we were buying a new car yearly. My dad did buy a new car last Sept. (Prius) and we hope to buy a Camry Hybrid in the fall.

  2. says

    I’m not sure the Internet/email is a great substitute for in person negotiations, but with our last car, I did all haggling over email. I contacted whole bunch of dealerships and then negotiated with the ones that had the best 3 prices. Of course that takes the fun out of going to the dealership as well.

    With that said, I’m not sure I would ever buy a new car again. I’ve had great luck with used cars, my favorite being an old Honda that I bought for $2400 with 130K miles on it. I put another 100K on it and spent about $1000 in repairs.

  3. nbsdmp says

    Sam, I don’t know how you do it…cars are my weakness and although I have my own version of a Moose (11 year old Tahoe with 145,000 miles) for towing the boat around, I just love having cool cars. It actually might be one of the reasons I keep working since I can write it off for work. It is absolutely a terrible use of cash I must admit. I calculated once that on one of my company cars I spent 4,500 hours driving it. So that is almost a year and a half of eight hour days in this thing, that is partially how I justify in my mind buying something really nice to cruise around in. My suggestion to people would be buy 1 or 2 years old luxury car with low-ish miles. Cars today of all makes are all made to go 250,000 miles, don’t be afraid of getting used.

  4. says

    Those are some good times to buy a car, I have two tips for the readers as well. If you live in a cold / snowy area of the US, on Snow days the dealerships are empty and are willing to negotiate a favorable price for you. PLus you can experience the test drive in those conditions and decide if it is actually safe to get the car or not.

  5. says

    The best time to buy a car is at the end of the sales quarter. I know this because W works for a dealership and they gave out cars at significant losses two quarters so far this year. It’s all a numbers/quantity game for most dealerships, it’s not all about profit.

    • says

      Yup – and end of the fiscal year is another good time since sales people are often trying to finish up their numbers for the FY or are on multipliers if they’ve had a particularly good year. So they might be willing to cut you a better price to get the sale because they know their commission is double (or some other multiple) what it will be if you come back in week 1 of the new FY. Same goes for B2B sales.

  6. Catie says

    I like buying new. The last 2 used cars had issues that showed up too far after the purchase to allow me to get the dealership to do anything. It didn’t stop me from trying. My last car was a new Ford. I worked with the sales department for over an hour. They low-balled my trade in but I had just had it looked over at another dealer (had proof) what they were saying was wrong wasn’t true, so they brought the trade-in up. Once I felt I had my best deal I left the dealership for lunch… saying I would return. Boy was he upset. I came back about 1 hour before closing, tried to get some more leverage. Once I felt he had given me his best deal, I pulled out my ace. The Ford Z program… wham price drop an additional grand. Ya gotta love those friends and family programs. Just get your best deal from the trade-in first which I did, then you get the invoice price and they have to show it to ya. They also have to provide paperwork to the manufacturer. Woohoo… Got me a brand new Ford, paid it off in less than 2 years at a ridiculously low rate. Total interest payments were less than the cash back bonus I got for financing. It has been a great car for the last few years and I plan to keep it for many more. When you have one of these programs any time is a good time to buy if you want to buy new.

    • Victor The Cleaner says

      My impression was that the corporate discount programs were a set price below MSRP. You are saying that they gave you the same difference below the corporate rate? I know there are different types of discount programs, so maybe I am missing something here…

  7. says

    The dealers can really bend in your favor if you catch them at the right time. And focusing on the times when the new inventory is coming on or already on the lot is the best way to go buying last year’s inventory which isn’t even that old. I also like looking at certified pre owned inventory when I go car shopping. I don’t care so much about a car’s looks. I just want something safe that’s also affordable.

  8. says

    It can depend on the type of car you’re looking to buy as well. If you’re looking to buy a sports car of some sort, the fall/winter is probably the best time to buy as they aren’t in as high demand as they are in the spring and summer months.

    Walking out is always the ace up your sleeve when negotiating. We had the salesman chase us down in the parking lot and agree to our price once we walked out the doors when buying my g/f’s car.

  9. says

    I actually did a similar post on this a few months ago and we bought our last car around the Labor Day weekend. We were able to score a nice deal on the previous year’s model. Being able to walk away is huge and shows them that you’re their on your terms. We actually did a lot of our negotiating on the web with other dealerships and that shaved several thousand dollars off for us.

  10. says

    You forgot to mention one of the best times to buy a car is when manufactures have an updated model of their car, not just a new model year but a change of body styling/power/whatever.

    I purchased my last SUV when they just released a new body style and a bigger default engine. Saved me bundles of cash, especially since I liked the look and feel of the older version anyway.

    Combine that with your tips above, and you can get a new car for 75-80% of invoice.

  11. says

    The last part caught my attention, the one about walking away then coming back, because sometimes sales people will conclude the reason you came back was because you went to other dealers or stores and was not satisfied with the prices, so you came back to them. Won’t it make it harder for you to ask the dealer to lower their price?

  12. Winston says

    Another viewpoint re: finding a salesperson is to sneak around until you find the sales “leader board” and find the one with the MOST sales for the month. As a high-volume seller, he/she doesn’t have to make much money on each sale — unlike the salesperson with only a few sales for the month. That’s what my dad always recommended, and he sold cars for about 8-10 years (childhood…fuzzy…) and was often the sales leader each month.

  13. says

    I love to negotiate, but I hate buying cars. In most cases, car salesmen are better at it than I am. There is so much trickery and holdbacks etc. I look for ways to avoid the whole process. I use my credit union connections to go to the fleet manager or most recently (last year), I use a car broker. He was the father of one of my students. He got me a popular car at dealer invoice and I did not even work up a sweat. I prefer it that way.

  14. says

    That’s all good advice. The only other thing I could add is something I learned last time I bought: sometimes dealerships have hard-to-imagine reasons for selling at a low price. If you’re like me, you probably thought of MSRP and invoice price, etc, but (from what I hear) things have changed behind the scenes because every website has those numbers. Sometimes dealers get incentives for selling a certain number of cars or being the local market leader, so they might really come down if you’re patient.

  15. Rob says

    Hi Sam

    I’m a big fan if your blog and find it quite inspirational. One thing I don’t quite understand about you is your strict adherence to keeping your car costs so low. On one hand, I think it’s great advice for most people to keep there transportation costs as low as possible. But I’ve picked up clues in some of your posts that you’re somewhat of a car enthusiast. And I’ve also picked up that you’re not adverse to splurging on things that you care about (like cruises for example).

    What do you think of looking for good lease deals? Bmw, for example, tends to offer extremely good deals from time to time. I’m currently paying around 350/0 down for a 335i. I get to enjoy the new car smell, and don’t have to worry about maintenance, depreciation, diminished value in an accident, etc. Just a known, relatively low monthly cost for something I really enjoy! I’m probably kind of odd though in that I actually enjoy car shopping and negotiating.

    That being said, if someone cares less about cars and maxes their transportation budget on a luxury car lease that’s not a great strategy.

    • Winston says

      With any car purchase, you’re throwing away money — especially true for a lease, because you’re not getting any equity in return. However, if you can minimize that loss to the point where it begins to rival maintenance costs on a cheap used car purchased outright, then you begin to have a viable alternative to said used car (which is normally the most cost-effective way to get transportation). The only good lease deal I’ve ever come across was one earlier this year for a Fiat 500 at $99 per month with zero down. It’s pretty hard to beat $1200 per year when you consider depreciation and maintenance of a newer used car, as well as the good fuel efficiency the 500 has.

      Even at that lease rate I didn’t go for it, and am now driving a fully-depreciated sub-$2000 Ford Focus instead. (Is there a special cheapskate category for those of us following the “1/50 rule of car buying, Sam?” :))

      • moshennik says

        You are not “throwing money away”, you are paying for enjoying your ride.
        It’s not any more throwing money away then movie tickets or restaurant, or haircut, or pretty much anything else you buy over and above basic life sustainment.

        • Rob says

          That’s how I look at it. But for most people (who care less about cars), Sam’s advice about paying cash for a car that is no more than 1/20th of your salary makes a lot of sense. To me it’s exactly like paying for any experiential product (restaurants, travel, etc) where it’s not all about cost containment. I think most people have a few things they enjoy are willing to spend more on; the trick is to not let that attitude seep into every aspect of your budget.

        • Winston says

          I should probably clarify my stance on cars. I’m a “car guy” through and through and I love the sports car experience. I totally support anyone spending their money on that experience, within reason. Yet I drive a beater Ford Focus that cost less than some peoples’ televisions. So what gives? Am I just depriving myself of something that I love? Not really. I also have a Triumph Spitfire (a little British roadster, if you’re not familiar) as a fun weekend car that I can tinker with. I don’t apply the 1/10 rule to that car (though it would pass), because it’s not depreciating. It’s a hobby. Sam may disagree, but I feel that his 1/10 rule only applies to depreciating vehicles that most people would use as daily drivers. Fully depreciated cars and appreciating cars are another realm entirely.

          So should you go out and buy a new Porsche Cayman S because you’re a car guy and want the sports car experience? Not unless you make $530,000 per year. But you SHOULD go buy a beater Ford Focus to use as a daily driver AND a 1988 911 Carrera to drive to work on some Fridays and on most weekends, even if you’re only making $100k.

    • says

      Howdy Rob,

      I was a huge car enthusiastic and had 7 cars in 8 years at one point. Id go on rally rides too. But for some reason or another my interest in owning a sweet car faded as I got older. I wouldn’t mind the new 911 or an Audi S5 or 2014 Range Rover, but it’s not enough to pony over $60,000-$130,000 for them.

      Moose has really grown on my over the past 8 years and unless he absolutely is unfixable I’ll just keep him for at least two more years. I’m on the build phase of my business now and don’t want to waste any money either.

      $350/month for a 335i with no money down is pretty good! How’s you swing that?

      • Rob says

        Basically I combined a bunch if incentives including European delivery. Negotiated 500 over invoice for the cap cost. It was sort of a game to see if I could get it that low and I only pulled the trigger because it worked out.

        I’m 38 and haven’t grown out if it yet unfortunately! I look at it in the same way foodies look at going out to eat. And as long as I don’t spend too much on it I don’t feel the need to completely cut myself off.

        I agree -the rs5 and new 911 are 2 of my favorite cars. But I’d draw the line well south of leasing or buying either one. Porsche does have a pretty sweet 24 month lease on the 911 right now (relatively speaking) but $800 a month definitely crosses the line for me.

        I’m not a huge fan of the latest bmws so when this lease comes due I probably won’t do another. Maybe ill buy a fully depreciated 80s 911 instead !

        • Winston says

          I like that line of thinking! Hopefully that BMW lease is up soon, Rob. 80′s air-cooled 911′s hit bottom and are on the rise now.

        • says

          An 80s air cooked 911 would be nice.

          I can’t wait for the new 335i coupe coming out this September for the 2014 model! Might have to go to various dealers to test drive that puppy.

  16. Chris says

    Craigslist, 5 yrs old and get a pre-buyers inspection done with a mechanic. Do a little pre-game research and become knowledgeable on what maintenance should have been done for the existing mileage and look for the big things (i.e., timing belts). I find it’s more pleasant to haggle with private sellers who have an organized and thorough ad.

  17. says

    I have made great deals in the past and have always used two methods – one of course is waiting until the last day of the month (start my discussions about the middle of the month) and two, after test driving and deciding on the exact car, getting all of my information from edmunds.com, etc, I then do all my negotiating via email.

  18. moshennik says

    The best way to buy a used car – dealers auction. I’m lucky enough to have a friend who would do it for me for free. Some small dealers would do it for you for $200-500 fee.
    My last car i got through an auction in 2010 for 17,800 and sold 2 years later via craigslist for 17,300 :)

  19. Surfbum says

    I found that the best deals are on CL from a motivated and knowledgeable seller. If you do the research and find a fairly new car from a buyer that understands that it’s not worth what it is brand new then you can get an outstanding deal.

    My current car I got for 5k less than what I would have spent at a dealer by buying from a private seller.

    • says

      I agree, but not from a fully knowledgeable seller, but from a very motivated I gotta leave the country for a new job quick seller! That’s how I got Moose. The owner got a sweet promo at Accenture to work in Amsterdam.

  20. says

    I think once you start seeing a bunch of ads for the newest model year would be a good time to buy last years car. They usually offer some big discounts to be able able to clear out the remaining inventory. Also, if at all possible buy the last day or two of the month. I was able to get an extra $1-2k off my Prius because the sales guy wanted to make his sales numbers look good for the month.

  21. jim says

    I love how everyone is a born negotiater when come to buying a car,lol.The only good point i could find is that you have to have the power to walk way from a deal.
    You have to do your home work before you go to a dealer, from knowing your credit to what rate you will qualify to rough idea your trade is worth.However at the end of the day dealer won’t lose , just like a casino and you won’t beat the dealer. if you do your home work a true car salesman with have respect for you and will treat you as an educated person .Therefore there is not a best or worse time of the year to buy a car unlist you are buying a convertible or when the new model year are out because a dealer has ho hit his quotas. Please do yourself a favor and DO YOUR HOME WORK.

    • says

      When you visit the car dealer a couple hundred times, negotiate for business for 13 years, study negotiations in b-school, and just love to deal you’ll learn how to negotiate.

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