When Is the Best Time to Buy a Car?

Buying a new car doesn't have to break the bank—as long as you have this insider information on when to score the best deal

It pays to know the best time to buy a car. By timing your purchase just right, you can save big—especially if you aren’t picky about colors and add-ons, experts say. “Being flexible and buying a car that the dealer already has on the lot will get you the most bang for the buck,” according to Brian Moody, executive editor at Autotrader.

But with bargains popping up everywhere you look, from year-end deals to holiday discounts, when is the right time to buy? Whether your old clunker finally bit the dust or you just want to upgrade, follow these guidelines for finding the best deal possible and other car-buying tips your car dealer won’t tell you. To save even more money, find out the best time to buy tires, the best time to buy an RV and how to pay less for gas too.

Signs you need a new car

Before buying a new vehicle, you might start to see a few telltale signs that your old one has reached the end of the road (pun intended). Maybe your car needs repairs that cost more than it is worth, breaks down constantly or fails state inspections. These are all red flags you shouldn’t ignore, says Jessica Stafford, SVP of Consumer Solutions at Cox Automotive, which owns Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book.

Other signs might be less obvious, such as strange noises or smells, leaks, rust or a shaky steering wheel, all of which could indicate serious safety issues with your car. If you’ve had a recent life change—like starting a family or accepting a new job with a longer commute—you should also think about looking for a new car.

Ready to start your search? Below, we’ve listed the best time to buy a car by month, day, season and holiday. As you’re shopping, consider the best car brands for 2022, according to Consumer Reports.

Best month to buy a car

Experts at Consumer Reports say that the final months of the calendar year, usually from October to December, are the best times to buy a car. Why? “This is typically when dealerships start to get new model year vehicles, and they need to clear out the existing models, so they’re more incentivized to discount the outgoing models,” says Ronald Montoya, senior consumer advice editor at Edmunds. Data from Edmunds found that shoppers in December can get the highest discounts off MSRP—about 6% on average—and the most incentives like payment deferrals, zero percent financing and cash back. Before heading to the dealership, learn these simple tricks to outsmart your car salesperson.

Best month to buy a car December
Best time of year to buy a car Winter
Best day to buy a car Sunday
Best holiday to buy a car Any three-day weekend

Best time of year to buy a car

To score the best deal on a car, take advantage of the colder months, when fewer buyers are out shopping. “It’s easier for a dealer to discount a certain car if they know you’re serious about buying and you’re the only customer they’ve seen that day because of excessive snow or rain or cold,” explains Moody. If you’re looking to buy at the end or beginning of the calendar year, opting for the previous year’s model can also give you more wiggle room on the price, he says.

Best day to buy a car

Conventional wisdom suggests that weekdays are the best time of the week to buy a new car, but new research has found otherwise. Car buyers might be better off going to the dealership on Sundays, when they can save an average of 10% off MSRP, according to a 2020 study by TrueCar. Tuesdays are the next best time to buy a car, the study found. And whatever you do, avoid buying on Thursdays, which apparently offer the lowest percent off MSRP. Don’t waste your money on these car maintenance repairs either.

Best holiday to buy a car

Many dealerships offer promotions such as special financing rates, zero-percent loans and cash-back deals for shoppers during long holiday weekends. In a recent study by iSeeCars, car buyers scored nearly 40% more deals than average on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day alone. “Dealerships know that people will have free time on their hands during a three-day weekend and are more motivated to offer a better deal,” Montoya says. He suggests starting your research ahead of time, so you’ll be ready to make a purchase that weekend.

Another great time to buy a car

Although the winter months and holidays are popular times for car discounts and deals, they aren’t the only opportunities to save. Some of the biggest bargains pop up when a vehicle is being discontinued or during annual model changeovers. Montoya notes that these discounts apply to outgoing models rather than new ones, so if you want the latest model, be prepared to pay more or wait until the market cools down. Can’t make it to a dealership? Here’s what you need to know about buying a car online.

Best time of year to buy a used car

Like purchasing a new car, you can save the most money by buying a used car between October and December. Because these months coincide with peak season for new car buying at the dealerships, there are more used or trade-in cars for sale—and better prices available, Montoya says. He advises shopping in December to find the lowest prices. No matter when you choose to buy, watch out for the red flags you’re about to fall for a terrible car deal.

More car-buying tips

  • Do your research. Know the fair price range of the car you’re shopping for before walking into a dealership. Stafford suggests using Kelley Blue Book’s Fair Purchase Price tool, which shows what car buyers near you recently paid for similar vehicles. If your car salesperson offers a price that is substantially higher than this number, Stafford recommends negotiating or seeking a deal elsewhere.
  • Consider your personal wish list. Stafford advises creating a list of “wants”—such as a sunroof, convertible or specific color or mileage, for example—and then prioritizing them to help make your decision.
  • Keep an open mind. Both Montoya and Moody recommend being flexible to truly get the best deal on a car. “There’s a balance between getting the best deal possible and finding the exact color and trim combination you want,” Montoya says.
  • Be realistic. While you will get a better price by waiting until the end of the year, Montoya notes that there may be fewer vehicles to choose from, so keep in mind that you may have to settle for an older model or unpopular color. If you want specific features, expect to pay full price.
  • Don’t feel pressured. If you’re not ready to make a purchase, wait. “The time to buy a car is when you need it and feel ready to buy, regardless of the time of year,” Montoya says. “There will always be deals out there for those who do the research and are willing to consider other models.”

FAQ

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Should I buy a used car?

If you have a smaller budget, buying a used car is an excellent option. “The used-car market is a great place for shoppers who want a dependable and practical vehicle, without the new-car price tag,” Stafford says.

How long should a car last?

The life span of any car is determined by a variety of factors, including condition, age and total mileage. While some of these are beyond your control, one way to extend the life of your vehicle is by investing in regular car maintenance, Stafford says. Kelley Blue Book’s Service Advisor can help you locate local auto repair shops and find answers to common questions like what services are needed on specific makes and models of cars.

How much should I spend on a new car?

These days, the unpredictability of car prices makes it tough to set a budget for a new car. Ultimately, what you should spend depends on what you can afford. “There’s something out there for every budget,” Stafford says. If you aren’t paying in cash and plan to make monthly payments on your new car, she suggests calculating your total cost of living and using the remainder on a car payment, fuel, car insurance and maintenance.

Is it better to sell my car myself or trade it in?

This depends on your personal preference, Stafford says. While you may get more money by selling the car yourself, it will cost you in other ways—including your time, as you will be handling the responsibility of advertising, getting the car ready to sell, arranging financing and insurance, and making appointments for test drives. Trading in a car, on the other hand, will hand those tasks off to a dealer.

How do I finance a car?

Though most dealers offer financing, Stafford suggests having an alternative (such as a loan from your bank or credit union) in your back pocket just in case. “Getting pre-approved for a loan and having your financing ready before setting foot in a dealership gives you more flexibility and won’t make you beholden to just one sales lot or dealership,” Stafford says. “It also shows the seller that you are a serious buyer, not just window shopping.”

Should I lease a car?

Generally speaking, Stafford doesn’t recommend leasing cars. “Too many people choose leasing because the lower monthly payments allow them to drive more expensive cars or trucks than they can afford to buy, and they often end up regretting it later,” she says. Plus, exceeding the annual mileage limits or damaging the vehicle could leave you with fees, which are then rolled over to the next car payment.

In the long run, you will be better off financially by purchasing a car that fits your needs and budget, taking care of it, paying it off as soon as you can and then keeping it for a while. “Choosing wisely and buying well is a great way to start on a satisfying and enjoyable automotive ownership experience,” Stafford says.

Why trust Reader’s Digest?

Our recommendations are based on a combination of peer-reviewed research and opinions from experts in the field. We spoke with experts at car-shopping sites Autotrader, Edmunds and Cox Automotive about the best time to buy a car, how to negotiate the purchase price and other car-buying tips. We also scoured online articles and reviews to find out how to time your car purchase to score the best deal.

With record-breaking inflation causing prices to soar, we know that every dollar counts. Here’s the good news: You can save money by timing your purchase of other big-ticket items too. Next, check out our articles on the best time to buy a house, a washer and dryer, exercise equipment, sporting equipment, fine jewelry and small appliances.

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Brooke Nelson
Brooke is a tech and consumer products writer covering the latest in digital trends, product reviews, security and privacy, and other news and features for RD.com.