Why December Is the Most Wonderful Time of Year to Buy a Car
When’s the best time of year to buy a car? Let’s see what all the experts say.
Edmunds: “Data shows that December is the best time of the year to buy.”
Autotrader: “The best time to buy a car is in late December when yearly, quarterly, and monthly sales goals converge.”
Cars.com: “Shoppers looking for the best deal on a new vehicle are typically advised to wait until the end of the year.”
Carfax: “The time of year you shop for a car is important, and analysts agree that consumers who go car shopping in December could obtain the best deals of all.”
Hmmm, how about that? IT’S ALMOST LIKE WE’RE SENSING A THEME HERE. It appears that December is the best time of year to buy a car — as long as you’re looking for the best deal, that is.
And it’s vital to get the best deal you possibly can because cars are getting ridiculously expensive these days.
In fact, the average sticker price of a new automobile just hit an all-time high of nearly $46,000, according to the market research company J.D. Power. Cars and trucks have never been this expensive before, and all that sticker shock helps explain a couple of other pertinent facts:
- We’re all driving our cars as long as we possibly can. The average age of vehicles on the road just hit an all-time high of 12.2 years.
- We’re making car payments for longer than ever. There’s been a spike in the number of car buyers signing up for six- and seven-year loans, instead of the traditional five-year auto loan. As a matter of fact, the six-year car loan has become the most popular option, with the seven-year loan coming in second, according to Edmunds.
What does all of this mean for you? Let’s go over the details.
Why December? And When in December?
Traditionally, the end of December is when automakers offer their most generous sales incentives, like cash rebates or zero percent financing, according to Cars.com. It’s also when dealerships are most likely to give you a deeper discount on the sticker price.
If you’re looking for a deal, try the year-end sales events at dealerships in your area.
“Automakers and dealerships want to close the year with strong sales,” Edmunds says. “They also want to get rid of the prior model-year cars that are taking up space, so they’re motivated.”
Dealerships and salespeople will be in a negotiating mood because they’re trying to meet their quotas. After all, there are year-end bonuses at stake.
“The biggest bargains are usually up for grabs on New Year’s Eve,” Carfax advises. “If you can’t make it on New Year’s Eve, the best days to visit a dealership are December 24 and December 27-30. Christmas Eve, when customer volume is light, is especially good.”
What If You’re Not Ready to Buy Right Now?
Of course, maybe you won’t be buying a car this month. Maybe the holidays are running you ragged. Maybe you’re going broke paying for Christmas. Maybe it’s too cold outside. Or maybe your current car is purring like a kitten and you’re not quite ready to replace it.
No problem! December isn’t the only strategically good time to purchase a vehicle.
Just in general, try the end of the month or the end of the quarter. Dealerships and salespeople typically have monthly or quarterly sales targets, and they often get a bonus for meeting their goals, Carfax says.
Can’t shop for cars on Christmas or New Year’s? Try a different holiday instead.
“Many other holidays on the calendar work to your advantage for car buying,” Autotrader advises. “Dealerships use just about any holiday with a three-day weekend attached to it, like Presidents Day, Memorial Day or Labor Day, for incentives to entice potential car buyers.”
Navigating the Trickiness of Today’s Car Loans
At your local auto dealership these days, the incredibly high sticker prices are making things tricky.
For example: Financial experts recommend prequalifying for a loan at a bank or credit union before visiting a dealership. That way, you can compare your bank’s offer with the dealer’s offer for better negotiating leverage.
However, we’ve been getting reports from car buyers who found that a dealership wouldn’t sell them the car they wanted unless they went with the dealer’s financing. Now, how firmly they hold to that will depend on the dealership. Just be prepared for that.
The stakes are high here. The terms of your auto loan are really important because you’re probably going to be making car payments for a long time.
To offset the high cost of today’s cars, more people are lengthening their loan terms to lower their monthly payments. A five-year car loan used to be the standard, but now it’s the exception. Today, nearly three-fourths of all new car loans are for longer than five years, according to Edmunds.
Here’s What Else You Should Know
Four final pieces of car buying advice:
- If you’re paying off an auto loan for six or seven years and you end up still owing money on a vehicle that you need to unload, here’s how to trade in a car that has negative equity.
- Here are our seven tips for buying a used car and avoiding getting ripped off.
- Since you’re probably going to own your next vehicle for a long time, here’s how to budget for car maintenance and repairs.
- Ultimately, the best way to get a fair deal on a vehicle is to know what its market value is. Look online at trusted sites like Autotrader, Kelley Blue Book, Carfax and Edmunds. If you go to a dealership, compare the car’s sticker price to the prices at other dealerships. Be ready to negotiate, and be prepared to walk away if necessary. That’s your ace in the hole.
Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.