New or Used: The Best Time to Buy a Car and Save Money!

Next to a place to live like a house or an apartment, a car is usually the next most expensive item someone will buy. And, depending on the economy, prices can fluctuate wildly. Cars can run from a few thousand to tens of thousands for the average family vehicle. 

Let’s not even talk about the souped-up performance machines in the six-figure range! With that being said, it can be a stressful purchase, especially if you’re looking to buy because you’re in a pinch and need a car fast. When you’re looking leisurely, it’s not so bad.

But what if you don’t have $30,000 to drop on a new car? How can you save money on a car? Well, there are things to consider and times to buy when you can get a better deal than others. Don’t know what that is? Well, stick around, friend!

Let’s take a look at the best time of year to buy a car, what to look for in a new or used car, and tips on how to save money when buying your car!

Signs you Need a New Car

This can be brand new off the lot or “new to you” (also known as used), but there are times in your life when it’s obvious you need another vehicle. Here are a few signs you need a new car:

  • Spending more on maintenance than it’s worth: I’ve been here before, and it’s no fun. When you’re going in and out of the mechanic’s like it’s a revolving door, it may be time to look at another vehicle, especially if you’re spending more than the car is worth.
  • Doesn’t fit your needs: Maybe that cute 2-seater convertible was fun for a while, but now that your family is growing, you may need a new car. If you’ve outgrown your car or your needs have changed for the type of vehicle you need, it’s time to get a new one.
  • Your budget has changed: Insurance, gas, taxes, and maintenance are all important factors when buying a car, and it may be that you can no longer afford your car. That’s ok! Realizing you may need to get something more economical can lift a burden and save you stress.
  • It’s becoming unsafe: Are your airbags over 15 years old, or is the car generally unsafe due to being neglected over the years? It’s important to keep yourself and others safe when driving, so you may need to consider another car out of necessity.

Now that you’ve determined you may need a new car, let’s take a look at the best time to buy a new car!

The Best Times to Buy a Car

There are times of the year when buying a car is cheaper than others, and you’ll want to be prepared with this information so you don’t overpay! Cars depreciate as soon as they leave the lot, so it’s important to save as much as you can when you can.

Here are some of the best times to buy a car:

Early in the Week

If you like crowds, go car shopping Thursday through Sunday. This is when most people know they can test drive cars (i.e. late Friday after work, or all day Saturday) and dealerships fill up fast. 

If you’re buying your car from a business like a dealership, try going early in the week, such as Monday or Tuesday. You won’t feel as rushed, and more than likely the salesman will be a bit more relaxed, as well.

End of Month, Quarter, or Year

The thing about car sales is salesmen are compensated on cycles. Those cycles usually end at the month-end, quarter-end, and year-end. So, if a sales guy hasn’t hit his quota of sales for the month, he’s more than likely going to allow for more negotiation at one of those times.

Quarters usually end in March, June, September, and December. Again, if you’re purchasing from a business, versus an independent seller, try reaching out in the last weeks of those quarters. And, in case you’re wondering, not all quarters are created equally…

The Last Quarter of the Year

The last quarter that runs in October, November, and December is where you can land great deals on a new car. Your prime month here in December, but note that new makes and models are usually released during the fall, and companies are looking to make room for new inventory.

Add that to sales reps that are trying to finish the year strong to become eligible for bonuses, and you have a recipe ripe for the buyer! Pay attention to New Year’s Eve (December 31st), especially if you’ve been negotiating with the seller for a few days or weeks.

Holiday Sales

Big Summer Blowout Sale! Fourth of July Sale! Get her what she wants this Christmas! You can’t listen to the radio without hearing advertisements for one big sale after another around the holidays, and it seems to happen year-round. 

Here’s a list of holidays and what kind of deals you may find: 

HolidayMonthWhat to Expect
President’s DayFebruaryYou won’t save the most money but if you’re hunting for a car and need one in early Feb, wait it out to see what President’s Day Sales look like.
Memorial DayMayIt’s a really busy time at dealerships, so you may not get the same price point as you could later in the year. Still, it’s worth looking, especially if you have a strong need.
July FourthJulyChoose wisely and see if new inventory has come out just yet in the locations you’re considering.
Labor DaySeptemberThis may be the busiest holiday weekend out there, but again, if newer models have started to arrive, you may find something.
Black FridayNovemberExpect a push as the year is officially winding down, and you have some room to negotiate more in your favor.
New Year’s EveDecemberThis is the end of the month, quarter, and year – you can probably make unprecedented deals, however, you may not have the inventory as you would find in September and October.

December through February

The months of December through February are a great time to buy a used car. New inventory usually stocks up in the fall, and the following months are when dealerships are looking to move their used cars off the lot. 

The increase in used cars at dealerships is due to people trading their old cars or ending their lease for something new at the end of the year. You can find great deals by following the same principle of focusing on purchasing at the end of the month or year.

Now, take a look at where you can find that deal!

Where to Find a Deal on a Car

Once you’ve figured out when to shop, the next part is figuring out where to shop. There are a few options when it comes to purchasing a new or used vehicle, and they each have pros and cons.

Where to PurchaseExamplesProsCons
Online MarketplaceCarvanaEverything is done online, so no face to face pressuring sales tacticsThey sell used cars only, and may not be available in every state
DealershipsYour Local Ford, Dodge, Chrysler, Subaru, etc dealership– Can get deals on floor models- Can find more variety of New and Used- Usually provide car maintenance services– Must visit each dealership separately to see the cars you want- you May have to negotiate the price more
Direct from ManufacturerTeslaStraightforward business modelLimited options

Not so fast – before you sign on the dotted line, check out a few things to make sure the car is in great condition and is worth driving off into the sunset.

What to Check Out Before Buying a Car

Before you hand over cash or sign on the dotted line for a new or used car, it’s very important to look at a few things to make sure the quality and history are what you’re expecting.

Look at the Carfax Report

If your car has been previously owned or leased, you want to check out the Carfax report. This is available per the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), which is unique to every car. 

You can see if it’s ever been in an accident, how regularly the car has been serviced, and how it’s been used. This is important, as not everything is obvious (like if it’s ever been flooded in a hurricane). Make sure to look for the Carfax before you buy!

Do a Walk (and Drive) Through

Believe it or not, I was hurting for a vehicle and rushed a purchase to the point I didn’t even look at the hatchback. Sure enough, I got home to find a fist-sized hole in the back. It was all cosmetic, but I wasn’t happy.

Open every door, go for a test drive, sit in the seats and look around. You want to see every bit of the interior of the car that you can. Have a trusted mechanic look under the hood, as well, before you buy a used car.

A test drive will not only tell you if it’s comfortable but how it handles. This is important because your main use of the car will not be just sitting in the driveway.

Check for Recalls

Dealerships and manufacturers should make recalls explicitly clear, but alas, sometimes you have to hunt for that information yourself. Do an online search to make sure there are no recalls for the car you’re interested in. 

Make sure to search for past recalls too, to see if there’s anything that scares you away. If you find something, don’t be afraid to bring it up and ask how they plan on handling them.

Read the Mileage

The odometer will tell you the mileage of the car (on the dash) and it’s one of the most important things to consider before buying a car. Generally, older cars, or cars with a lot of mileage tend to wear out faster than newer cars. 

Also, at specific miles, maintenance jobs should be done to replace spark plugs, fluids, oil, etc. It’s important to consider the mileage that the car has been through and if you feel the price truly reflects that. Cars with more mileage may also have more wiggle room on the price.

Once you consider all of that, there are tips and tricks for saving more money when buying a car.

How to Save Money When Buying a Car

I think just about everyone can save when it comes to buying a vehicle, especially since it seems prices are only skyrocketing upwards. Here are a few tips to save money when buying a car.

  1. Have Financing Figured Out Beforehand: If you don’t have a financial plan in place before walking onto the car lot, you run the risk of agreeing to something that may not be in your favor. Know how much you can afford, and don’t go over that number!
  1. Look for Incentives: If you’re torn between two new cars, look for incentives and rebates. This can be special financing for students or military members, and possibly even 0% money down. Don’t miss out on what they’re offering!
  1. Negotiate: Whether you’re buying new at a dealership, or used off of Craigslist, you can probably stand to negotiate. Remember to be reasonable, but usually, they want to sell as much as you want to buy, and everyone has their price!
  1. Consider Trading or Selling: If you’re buying from a dealership, they may be low on used inventory, and want your trade-in! You can get money for your new car which will help if you’re financing. Consider selling it directly yourself and you may get more money for it.

You may be able to save a few thousand dollars by following those tips, which sounds pretty amazing. But, don’t be discouraged if you’re torn between buying new or used. 

New vs Used: Which is Better for You?

You may be on the fence over whether a new or used car is a better option. Honestly, it depends on what you’re looking for and what your current situation looks like. Here are some points on whether new or used is better.

A New Car may be Better If…

  • You plan on driving it for ten years (or more)
  • You need newer technology
  • You’re concerned about the latest safety features
  • You may be able to get a better interest rate on a loan

A Used Car may be Better If…

  • You’re limited with how much you can spend and have a smaller budget
  • You only plan on driving it for a few years
  • You’re looking for the previous year’s models
  • You may be able to spend less on insurance

I know – decisions, decisions! Only you can decide if buying new or used is better, but by doing your homework, being smart with your money, and checking out the car thoroughly, you’re bound to get a great vehicle that will last you for years to come.

FAQs on The Best Time to Buy a Car

When is the best time to buy a car?

The best time to buy a car is at the month-end, quarter-end, or year-end, and December 31st lands on all three. If you can’t wait that long, you can still find great deals from October through December, or during a holiday sales event.

How do I buy a car?

First, you’ll need to make sure you have either enough cash to buy the car, or have qualified for a loan. Then, you’ll need to make sure you get the title from the person selling it or the dealership. This is the official exchange that the car is yours.

Where can I buy a car?

You can buy a car in person from a dealership, or an individual that may be selling their used car. You can also buy directly from the manufacturer like a Tesla or can order directly online if you want custom features.

Should I buy a new or used car?

It really depends on your budget, how you want to pay for it, and what you’re looking to get out of your vehicle. If you want the latest technology, buy a new car, but if you are looking for something much cheaper, you may want to consider buying a used one.

The Best Time of Year to Buy a Car

The end of the year is the best time to buy a new car, but January and February may have better prices on used cars. If you can’t wait, check out holiday sales, and make sure to take your time. 

You look like someone who loves to save money – check out this article on how to save on a car rental!

Leslie Roberts is an experienced writer, Salesforce consultant, and contributor from North Carolina who enjoys writing about a variety of topics and hates overpaying for things. She also loves traveling, spending lots of time outdoors, and reading.

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