10 Best (and Worst) Times to Buy a Used Car
Preparing to hit the used car lot can take a lot of mental and academic priming. It’s not some silly game where you nonchalantly peruse the sales floor confident in the fact that you have what it takes to outsmart the dealer. It’s always good to mentally prepare yourself for the worst in a high-pressure sales environment, because if the scorching sun doesn’t burn you, the guy behind the desk at the time of signing might.
So in order to help keep you well ahead of the curve, we sourced an interesting study from iSeeCars.com, an automotive data and research company that helps consumers find the best car deals. By analyzing over 40 million used car sales from 2013-2015, the researchers were able to determine if holidays and particular months of the year mattered when it came to automotive savings. They also looked at what times of the month or if certain days of the work week warranted results, all in the hopes of earmarking when a deal might pop up.
Commonly considered as a savings of 5% or more, the timing for finding deals on used cars allowed researchers to do quite a few things, including the debunking of several old assumptions. Proving that the top 10 best and worst times to get a steal on a vehicle are almost always around a holiday was the first major part of their findings, followed by a closer look at what months are worth braving the elements in order to save some extra dough. While months like November and December are often glorified as a great time to get a car on the cheap, they trailed a few recognized American holidays in the deal department.
“It’s always nice to save money, and when you are buying something as expensive as a car, saving even 5% of your purchase, or $952 off the average price of $19,040, can really add up,” says iSeeCars.com CEO, Phong Ly. “But it’s hard to get the savings if you can’t find the car you want, so we assessed which times of the year had the greatest number of deals.”
When it comes to holidays, the best time to buy used is around federal and retail holidays, most of which are typically clumped together in the late fall and during winter months. While many of these holidays offer sensational deals, it was good old Black Friday that took the top spot for most steals on a used set of wheels. Coincidentally, a few other holidays that most people don’t typically associate with shopping scored extremely well, with Veteran’s Day, Columbus Day, and Martin Luther King Day all landing spots in the top five nationwide.
“While these holidays aren’t typically thought of as major retail days, dealers tend to make a big push to boost sales in the late fall and early winter by offering bigger deals and these holidays are a great reason for them to pump up their promotions — especially as two of the three are always observed on a Monday, which means shoppers have a long weekend to find the car they want to purchase,” said Ly.
What may come as a shock to some is that the week of 4th of July was both the worst holiday and the worst time of the year to buy a used car. A whopping 28% fewer deals on average were monitored on our nation’s birthday, with Mother’s Day, Easter, Good Friday, Memorial Day, and Father’s Day rounding out the rest of the worst. According to the study, these holidays all occur in the late spring and summer months, which is when most people prefer to go car shopping, and dammit if dealers don’t know it.
Ly explains, “This is the typical time of year when dealers see higher demand, and therefore [see] less of a need to drive sales through lower pricing. After the current new car model year comes to a close around August, consumers start trading in their used cars in higher quantities, thereby increasing the number of used cars available after the summer and driving dealers to make better deals.”
Since late fall and the majority of winter holidays continue to offer the best chances for scoring a deal on a used car, breaking out that parka and a warm set of woolen mittens might be the best way to keep some extra dough in your pocket. Fortunately for you, the slightly warmer month of November came out on top with 26.9% more deals than average, followed by December at 23.5%, January with 16.4%, October sporting 12.8%, and frigid February rocking 6.0% gains.
“Between year-end promotions and dealers’ scrambling to take advantage of the last few months of the year to meet their sales quotas,” Ly noted, “The conventional wisdom of shopping for a car at the end of the year holds true, though there are some holidays that are better.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the minute March hits deals start to disappear once more, and the moment April flowers start blooming the entire used automotive circus morphs into a full-blown fleecing festival. Fortunately for shoppers who genuinely need something before the end of the year, the first day of the month tends to offer better deals than toward the end, with an 8.5% better than average gain trumping a 5.6% bump. This stark contrast can be best explained by how the sales period lines up with the calendar month, a fact that Ly touches on to some extent.
“The dealership’s sales month usually ends a few days into the beginning of the next calendar month, so sales made on the first of the month get tallied into the previous month’s sales. Much like with the end of the year, dealers are probably trying to make some last-minute sales to meet their monthly goals.” This explains why the fifth day of the month remains the worst day for deals, for it typically is the beginning of the new sales period for dealerships, making the first of the month the best time for used car shopping.
While looking at automobiles on weekdays has long been associated with better deals than weekends due to decreased foot traffic, iSeeCars.com’s study shows that although weekdays are indeed preferable, they are not all that superior. Weekdays customarily only saw a 1.2% jump in the chance of finding a deal, while the run of the mill weekend offers just about 1.6% fewer deals.
By looking at all of this info, you can see that there are trends in place that warrant a visit to the used car lot later in the year instead of sooner. It also wouldn’t hurt to follow the holiday shopping trends listed above, because apparently Black Friday deals aren’t just reserved for skateboards and stereos anymore. “With over three million cars expected to come off-lease this year, the used car inventory will grow, making it ripe for dealers anxious to move [product],” Ly says.