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The best and worst times to buy a vehicle

The best and worst times to buy a vehicle

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Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

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Buying a car is a big decision, and it’s complicated by the fact that the same car can cost thousands more or less depending on when you buy it. So, when will it cost you more and when will it cost you less? The short answer

March. That’s the worst time to buy. At least that’s what some experts say. The reasoning is that consumers are climbing out of their winter caves, flush with tax-return money, meaning sellers aren’t under pressure to move vehicles, i.e. cut you a deal.

And December, they say, is the best time to buy. Specifically, between Christmas and New Year’s. Dealerships have an urgent need to move old inventory, not necessarily to make room for the flashy new rides (that push happened in the fall when the new models were delivered), but because salespeople and dealers need to hit certain end-of-year numbers.

That’s the conventional wisdom about the best time to buy a vehicle. So, that’s that? Hmm. Not really.

The better answer

Here’s the thing: There are a lot of factors that make this kind of broad, seasonal buying information kind of useless to many buyers. It’s not like you can always pick the most opportune time to buy. Life happens. You and yours, for whatever reason, probably need a conveyance, now. Or soon. Most of us can’t sell our cars in March and ride bikes until we buy a new one in December. (Utahns often have big families and, to date, the tandem-bicycle companies aren’t looking to cater to this market.)

And things can get pretty complicated. Like, what if you’re selling to an individual and not a dealer? Or, how do you work this timing thing when you’re buying and selling/trading a vehicle in the same transition? There’s a lot to think about and we can’t touch on every situation, but the bottom line is that you really just need to keep one thing in mind when you’re buying a vehicle:

Saving money — sometimes thousands of dollars — on a vehicle purchase is not so much about the right time of year as it is about sniffing out that moment when the seller really really needs to move that car off the lot, driveway, or wherever else it’s sitting. And there’s one consistent trend in buying you can always use to your advantage: THE END. (Not the end of the article.) The end of the day. The end of a specific weekend day. (Don’t do Saturday morning. Salespeople have too much fight in them.) The end of the month. The end of the financial quarter. The end of the model year (fall). The end of the calendar year.

There you have it? Well, sort of. All of the above assumes you are keen to negotiate. To haggle to the death. The salespeople will probably start off with the same price they give at the beginning of the day/month/quarter, but they’re more likely to bend if you lean on them at the end of the period.

The better answer, v.2

But maybe you don’t get a thrill out of saying you’ll “walk out of here right now!” like George Costanza. (It’s actually quite an effective tactic according to some sources.) So when’s the best time to buy a car if you really can’t stand to negotiate? The answer to that one is more about where than when. If you don’t love negotiating, you may be better off making a firm offer to a private seller.

Timing in the private-seller market is less tied to seasonal pressures, but it’s still tied to a certain level of need. Get a sense for a seller’s level of urgency by looking them (or their listing) in the eye and asking some direct questions. It can feel kind of icky, but it can also save you some real money. If you sense desperation, have cash ready and go low. This is true in winter, spring, summer, or fall.

For whatever reason, sometimes an individual needs to get rid of a car for a very favorable price, quickly. Further still, most individual sellers aren’t selling cars every day so they’re considerably less practiced. It’s possible you may run into some less reasonable behavior. And a private seller can take things personally whereas a salesperson at a dealership is less likely to exhibit that sort of response. However, it’s much easier to say to an individual: “Hey, I don’t like haggling. I’ve looked at the blue book value, and here’s my offer.” Just make sure you park your bike around the corner. It’s pretty hard to play hardball if they saw you ride in on a Schwinn.

Now that you have a better understanding of when to buy your next car, you'll want to check out all the options on KSL Cars once you're ready to pull that trigger.

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