• Buying Guides

This is the Best Time to Buy a Used Car

By Autolist Staff | December 27, 2018

When is the best time or month to buy a used car? Many times it's similar to the best times to buy a new car. As with a new car, make sure you start the process before you need a vehicle, so you don’t make a rash decision under pressure. Used cars are often considered a better financial decision in the long run since they eliminate the depreciation of a new vehicle. But to maximize your savings, it’s wise to shop when used car prices and selections are at their best.

Buy Before You Need One

Buying when you need a car sounds obvious but make sure you don't wait too long. If you do, you might be roped into buying something you're not entirely happy with or spending too much. Once you begin thinking you might need to upgrade your current car, start researching your options, trade-in value and the best times to get a deal.

On or Around Holidays

Sometimes holidays can also be good times to find a deal on used cars as long as you don't mind the crowds of fellow shoppers. Four of the best holidays to find used car deals included Veteran's Day, Black Friday and Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

Since holidays and weekends around holidays can be popular times to buy new cars, the weeks before and after these periods tend to see many used cars coming into dealers as trade-ins, or private sellers trying to unload their old vehicle before going in to buy a new one. If you're shopping used, you might want to check out dealerships in the weeks after a busy car-shopping period.

Dealers would generally prefer to sell those cars onsite rather than send them off to auction where they’ll make far less money. If you're looking to buy from a private party, start checking ads both before and after a holiday weekend to find owners needing to unload a used car.

Early in the week:
A good time to buy a used vehicle from a dealership is often early in the week when you will likely encounter more attentive salespeople and fewer crowds. Weekends are typically very busy in car dealerships (though some dealerships are oddly closed on Sundays). However, if you're buying from a private seller, they may only be able to show the car on weekends.

At the End of a Month, Quarter or Year

It's generally well-known that car dealerships want to hit sales quotas to capture bonuses and incentives. These bonuses typically happen when the dealership or the salespeople meet a goal at the end of a month, quarter or year. Shopping around these times can be a good opportunity to snag a deal.

Month:
It's often a good idea to shop for a car at the end of any month when dealerships are trying to hit their quotas or sales goals, which could incentivize them to negotiate a better deal to reach their goal.

Year:
The end of the year, in particular, can be an excellent time to shop. Not only are dealerships and salespeople trying to meet quotas, but they are also usually trying to move old inventory, such as a glut of used cars, previous model years or discontinued trims and vehicles.

You may also get a good opportunity in the first week or so of January as dealerships end up with lease returns and trade-ins from the holiday new-car shopping at the end of December. The goal is to hit the spot where dealers are trying to move used inventory, but right before they send their excess to auction.

On Nice Days

A lesser-known tip to working a deal is to go car shopping on a nice day. It’s easier to spot interior and exterior defects on used vehicles when the weather is bad, plus you won’t want to spend enough time in the cold or rain looking a car over.

Buy in the Off-Season

There are certain seasonal clues to buying used cars as well. For example, demand for convertibles typically rises in the spring and summer, but goes down in the fall and winter, especially in colder climates. On the other hand, four-wheel-drive trucks and SUVs are going to see more demand in the fall and winter and less in the spring when fuel prices go up. However, this tactic usually only works with private sellers and local dealerships. National used car chains tend to move their inventory around with a careful eye on the weather and relative demand.

CPO Incentives and Deals

If you're looking at manufacturer certified pre-owned vehicles, then it's a good idea to keep an eye on financing incentives and other deals. Manufacturers often give buyers discounted interest rates on CPO vehicles, even sometimes zero percent. CPO vehicles and deals are typically only available at franchise dealerships from the brand in question. Expect a higher price tag than the average used vehicle, but you can also enjoy the peace of mind that comes with having a manufacturer certified vehicle.

The New Model Frenzy

If you're looking for used cars, keep an eye on when automakers introduce their new and redesigned models. When an automaker releases a significant refresh or complete redesign on a model, it can mean healthy discounts for the outgoing version. This is most common in August and September but continues for the rest of the calendar year. Wait for those new models to hit dealerships and then go deal hunting for the old model that is coming in on trade.

Buying a Car at the End of a Model Year:
Most automakers start introducing the next year's models in August or September. This drives new-car shoppers to the dealership who almost always bring with them their used vehicle to trade in. If you time it right, you can start shopping around this time and pick up a clean used model for a great price.

This is especially true when automakers release a new generation of a vehicle; loyal owners of that model or brand are often eager to get the latest and greatest, which means they're equally as eager to unload their current vehicle, either to you directly in a private sale or to a dealer who will sell it to you.