5 best times to buy a new car

Sales downturns aren’t the only time to buy a new car. New model rollouts, carmakers’ redesign schedules and other events can uncover bargains for those who know how to read the tea leaves of the auto market.

Just picking an opportune time isn’t enough. First, cover the basics: Arrange financing, check local dealer inventories, and research pricing guides for the current market value of your desired vehicle.

Then, consider these five potential opportunities to up your chances of snagging a bargain.

Model changeover

The big three U.S. carmakers launch their new models in August and September while some foreign carmakers sprinkle new-vehicle introductions across the calendar.

Most buyers are drawn to the newest models, which pressures dealers to offer deeper discounts and incentives to clear their inventory of the previous year’s models.

That means “as a consumer I’m not going to have to arm-wrestle or play the back-and-forth game to get a good price,” says Dave Cavano, AAA’s car buying expert. Dealers “are much more likely to cut to the bone more quickly — so it’s less of a hassle.”

Current bargains are available in compact sedans and luxury vehicle segments, while pickup trucks and SUVs still are commanding higher prices, says Steven Szakaly, chief economist for the National Automobile Dealers Association.

Meanwhile, figures from car shopping site TrueCar show the average transaction prices dropping across the summer and into fall while sale incentives remain high — which is a good combination for buyers.

Cavano warns that buyers shopping for newly redesigned or recently introduced models will pay dearly for wanting to be the “first on the block to own that car.” Manufacturers “trickle out” a few vehicles for each dealer to drive up interest. Eager buyers will have to pay sticker price and sometimes a bit more.

End-of-month pressure

Of all the days of the month, traditionally the last five are when dealers have the greatest incentive to sell.

That’s because some carmakers offer bonuses when dealers hit certain sales numbers, says Christian Wardlaw, an analyst for the New York Daily News’ autos section. “Dealers know they can take a loss on that vehicle because they know they’ll get the bonus for hitting their quotas,” Wardlaw says.

These kinds of bargains are more common at high-volume domestic dealers. However, it’s hard for the average consumer to know which dealers are facing the pressure to hit quotas, Szakaly points out. Shopping at the end of the month can help you better your odds. “You’re hoping you are the lucky person who walks in at the end of the month and the dealer is missing the one sale he needs,” he says.

Year-end sales

The final week of the year brings with it some great deals, particularly from luxury carmakers such as Lexus, Mercedes and BMW, Cavano says. It’s when “manufacturers are trying to eke out those last few sales, and they will push money out to their dealers and say, ‘OK guys, let’s get this done.’”

Keep in mind, however, that with dwindling inventories, you might not be able to get your first choice of color and options.

Model redesign

When manufacturers redesign models, dealers have both the outgoing and new models for sale at the same time. That leads them to offer incentives and discounts to get rid of older models.

Of course, the resale value of the vehicle would be lower. And sometimes, the new model may be “heads and tails better than the outgoing model,” Wardlaw says.

Last year of a model’s production

This tip is for serious penny pinchers. When a car is being discontinued or “rebranded” as a different model, the outgoing model’s prices drop even more dramatically.

Times when you shouldn’t buy a car follow a simple pattern, according to these experts. When there is plenty of foot traffic on the car lot, the dealer will keep prices higher, believing there will be a better offer from another shopper. So weekend afternoons aren’t optimal because besides higher pricing, the sales staff will be busy and test-drives will be rushed. Instead, shop mid-week, communicating with dealers via text or emails.

Swapping advice about car buying is a great sport for buyers, and Wardlaw has a final recommendation: Don’t be lured by the promise of crazy deals. “When it comes down to it, the best time to buy a car is when you really need one,” he says.