The best and worst times of the year to buy a car
Man in a car dealership

With rising interest rates, low used car inventories, and supply chain issues causing delays in new car production, you can expect to pay more for a vehicle in 2023 than you might have in recent years, no matter how strategic and informed you are about the purchase. While there’s not much you can do about the supply chain crunch or inflation, there are a few factors within your control that could save you money on a new or used vehicle. If you have the luxury of waiting for the most opportune time to buy a car or truck, putting timing to work in your favour could translate to some savings.

New or used?

Many factors will determine whether you’re shopping for a new car or a used one (most importantly the price). If, however, you’re aiming to buy a gently used vehicle in the 1- to 3-year-old range, it might be a better deal to buy it new instead. Production shortages and increased demand over the last few years have made these vehicles only slightly cheaper than new models, and when you factor in the appeal of a new-vehicle warranty and the ability to shop around for financing, buying new looks even better.

Quota system

The simple answer to the question, “When is the best time to buy a used car?” is, unfortunately, “Not right now.” That said, if you need a car ASAP, it pays to understand a little about how dealerships work. Most dealers work on a quota system that requires them to sell a given number of vehicles by the end of the month or the end of the year. This means that if you wait until the last week (or final day) of the month to make your purchase, it could be in the salesperson’s best interest to make you a better deal. Similarly, where annual quotas are concerned, the end of December could be the best time to take advantage of this leverage at the dealership.

Rainy day fund

Like any retail business, car dealerships are busier on some days than others. That means that if you visit a dealership on a busy day, you’re less likely to get a great deal than if you’re the only customer in the showroom. For best results aim for midweek, especially days when it’s raining or snowing, or public holidays when other customers will be less inclined to venture out.

Out with the old

While supply chain crunches have caused significant delays in the arrival of new cars at dealerships lately, the new year’s models usually arrive in late August and September, making dealers more eager to clear out the old year’s stock at that time. If you don’t mind driving the outgoing model, this could be a great time to get one at a discount. Likewise, if you have your heart set on a particular new-model vehicle, expect to pay a premium to drive it off the lot as soon as it arrives (when you’ll be competing against many other similarly interested buyers). Like most consumer goods, the more popular something is, the more you will pay for it – so the longer you can wait, the better your chances are of scoring a deal.

Peak season 

Traditionally, the peak buying and selling season for used vehicles is the spring and early summer, ahead of summer vacations and road trip season. While that could mean a wider selection of vehicles for sale, the spike in demand might also translate to higher prices. For this reason, consider waiting for the fall – or better yet the end of the year – to make your used vehicle purchase if you can.

The bigger picture

While being strategic about when you buy your next vehicle could make an impact on how much you pay for it, this is only one consideration among many. Buying a vehicle, new or used, is a complicated process with many variables to consider – including your schedule. Add in the current landscape of inflation, scarcity, and production delays, and the best time to buy your next vehicle might just be whenever you find the one you like, in the condition you want, at the price you can afford.

Jeremy Freed is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. His writing about fashion, travel, food and design appears in Sharp, Harry and re:Porter magazines, among many others.

Jeremy Freed is a paid spokesperson of Sonnet Insurance.
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