When Is the Best Time to Buy a Car?

By Angela Epley

In life, timing is everything. Meeting your true love, landing your dream job and even scoring a new set of wheels can all hinge on being in the right place at the right time.

Of course, if you’re in the market for a new car, you’ve probably done your research to find the right make and model, loaded with the must-have features that will make life on the road so much better. But for a big-ticket item like a new vehicle, it’s crucial to try and score every deal and discount possible.

With that in mind, when is the best time to buy a car?

First off, Mikel Van Cleve, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ practitioner and director of personal finance advice at USAA, notes: “Best time really has to do with your financial situation more than time of year. So, you want to make sure you’re in a good financial position at that point to be able to buy a car. 

“Having said that, though, you do want to focus your attention on areas where you can have some influence: doing your homework about the vehicle you want, how much it should cost, the value of your trade-in, getting preapproved. Just remember that time of year is one of those areas, too.”

Seasonal Standouts: Fall and Winter.

When the temperature drops, it’s time to shop! As the year winds down, car dealerships see less foot traffic, inventories become more limited and dealers are eager to clear room to welcome new-year models that are on the way (because some manufacturers do their model year changes in the fall). This means discounts for savvy buyers who are open to considering similar models for a better deal. Keep in mind that the better deal may be on a lower-value vehicle if it’s an older model, so do your research on what a fair discount on an older model looks like to appraise any deal properly. 

Seasons to Avoid: Spring and Summer.

With warmer weather coaxing people out of their cabin fever-induced hibernation and on to dealership lots, buyer competition increases. Plus, tax refund checks tend to arrive this time of year, giving folks extra incentive to spend — meaning dealers are less incentivized to cut exceptional deals.

Aim for End of Month or Quarter.

This tip is more strategic: people who make a living selling cars tend to earn income on a commission-based structure, which means as the month or quarter comes to an end, anyone whose sales numbers are down has an added interest in making a sale — which means a higher likelihood they’ll offer a discount to close a deal. Plus, keeping inventory on hand can be costly for the dealer, so there may be multiple incentives to clear room toward the end of the month. 

Best: When the Week Begins, Near Closing Time.

Mondays and Tuesdays tend to be the slowest for dealerships, as most people do their car shopping on the weekends, so you’ll get more personal attention (and opportunities to negotiate) with salespeople. Making your offer later in the day might turn up the heat on a salesperson who hasn’t had a sale all day, giving them more reasons to add a freebie here or deduct a fee there.

There you have it! Backed by research from TrueCar, the best time to buy a car is late in the day but early in the week, at the end of the month (or quarter) during winter or fall.

Looking for an assist and some member-only savings on your next car? The USAA Car Buying Service might be right up your alley. 

About the Professional: Mikel Van Cleve is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and advice director for USAA. Mikel has 14 years of experience in the financial services industry, and his advice has appeared in numerous outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press, CNBC.co, and Business Insider. He writes personal finance blogs for the Ask USAA member community and participates in the USAA Money Drill podcasts. Prior to entering the financial services industry, he served in the Coast Guard.


USAA Car Buying Service provided by TrueCar, Inc. USAA Bank receives marketing fees in connection with the Car Buying Service.

USAA Car Buying Service provided by TrueCar, Inc. (“TrueCar”). USAA does not broker, sell or lease motor vehicles. This is an information publishing site operated by TrueCar, Inc., on behalf of USAA. TrueCar is not the seller of any of the vehicles listed. Unless otherwise noted, all vehicles shown on the USAA Car Buying Service are offered for sale by licensed motor vehicle dealers, which may not have the exact new vehicle you configured in inventory. Any changes to the new vehicle you configured, including the addition of options, accessories or services at the dealer, may change the vehicle price. Used vehicles are subject to prior sale.

Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. owns the certification marks CFP® and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ in the United States, which it awards to individuals who successfully complete the CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.

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