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The Best Time to Buy a Used Car

Chris Kaiser

You can save a lot buying a used car. You can save more if you buy and find auto financing at the right time. Here’s the best time to buy a used car.

Buying Used, With Care

Timing is everything. You can’t tell a joke, shoot a basketball, or land a plane without proper timing. Finding the best deal and auto financing when buying a used car also calls for good timing.

Parent discussing car options with a dealer
Parent discussing car options with a dealer

Often the occasion for buying a car, new or used, comes in the form of a major life change. Some of these we can (hopefully) see coming, like having kids, moving to a new city, or finally retiring. Another major impetus for purchasing a vehicle is the demise of your current vehicle. Sometimes this is the result of a slow but steady accumulation of non-fatal problems ranging from body rust to worn out seats. Other times the situation is more acute, a blown head gasket or a shredded transmission are often financial death knells for vehicles.

If you’re lucky enough to have an opportunity plan out your purchase, it’s helpful to know what the best time to buy a used car actually is.

‘Tis the Season

Last day of the calendar year
Last day of the calendar year

At this point it’s well known that you can get significant discounts and deals on new cars around the various holiday sales events held throughout the year (Black Friday through New Year’s). Dealers have monthly, quarterly, and yearly sales quotas to meet. This means the latter portions of months, quarters, and the end of the year are all opportunities to snag an auto financing deal as sales staff work to meet their sales goals. Therefore, the last week of December, which combines all these factors, ends up being the best time to get a deal on a new car. But the same doesn’t hold for used vehicles.

Holidays – MLK Jr. Day, Pres. And More

Car dealership lot
Car dealership lot

A recent study from iSeeCars.com revealed that of all holidays, the best for finding a deal on a used car was Martin Luther King Jr. Day followed closely by Presidents’ Day. Furthermore, they found that the early part of the year, January, February, and March, is the best time to buy a used car.

Part of the reason this is a good time to buy used is that large glut of used cars that have been traded in over the holiday season from people buying new cars. Shopping in January and February should give the used car buyer the best selection of the calendar year.

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Dealers tend to offer the biggest incentives and auto financing deals around holidays. Between the extra days off people have to shop and the ease of marketing those deals as a “special occasion,” holidays are the best times to hunt for a deal. Besides MLK Jr. Day and Presidents’ Day, New Year’s Eve, Christmas Eve, and Veterans Day are the next best holidays for shopping a used car.

Other Important Timing Factors

Customer testing out a vehicle
Customer testing out a vehicle

There are other factors beside the time of year that can influence when you might find a better deal on a used car. First, buying on a Monday, when the dealership foot traffic is slowest, is a good idea. You’ll be more likely to have the salesperson’s undivided attention and, if you actually want to finalize your purchase, the auto finance office will also be less busy than at other times of the week.

If you’re unable to time your purchase to the end of the year, don’t worry. The end of each quarter also finds salespeople wanting to meet their quotas and more amenable to cutting you a deal. So, in addition to the end of December, there’s also the end of March, June, and September.

Have A Plan

Customer discussing auto financing
Customer discussing auto financing

If you want to take advantage of the saving opportunities afforded by purchasing on holidays like MLK Jr. Day or Presidents’ Day, it’s important to have done some groundwork.

Something you’ll want sorted before pulling the trigger on a purchase. If you’re trading in a vehicle, get an estimated trade-in value on it and understand how that fits into your budget. Shopping around for auto financing, often through your bank or local credit union, will give you a better idea of whether a given dealer’s financing offer is the best deal or not. And finally, test drive multiple cars within the segment you’re shopping. This will give you a better idea of the strengths and weaknesses of each, and a better picture of whichever you might be leaning towards.

Now that you’ve had some help determining the timing of your purchase, here’s our checklist to use when buying a used car.

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Chris Kaiser
Chris Kaiser

Chris’ greatest passions include topiary, spelunking, and pushing aging compact cars well past 200,000 miles on cross-country road trips. His taste in cars runs from the classic and esoteric to the deeply practical with an abiding affection for VW Things, old Studebakers, and all things hybrid-crossover.

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