When’s the best time to buy a car? I can tell you that it’s not now. Between the microchip shortage and increased money supply, the cost of both new and used cars has increased dramatically since the start of the pandemic.
This unusual set of circumstances can’t last forever, though, and I expect the new and used car markets to begin normalizing as our world slowly returns to a new normal.
When that happens, Dr. Jimmy Turner’s advice and lessons learned from trading in a sports car for a big truck will come in handy. If you’re forced into being a buyer at this time, you’ll still gain some valuable information below.
This post was originally published on The Physician Philosopher.
I still loved driving my Chevy SS. The roar of the naturally aspirated V-8 as I churned through the gears on my manual transmission was intoxicating. Yet, the lack of practicality eventually got to me. So, I traded in my Chevy SS for a Ram 1500 and saved 25% off of the retail price in the process.
With the help of an inside-industry source, I’ve learned a few things that I want to pass onto others. When is the best time to buy a new car? Well, this post will walk you through a step by step process on how to buy a car, how to get the best deal on a new car (including how to negotiate new cars), the best time to buy a car, and much more! We’ll cover all of this so that you can walk away with the least consumer regret!
Best Time to Buy a Car & 8 Other Steps on How to Get the Best Deal on a Car
Though I encourage each and every one of you to read and understand the literature that is out there on buying “things,” I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t tell you that buying physical items isn’t something I do. In fact, buying a new car is my one fatal flaw when it comes to personal finance.
I suspect if you are reading this, then you are a car person, too. Below I include some of the details from my recent experience when I traded in my Chevy SS for a Ram 1500 truck. Through this experience (and some inside-intel from a close friend in the business), I’ve learned the best time to buy a new car and how to get the best deal on a new car. Here is the step by step process for negotiating a new car to the best price!
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1. Get the Best Deal on Your Car (Trade-In)
First things are first. Many people will be trading in an old car when they go to get the best deal on a new car. If this isn’t your situation, then skip to the next step! In order to get the best deal on your current car, you need to know the value. The best way that I’ve found to do this involves using two different tools.
First, using the Kelly Blue Book website, you can punch in all of the characteristics about your car. This will then produce a value range for your car based on the condition, miles, and options you have on your car. In my situation, I was trading in my 2017 Chevrolet SS. After punching in the details on my car, this was the Kelly Blue Book value:
From the outset, I was not going to sell my used car for less than $37,500. Given that this is at the top of the trade-in range, was I being unreasonable? No, because I used a second tool to determine the value of my used car trade. The second tool involves going to a few used car websites (Cars.com, autotrader.com, etc).
Using the same details that you placed into Kelly Blue Book, try and locate some cars that are just like your own to see the listing value for your car. The purpose behind this next step is to see how much money the dealership plans to make from selling your used car. In my situation, there isn’t a used 2017 Chevy SS with a manual transmission selling for less than $39,000 in the continental U.S. This is how I determined that the lowest acceptable trade-in value for my car was $37,500. Even at this number, the dealership would make money from my trade.
2. Know What You Want And Be Flexible
While it is important to know exactly what to expect for your trade-in, it is equally important to know what you are looking for. Recognize that more bells and whistles do not equate with increased happiness. Make sure to do your research in order to determine which vehicle best suits your needs.
Once you arrive at the make and model, it is time to be flexible on a few of the other items. For example – in order to find the best time to buy a new car – you may need to be flexible on the timing of your purchase, the year of the car, and the color of the vehicle.
In my situation, I was looking for a Ram 1500 Crew Cab (I needed to comfortably fit three children in the back) with Four Wheel Drive (yes, it snows in North Carolina) and certain safety features (i.e. parking sensors so I don’t hit things when parking). Since the 2020 Rams were now out, I could get a better deal on a 2019 model. And I wasn’t stuck on a certain color, because I know that the color isn’t going to be the “end all, be all” for my happiness.
So, I was happy to get a dark blue, grey, or silver truck. In addition to this, I wasn’t in a rush to buy a new truck. I told each and every dealer I could wait. I love driving my Chevy SS. The truck purchase was happening for practicality, and not because of need. This flexibility offered me options in finding the best time to buy a new car at the best deal.
3. Best Time to Buy a New Car
Now that you are armed with the right information on your trade-in value and you’ve researched exactly what you want, you can start the buying process. Yet, you shouldn’t go buy a car at just any time of the month or year.
Regardless of what you’ve heard, there is definitely a best time to buy a new car. In fact, there are specific times that you should (and shouldn’t) go looking for a new car.
The first tip here is that the end of the month is much more likely to produce a good deal than the beginning. The reason for this is that manufacturer’s set sales goals for dealerships each month that involve large bonuses to the dealerships for making their target.
As the month comes to a close, if these quotas aren’t met, the dealer will start to offer much better deals. This should make sense, right? If you were a dealer, would you be okay with losing a couple thousand dollars on a car in order to get a $50,000 or $100,000 monthly bonus? You bet. Dealerships also have financial quarter and yearly sales goals. This is the best time to buy a new car.
If you approach a dealership at the end of the month that is also at the end of a financial quarter (or the fiscal year), you might find the very best deal. These months occur in March, June, September, and December.
The fiscal year for some car manufacturers ends in March while others end in December. However, if they have already met their goals, you might find a worse deal! This is the reason for the next step, which helped me save 25% off my new truck.
4. Involve Multiple Dealerships
Three days before the end of the month, I called into multiple dealerships and offered them my trade-in information and told them about the new truck I was looking to buy. This is when the negotiation for my new car started, but it didn’t stop for another 72 hours.
Why did I contact multiple dealerships over a three day span? Because of the sales goals I mentioned earlier. Every single dealership is in a different sales situation. Some of them have already hit their number. These dealerships are unlikely to hand out a good deal.
Others are only a few cars away from hitting their goal, and may be willing to offer a sacrificial lamb to you in order to make their goal. As the month started to come to a close, the dealerships that were having a hard time meeting their goals started to call. Some of them even told me the exact number of trucks that they needed to sell in order to make it. This is when I started to hustle hard to negotiate to the best deal.
5. Always Walk Out After a Test Drive
As the dealerships who needed my sale the most started to come to the surface, I started test driving trucks. I would walk in and inquire about a specific truck while they valued my trade. All the while, I planned to leave the dealership regardless of what they offered me. Even if it was exactly what I wanted!
Why would I walk out regardless of how good the deal was? Because it saved me $2,000 every single time. It’s simple. Dealerships know that people who walk out of their store after test driving a car are very unlikely to buy a new car without getting the best deal. Every single time I walked into to test drive a truck, I would leave.
Within the next 24 hours, every single dealership I walked away from called me and offered a better deal. Most of them offered me a low-ball offer on my Chevy SS (usually around $35,000) the first time. Each time I left, they would call back and offer me the $37,500 I wanted.
By walking out of the dealer, I saved an extra $2,000 on my trade-in. This happened with three different dealers who pretended to be unable to negotiate on my car trade-in value. What then is the best way to compare the prices at each different dealership? By knowing how much each dealership is offering OTD.
6. Use Out The Door (OTD) Prices for Comparison
There are a lot of numbers that get tossed around when buying a car. There is the MSRP (Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price) and the trade-in value of your car. And then there are the rebates and discounts, dealership fees, and taxes. Every dealership has a different way of calculating these numbers. So, how then can you compare cars to make sure you know how to negotiate the car to the best deal?
First, use the MSRP to compare the value of the car as determined by the manufacturer. Then, place your entire focus on the Out The Door (OTD) price. The OTD tells you exactly what you’ll be paying to take the car home. This includes all of the numbers involved in the purchase of the new car. So, it is a great way to compare the offers provided by each dealership.
I used the OTD number against two different dealerships to land my best deal after I had the same exact truck traded from one dealership to another.
7. Best Time to Buy a New Car Varies (Dealer Trades)
I found several trucks that met my criteria. After letting the dealerships call me for 48 hours, I settled on a few that I thought were legitimate targets. In the end, I purchased the silver Ram 1500 shown below. Yet, I didn’t purchase it from the dealer that I originally contact about this truck.
I had it traded to another dealership that would offer me a better deal on the same truck. You mean dealerships trade trucks? Yep. That was one of my biggest keys to negotiating my my new car. The first dealer offered me $5,900 OTD for the same exact truck that I ended up buying from a different dealership for $3,500 OTD.
I did this by asking the second dealership if they could trade for the truck, and told them that I would offer my trade-in plus $3,500 OTD. They called the first dealership, acquired the truck, and I saved another $2,400 in the process because the second dealership needed the sale more than the first.
When I told the guy selling me the truck that the first dealership wouldn’t budge from their $5,900 OTD number he was floored that I got $2,400 off the same truck I’d be buying from them. By knowing my number, I got the best deal I could all while negotiating for my new car.
8. Know Your Number
I read and write about personal finance every single day. I’ve even authored a book on personal finance for doctors. So, you better believe that I wasn’t going to spend a dollar more than I wanted when I started this new car buying process.
I was going to get the best deal I could for exactly how much I wanted to spend. Early on, I decided that I would not spend more than $2,000 out of my pocket for the exact truck I wanted.
If I could get a better truck at a higher trim or with more options, I wasn’t going to break $3,500. Since I was buying the truck at the end of the month in order to negotiate on a new car, many dealerships were out of the exact trim and options I wanted. So, I ended up spending the higher number ($3,500 OTD) on the truck.
For this, my new truck had some additional features that I didn’t need, but were still nice to have like LED headlamps, automatic lights, and an improved audio system which is great since I am a bit of an audiophile.
9. Pay Cash When Buying a New Car
One other benefit that I had when negotiating my new car was that I wasn’t going to finance the vehicle. This allowed the dealerships that I was working with to know that I wasn’t going to budge on my number and that the OTD price was a great tool for comparing prices.
In addition to this, they had an incentive at the dealership for those who bought vehicles with cash. Having the leverage in the deal allowed me to get the best deal on my new car. This is a life lesson in accomplishing your financial goals! Because my wife and I are debt-free outside of our mortgage, we had additional leverage that I haven’t had in times past when buying a new car.
Take Home: Negotiating a New Car
Whether you are trying to find the best time to buy a new car, learning how to obtain the best deal, or learning how to negotiate a car – I hope this post proved helpful. The truth is that you have to have the discipline it takes (and the time) to go through this process if you want to achieve your goals.
I promise you, though, that there is a lot more room for negotiation than you think when buying a new car. You simply have to know the truth and have the patience and discipline to get what you want!
Have you negotiated a new car? What tips do you have based on your experience? Did you apply some of the steps mentioned above successfully? Leave a comment below.
6 thoughts on “The Best Time to Buy a Car & 8 Other Steps to Get the Best Deal”
what about on line purchases like Carvana etc?
The used car market deserves its own blog post, but I’ve found their prices to be very competitive, but not necessarily convenient if the car is far away. They’ll deliver, but the delivery cost can cancel out the cost savings.
We bought our last used car directly from Hertz after a multi-day test drive. I’ve twice bought late-model used cars from rental fleets for a great price.
I bought an SUV 2 years ago. The dealership actually gave me a hard time because I want to pay cash. They told me they make a profit on the financing and that they could not give me a better deal if I paid cash. Last week I was at the same dealership getting the last free service I was promised so I decided to price a new vehicle figuring that they would want a used one in practically new condition, but they offered me $28,500 which is $6000 less than Kelley Blue book so I walked out. They even looked up my file and said, ” I see you paid cash for you’re last one”. Told me the OTD price for the new one was $14,000 . Any ideas???
Agree with the above commenter. By focusing only on the OTD price of the vehicle you purchase, you eliminate the dealer’s ability to hide profit in your trade-in allowance. This way you suss out their best deal. Then you add the trade-in allowance, protected by the floor of your CarMax offer, to ensure you’re getting the most possible for your trade. Doing it this way keeps you comparing apples to apples during the entire process.
Well written article however I would offer one suggestion.
Obtain the value of the trade-in vehicle at CarMax, they will give you a written offer good for seven days. When pricing your new vehicle, do NOT bring the trade vehicle into the mix until you have the OTD price. When you have the OTD price, then ask what they will give for your trade in vehicle. Show them the CarMax written offer ONLY after they have given you a trade in price as they might offer more. In no case should you accept less than CarMax. You may need to haggle a bit to have the dealer meet the CarMax price in order to get a sales tax break on the new car.
As always be prepared to walk out the door if they are not willing to budge.