The holidays most often make people think of gift-giving and spending time with family and friends, but the end of the year is also a great time to consider buying a car, new or used. In 2018, 40.2 million used vehicles were sold in the US, and I am now officially part of that percentage, having just purchased a 2018 Nissan Rogue SV myself this past Saturday. In 2019, that number is projected to grow to 41 million. ¹
Buying a used car for the first time can seem stressful, but here are some tips to help guide you through the process:
- Buy at the end of the month.
If you’re buying a used car, it’s best to wait until the end of the month. Compared to dealers that are trying to move new current year models off the lot before year end, used cars really don’t hit their lowest prices till the end of the month. Car salespeople must make certain sales numbers before the end of the month, and selling a used car factors into that. If you’re buying a car on November 30th like I did, you’re more likely to get a better deal than if you were buying it on December 1st because salespeople are more motivated to make sales.
- Shop around.
Look at dealerships, used car sales lots, and even in different states. I went to five different dealerships in total before I found a vehicle price and trade-in offer I was happy with, and it ended up being in Connecticut (and I live in Vermont.) Take advantage of visiting friends and family and use those visits to shop around for cars in different states. When I went home for Thanksgiving to Massachusetts, I looked at cars there, as well as in Rhode Island where my grandparents live, and in the end the best offer I found was at a dealer in Middletown, CT.
- Do your research.
Know what features you want in a used car. I was specifically looking for the Apple CarPlay feature that came in 2018 or newer vehicles, but knew I didn’t really care about more than that. Explore different features as well. Are you looking for heated seats? Those most often aren’t included in the most basic offers, similar to navigation packages/sun roofs, which are more likely to cost you more money. In addition, after you’ve agreed to a price, many car salespeople may try to sell you on maintenance and warranty plans on top of the vehicle itself. Make sure to do your research on the price and value of these plans beforehand, and know that everything is negotiable.
- Trade smarter.
Know the goal trade-in price you’d like to receive as well as the base value you think the vehicle is worth. Getting trade-in quotes from Kelly Blue Book or other dealers online can help you establish a baseline of the market value of your car. Pro tip: bring in a physical copy of the trade-in quote or value you’ve received. This will help you leverage a competitor’s offer and get the dealer to give you more money.
- Don’t be afraid to walk away.
If you know there’s still a better deal on the table, walk away. I ended up walking out of the dealer twice before I reached a price I knew I could realistically afford. Many times, leaving or insinuating you don’t want to pay a price will encourage dealers to come down even more.
- Plan ahead to save later.
How are you paying? Are you financing, purchasing or leasing? Go in with a specific plan and budget the maximum you are willing to pay and make sure to stick with it. If you’re financing, make sure you do a check of your credit score and consider meeting with your bank to discuss loan options ahead of time. If you can get a pre-approval loan letter from your bank, it can save you money and help you get out of the dealer faster by avoiding lengthy financing conversations.
The end of the month – and especially the end of the calendar year, is also an ideal time to buy a new car. Many dealers are looking to push out current year models in preparation for the next year’s models. Because they must meet certain sales quotas before the end of the year, you’re more likely to get a better deal, and have better luck negotiating.
The bottom line: know what you want and go in at the right time of the month and year with a plan, and don’t be afraid to leave if you don’t feel like your needs are being met. While there are thousands of car dealers out there, when you have done your homework and know what you want, you’re sure to end up with the right car. 😊
¹ Edmunds, Used Vehicle Market Poised for Record Sales in 2019, 3/20/2019