Buying a car in winter: when is it a good idea?
Buying a car in winter: when is it a good idea?

Winter in colder climates usually means less foot traffic and more pressure to meet sales quotas. And since dealerships usually receive the next model year at the end of the summer, many are eager to pull the previous model year out of the lot.

You may still be able to profit from the slow sales, but the the automotive market is booming right now, so don’t expect a huge drop in prices when winter rolls around.

Dealers attempt to meet quotas

It’s no secret that dealerships operate on monthly and yearly quotas. These influence the bonuses and commissions offered by both the dealership owner and the manufacturers the dealership works with.

That’s why waiting until the end of the year can be the perfect time to buy. Not only are sellers under pressure to meet their monthly quota, but they’ll also want to snag last-minute sales for the end of the fiscal year.

Of course, not all dealerships operate on a January-December financial calendar. But in general, you may be able to use the system to better negotiate a deal.

End of year sales

Franchise dealers — dealers who have a direct relationship with a manufacturer — can offer discounts and advantageous rates on new cars of the current model year. But year-end sales are common regardless of whether a dealership is franchised or independent.

As dealers try to meet sales quotas, you might see big drops on the sticker price alongside discounts. If you’re not a good negotiator, take advantage of the winter sales. It can help you get a good deal.

Fewer people are shopping

Cold winter weather and a busy holiday season often keep people from parking. And slow dealership traffic extends into January and February, making them excellent months to buy a car, says Mike Quincy, automotive expert at Consumer Reports.

the the same trading rules apply, regardless of the time of year. Quincy recommends that you find out the dealer’s cost and work from there against the list price.

“You’re probably going to have a more captive audience for a vendor when you go there in the winter months because they don’t see a lot of people,” Quincy says. “These tactics should be effective.”

New models come out

Dealerships usually start getting new models in late summer or early fall. This means that current model year cars that were never kicked out of the lot have lost value.

“A leftover model, in general, can be a good deal if you’re the type of person who digs their car into the ground,” Quincy says, noting that could be 100,000 to 200,000 miles.

And even if you buy used, waiting for the new models to hit the market is worth it. After all, depreciation will still take its toll. The car will be just as good, but you may be able to negotiate a lower price because it’s an older model.

Winter options may be available

Part of your negotiation strategy should include winterizing your car. Beyond comfort factors, like heated seats and steering wheels, focus on winter wipers and snow tires as part of the overall package.

“If you’re not prepared to make that investment, your safety is compromised,” says Lauren Fix, car expert and CEO of Car Coach Reports. Cars fitted with high performance tires may not fare as well on icy roads. Snow tires generally cost the same as all-season tires, but there may be additional costs associated with installing them when you buy a car.

When to expect spring

Winter can be a great time to grab some bargains, but it’s not the only time to shop. If you are willing to negotiate the price and come with financingit may be a good idea to wait until spring or later to start shopping.

  • Most manufacturers’ offers are for new cars, so if you’re buying used cars, there’s not much point in winter shopping. Plus, you don’t want to be stuck in snow or ice if your used car isn’t properly winterized.
  • And if you buy a used car through a private sale, you’re less likely to find winter bargains. It may also be more difficult to schedule a personal meeting to check out the car.
  • Car shopping in warmer climates can actually be worse in the winter because the weather is more pleasant. Most advice predicts that you live somewhere with cold winters, so you might want to wait until the temperatures rise in the spring to shop.
  • If you’re expecting a large tax refund or a winter bonus that can be used as a big down payment, wait until spring. After all, the less money you need to take out a loan, the more you’ll save overall, even if you miss out on the biggest winter deals.
  • It might seem counterintuitive, but dealerships will start receiving 2023 models in late 2022. If you want a 2022 model, wait until late summer. That way dealers are pushing the 2023 model and you can get a great deal on the “old” model year.

The bottom line

In general, buying a car in winter will help you get a better deal. With low foot traffic and a move to new inventory, you have plenty of room to negotiate a good price.

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