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

  • 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