If you're looking to get the most bang for your buck when shopping for a new vehicle, waiting to buy at the end of the manufacturer's current model year is a great way to potentially save hundreds or even thousands of dollars while still enjoying the satisfaction of driving off the lot in a brand new car.
You see, when vehicle manufacturers release a new model year, dealers are often stuck with "leftover new cars" from the previous model year that they need to get off their lots. This is why it's so common to see advertisements for "model-year-end clearance" sales.
Buying a car at the end of a model year can be a smart choice and it is one of the best times to buy a new car, but only if you do your car buying research and go into the process well informed. Not sure where to begin when it comes to shopping for leftover new cars? We've got some advice worth keeping in mind as you prepare to head to the dealership.
1. Know When to Shop
First of all, understand that there is no universal "end of model year," as production cycles can vary from one auto manufacturer to the next. Don't fall into the mistaken assumption that the end of a vehicle's model year will fall in-line with the end of the calendar year, as this is not often the case.
Instead, you'll be better off doing some independent research; the best way to figure out when the end of a model year is approaching is to research the release date for the next year's model.
For example, if a car you're interested in has a new model release date for November, you would probably be at the greatest advantage to shop for leftover new cars of that model sometime in October.
In most cases, you can expect a new model year to start around late fall or early winter. It is pretty rare for a new model year to be released in the spring or summer, but it's not entirelyunheard of so be sure to do your research.
2. Consider Your Needs When Buying an End of the Model Year Car
While it may be impossible to know exactly where you'll stand this time next year, let alone several years from now, it's a good idea to look to the future when considering buying an end-of-model-year car. That's because, depending on how long you plan on having the car, it may or may not be worth the savings to buy a leftover.
For instance, let's say buying a 2018 model year of one car will save you $2,000 on your purchase when compared to a 2019 model of the same car. However, because you like to buy a new car every few years, your 2018 model may have a significantly lower resale/trade-in value than a 2019 model (possibly several thousand dollars lower).
As a result, you may have saved some money on your vehicle up-front by buying at the end of the model year, but you ultimately would have saved more by purchasing the newer model year and trading it back in or selling it for more down the road.
3. Research and Prepare Before Car Shopping
If you're thinking of buying an end-of-model-year car, take time to assess and determine your own needs before you head to the dealership. This means figuring out what type of budget you're working with and whether or not you'll need to arrange financing.
If you plan on applying for financing, what type of down payment are you comfortable with putting down? If you have some specific makes and models in mind, it can also be a good idea to check with a few online auto insurance carriers and get a few free online insurance quotes so you can have a better idea of how much you'll be paying each month for coverage.
You may also want to make a list of "needs" versus "wants" in a new car. Make sure you'll be able to check off most (if not all) of your "needs" with a leftover new car; it may not be worth saving a couple thousand dollars on an end-of-model-year vehicle if it means not getting all the features you want, so know how to decide when it may actually be worth it to spend a little more on a new model year or another car altogether.
4. Take Advantage of Discontinued Models
A little online new car research will generally tell you whether or not a particular model of vehicle is being discontinued for the following year. If you already have your heart set on a specific vehicle, then, be sure to find out whether or not it will continue to be in production.
If not, and if there is still a relatively high demand for that vehicle, you might actually end up paying more for the car than if it were not being discontinued. This is basic supply-and-demand economics at work, unfortunately.
On the flip side, if you're still set on a particular make and model of car that's about to be discontinued, you'll want to act quickly and buy while the inventory is still available.
5. Watch Out for Loaners and Demos
When you shop for a leftover new car and see a price that seems too good to be true, make sure to ask whether or not the vehicle has been previously used as a demo or loaner.
These are vehicles that the dealership may provide to service customers to borrow when they're having work done on their cars. As a result, they may have higher mileage on them.
If you notice while test driving that the number on the odometer seems higher than you would expect for a new car, don't hesitate to ask; the dealership will be legally required to disclose this to you.
Generally, you'll want to avoid buying a loaner or demo car because these cars have already been registered since the dealership obtained them. As a result, you won't have as long remaining on the warranty as you would if you bought a truly new, unregistered vehicle.
6. Keep an Open Mind
Leftover new cars often sell for so much less than new model years because they're just that: leftovers. You may find that the end-of-model-year vehicles left on the lot are not in your favorite color, or they may be an unpopular trim level that didn't sell successfully throughout the year. Simply put, when you shop leftover new cars, there's a good chance you won't end up with the exact color, trim, or features that you want. You should go into the buying process with this in mind so you're not disappointed.
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On the other hand, if the car you're looking at is really lacking a specific feature that you wanted, it can never hurt to try and negotiate with the dealership. If they're really desperate to move the vehicle off their lot, they might be willing to install that must-have feature for free or for a heavily discounted price.
7. Know When to Walk Away
Knowing when to walk away from a vehicle negotiation that just isn't working out is also important. When it comes to buying an end-of-model-year car, you'll especially want to be on the lookout for the "bait and switch" tactic.
This occurs when a dealership advertises a leftover new car at a seemingly too-good-to-be-true discount. Once you arrive at the dealership, you're informed that the vehicle advertised has already been sold, but that there is another option available that's just a little more expensive.
This "bait and switch" tactic is unfair and even illegal in some states. Either way, it's a sign of an unscrupulous dealer, so it's best to walk away and take your business elsewhere.
8. Plan Your Purchase Wisely
When it comes to negotiations, did you know that the time of day and day of the week you visit the dealership can make a big difference? Think about it. Most car salespeople are paid commission, so they're naturally going to want to help customers that are willing to spend the most money on a new car.
If you visit the dealership on a busy weekend, there are likely to be numerous customers who are looking to spend more on a new model year car. As a result, salespeople may be less likely or willing to work with you.
On the other hand, if you visit the dealership during a less busy time of the week (such as a weekday during "normal" work hours), you're likely to end up with a salesperson who is eager to make a sale and thus more willing to go above and beyond with negotiations.
9. Never Pay More Than Sticker Price
One of the best pieces of advice to keep in mind when shopping for any car, including a leftover new car, is to never pay more than the listed sticker price.
Even if a car seems to be "loaded" with extra features, paying more than sticker price means you've been had and your vehicle will likely depreciate well under that price as soon as you drive it off the lot.
10. Don't Lose Out on a Great Deal
While you certainly don't want to rush into buying a new car if you're not ready, it's also worth bearing in mind that leftover new cars tend to fly off lots pretty quickly due to the heavy discounts that come with them.
As a result, if you come across a vehicle you really like and have already taken the time to research and test drive, you don't want to pass up a good deal. It's generally smart to go into shopping for leftover new cars with the idea that you'll be prepared to buy same-day if you come across the right car.
Unfortunately, that car may have already been purchased by somebody else if you take a day to "think on it" and come back to the dealership.
Overall, buying a car at the end of its model year can be a smart financial decision. Buying an end-of-model-year car not only saves you money, but allows you to revel in that new-car smell all the same. And by keeping these practical tips in mind as you shop for leftover new cars, you'll be able to shop, negotiate, and ultimately buy with confidence.
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The number one tip for saving the most money when buying a new or used car is to always take your time and "DO YOUR RESEARCH FIRST!"
As always, I recommend using a trusted, well established online referral service such as CarClearanceDeals, MotorTrend and Edmunds before physically walking into a car dealership. Their free online price quotes will automatically help level the playing field with the dealer and let you know right away which dealer's are willing to be more flexible on price. Please consider them the next time you decide to buy a used car online, they will save you a lot of money.
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About the Insider
Since 2002, Carlton Wolf has shared his experience in the new and used retail car business within the pages of AutoCheatSheet.com. After years of helping friends and family members receive great deals when purchasing their vehicles, he was inspired to educate more people with his insider car buying knowledge, tips and secrets. He has been called upon as an expert in the field by several local and national media outlets and has helped thousands of car shoppers save money during all aspects of the car buying process.