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When is the best month to buy a car?

Car sales promotions run all year long, but you’ll usually have the best luck in December — the later in the month, the better.

“When the month is coming to an end, dealers might be a few cars short of a sales quota that would win them a big bonus,” writes Ronald Montoya of the automotive site Edmunds. “Salespeople will have more motivation to make a deal with a buyer and might deeply discount cars, making up any money lost with the bonus.”

In December, salespeople are not only scrambling to meet end-of-month quotas, but also end-of-quarter and end-of-year quotas. That’s why New Year’s Eve can be one of the best times of year to buy a car.

Data from TrueCar shows that on Dec. 31, buyers enjoy an average of 10.9% off the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. That’s 1.7 percentage points more than the savings you’d expect during the worst months.

Just make sure you have all your ducks in a row, including your pre-approved financing. That way you’re sure to close the deal before the sales quota resets for the new year.

More: Is an 84-month car loan a good idea?

That said, it all depends on the model year you’re looking for and whether you’re buying new or used.

“You should look for a vehicle from the outgoing model year that has generous incentives,” explains Montoya. “Automakers and dealerships want to close the year with strong sales. They also want to get rid of prior model-year cars that are taking up space.”

Used cars don’t benefit from these types of end-of-year manufacturer incentives. So unless you’re buying new, you may be better off visiting the lot in January or February. Fewer people are shopping during the depths of winter, so dealers may be more likely to negotiate.

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Other smart times of year to go car shopping

1. Car shop when new models drop

The auto industry follows a wonky calendar. In the past, manufacturers launched new models in the fall season. To make room in their lots for the new releases, dealerships marked down previous-year models in October, making it a prime time to buy.

That is no longer the case, says Nowadays, new models are released all year long. This makes it trickier to time your purchase, but it’s still possible.

Instead of waiting for fall to roll around, research when the expected release date is for the model you’re interested in. Just like shopping for an iPhone, when a new version drops, the older models go on sale.

2. Score deals during holiday promotions

Shopping for a vehicle might not be your ideal way to spend holiday time, but it’s a great way to save money. Dealerships offer all kinds of incentives to get people out of their homes and on to the lot.

Some popular holidays for car deals include:

  • President’s Day
  • Memorial Day
  • Fourth of July
  • Labor Day
  • Black Friday
  • New Year’s Eve

To avoid wasting your entire holiday, do all your prep work in advance. Get your financing pre-approved, test drive your favorite models and narrow it down to your top choice. That way, when the holiday promotion rolls around, you can zip in and out of the dealership as fast as possible.

3. Sundays and Tuesdays are good, too

You might think you’d have the most luck on weekdays when the car lots are dead. But new research suggests that conventional wisdom isn’t true — at least not anymore.

TrueCar data shows Sunday is now the best day to buy a car, with shoppers saving an average of 10% off the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. This is a full percentage point less than you’d spend on a Thursday, which ranks as the worst day of the week to buy a car.

One percent may not sound like much. But according to Kelley Blue Book, Americans pay an average of $47,077 for a new car. That works out to a $470 discount for buying on Sunday versus Thursday.

Keep in mind, some states ban or restrict car sales on Sundays. In that case, Tuesday is your best bet.

More: Car buying calculator

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