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When is the best time to buy a car?

Looking to get the best deal on a new or used car? Timing could be everything

The new way of buying a car - SEAT interior

It's not unheard of for motorists to need to find a new car in something of a hurry - if your current car has failed its MoT, been written off in an accident or is simply coming to the end of its finance agreement, for instance. However, if you have a little more time, getting the timing of your new car purchase negotiations right can save you thousands.

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This handy guide explains the insider tips and tricks to pinpointing the best time to buy a new or used car - from the best time of year to buy if you can afford to wait, to the best time of the month to buy, if your need for a new car is a little more pressing.    

Being a new car - your complete guide

The best time to buy new

Almost all new cars are sold through dealers who are given targets and incentives to help shift the highest number of vehicles possible. If they hit the goals they’ve been set, there are financial bonuses which can be worth thousands of pounds for the business and the salesperson. They could even win holidays and other sorts of reward. 

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These targets are calculated every week and month to see if they’re on track, but the really big bonuses hang on quarterly results. These periods end in March, June, September and December. If you walk into a showroom on the last day of the quarter when the dealer is one car away from getting their bonus, you can expect a fantastic deal.

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The beginning of April is another key date as it is the end of the financial accounting year for many companies and they will be keen to have your cash showing in their results.

The new way of buying a car - relaxed environment

Bear in mind the number plate changes too. These take place in March and September and cause spikes in demand as customers want to have the latest number on their registration. Dealers are busiest on March 1 and September 1, so are unlikely to have capacity to deal with customers on these days, but by the closing days of these months they might be a few units short of the targets and will be keen to deal.

Be prepared to take something from stock though, as the dealer will need to register the car for it to count towards the bonus. A factory order will take a few weeks and won’t be able to be registered until the next quarter. 

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The stock dealers will be very keenest to get rid of will be cars which are just about to be replaced. Reading Auto Express’ news pages will give you a good idea of when a new or revised model is due. If you don’t mind having the older version, you can use this information to go and secure a good deal on the outgoing car. 

It’s not just the cars which have bonuses attached to them. Sales staff will also be keen to hit targets for finance packages, add-on insurance, service plans and extras such as paint protection. You shouldn’t feel pressured into taking any of these, but if you are interested there is likely to be room to haggle if you get the timing right.

The day of the week you visit the dealer might not have too much impact on the price, but if you want attentive service it could be best to aim for a midweek day, as dealers are busiest at the weekends and you may be left standing around. 

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Finally, consider a pre-registered car. If the dealer cannot find enough real buyers for new vehicles and it looks like they will miss the targets, they can register cars in their own name. They will then store them until they are three months old and sell them on to the public with a big discount – read our guide to pre-registered cars here.

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Best new cars for 2019

Since the peaks for new car registrations are March and September, dealers will be under the most pressure to sell in these months and are likely to resort to pre-registering. As a result, large numbers of pre-registered models will be on sale three months later, in June and December, so you could expect a good deal.

The best time to buy used 

Getting the timing right for buying a used car is vitally important too. Like any other commodity, the price is set by demand and supply – when there are more cars than buyers, then prices will fall.  

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The greatest supply of used cars will reflect the sales peaks of new models, as buyers will trade in their old cars and dealers will need to move them on. The busiest time for traders will therefore be around the new car registration changes in March and September, although the time for a car to reach a used car forecourt will lag a little as the cars will need to be processed and prepared.

Long-term test review: Mercedes X 350 d - dealership

The weather can also have a big impact on used car prices. Obviously, the price of a convertible rises in spring when the buyer has the prospect of a full summer of top-down motoring ahead of them, while 4x4s are more sought after in the winter when the thought of snow and floods is in buyers’ minds. 

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The weather can have other odd effects on the used car market. Purchasers don’t like to trudge around forecourts in the rain and cold, so a prolonged spell of bad weather can make dealers (and even private sellers) more anxious to do a deal. Ironically, the same is true of really good weather. Sunny summer weekends are usually spent at the beach or a barbeque rather than prodding around cars, and car dealer’s sites will usually be deserted.

Once you have finally done a deal, it can also make sense to pick up a used car at the beginning of a month to save yourself paying for just a few days of road tax. The DVLA makes you pay for a full month even if you just want to use the car for a couple of days, and it’s not transferrable from the previous owner. 

Should I buy a nearly new car?

It won’t make much of a difference on small cars which have a low (or zero) rate, but bigger-engined models can cost £550+ to tax for a year, so picking up a car at the beginning of the next month could save enough for an extra tank of fuel. 

Find out if you should lease or buy a new car

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