The best time of year to buy a new car

The month, week and day you buy can dramatically affect how much you’ll pay for a new car. Here’s how to get the best deal at the right time...

Dealership featuring Mercedes E-Class

It might seem surprising, but the time of year can have a huge impact on the cost of a new car.

Registration cycles, dealer targets and incentives, and even the type of car itself can cause prices to fluctuate according to the calendar, so it really does pay to know when – and when not – to hit the showroom.

Number plate changes

New number plates are introduced every March and September, which is usually when car sales peak, and any model sporting the latest plate is guaranteed to cost more than a slightly earlier equivalent.

Savvy shoppers should time their purchases for February and August, which are traditionally quieter months. This obviously won’t get you the newest number plate, but dealers like having the freshest-looking products on their forecourts, so your chances of a great deal are much stronger in the run-up to the change.

The catch is that if you plan to replace your car in a relatively short period of time – say, a year – then an older plate will affect its resale value. The impact of this reduces over time though, so it’s a case of balancing any up-front discounts with the potential loss of buying an older model.   

Dealer targets

The vast majority of dealerships operate on target-based sales models. Staff will be keen to meet their quota towards the end of a month or quarter, so these are great times to hit the forecourts.

However, it’s important to bear in mind the number plate change here as well, because March and September mark the ends of quarters one and three – so a non-plate-change month (quarters two and four) are better times to drive a deal.

Don’t leave it until the very last couple of days of a month to make your purchase, though. While later is definitely better, if a salesperson or dealership has already met that month’s target, then they aren’t going to be under the same pressure to offer you a discount in order to make up the numbers. The sweet spot is reported to be between the 20th and 25th.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that dealers are almost always quieter during the week than at weekends, so try to visit then if you can.

The Christmas slowdown

December is often the quietest month of the year for dealerships, as buyers’ thoughts turn to Christmas rather than cars, and the lull typically continues into the first week of January. As a result, salesmen will likely jump at the chance to flog you a new model.

Many showrooms will run Boxing Day sales, too, which is even more reason to time your purchase to the festive season. It’s also worth checking to see if your local showrooms run other bank holiday promotions if you’re shopping at different times of the year.

Similarly, the US-inspired Black Friday sale, which takes place in late November, is becoming more popular in the UK each year, with many car dealers getting in on the act.

Seasonal cars

Certain types of car can become cheaper or more expensive depending on the time of year. Conventional models such as family hatchbacks, saloons and city cars are less subject to fluctuation, but those that thrive in certain seasonal conditions can command a premium at the relevant time of year.

Convertibles are more attractive in summer, so prices rise accordingly, while the reverse is true of 4x4s, which prove their worth in the slippery winter months.  

Another thing to bear in mind is whether or not a car is about to be facelifted or completely replaced by a new model. End-of-the-line or run-out versions should be sold at a discount, because the new model will cause them to depreciate more heavily.   

Buy a new car with What Car?

Whatever time of year you’re buying, visit What Car?’s new car deals section first.

We have discounted deals on most new cars on sale, so you're never far away from finding a new car deal in your area.

It's all based on Target Price, which is the price we think you should pay based on research by our team of mystery shoppers, and the best discounts they can achieve.

If you’re still not sure then our deals team can help; call them on 03302 216207 – lines are open from 8am until 10pm seven days a week.

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