When is the best time to buy a used car?

by Aivaras Grigelevičius
October 11, 2021

Once you’ve decided to buy a used car, the next question is: when?

Although you might not think about it too much, purchasing a car at different points in the year could add (or save) hundreds to your purchase. Months, weeks, or even days could make the difference, so it’s essential to be organised.

This article will consider the best time to buy a used car and explain why prices fluctuate throughout the year.

What Should I Do Before Buying A Used Car?

Many people rush straight into buying a used car, eager to get their hands on something as soon as possible. While it seems like an easy and tempting idea, we wouldn’t recommend it under any circumstances.

Buying a used car without taking the time to do the proper checks or prepare for it can easily lead to financial heartbreak.

  1. For example, forgetting to do a car history check or adequately inspect the vehicle may lead to a significant problem developing not long after you purchase it.
  2. You may also see a similar model on sale six months later for a considerably lower price.

Before buying any used car, it’s essential to check the car’s history. Getting a vehicle history check is an invaluable resource. It could save you thousands on potential future repair or legal costs. We recommend using carVertical, a blockchain database-based car history check company, because no one can tamper with the report.

This article focuses on the second of those issues mentioned above.

Why Do Car Prices Fluctuate Annually?

For many used cars (with new vehicles, it’s an entirely different situation), prices tend to increase or drop based on demand. The greater the demand, the greater the price – the lower the demand, the lower the cost.

This trend often comes about from salespeople trying to sell as many vehicles as they can. If the average person isn’t interested in a particular model, they’ll usually try to reduce the price to entice someone to buy it.

For example, car dealerships are unlikely to sell many convertibles in the cold, dark days of winter because who wants to be driving without a roof in the snow? To overcome this issue and sell the car (to make space for a more appropriate vehicle, one more likely to sell), salespeople might reduce the cost by a very attractive amount.

Equally, 4x4s usually sell better in autumn and winter. Car sellers will use the same tricks as above to sell them in seasons seen as undesirable.

Cars are cheapest when fewer people want them. For you, as a savvy used car buyer, that’s the perfect time to make your move.

Taking advantage of the market trends requires planning, often up to six months in advance.

If you can’t wait that long, you can take advantage of other market trends that might result in smaller savings (see below).

Good Times To Buy A Used Car

  • Buying at the end of the month – car salespeople often have monthly targets to meet, so they may slash prices to help meet these. As a used car buyer, you could take advantage of this potential situation.
  • Buying on a Monday – data seems to show that purchasing a car on a Monday means you’ll get the best price. It’s been suggested that this is due to the dealerships being less busy at the beginning of the week (and, therefore, the reduced demand can lead to reduced prices).
  • Buying at the end of the year – data from the SMMT shows that UK used car sales always decline significantly in December but rebound in January. One assumes that’s due to people saving up for Christmas. Since salespeople might be trying to meet their year-end target in December, you’ll often find slashed prices around this time.
  • Holidays and special offers – statistically, the best holiday to buy a car is New Year’s Eve, as December sales often drop and salespeople still have year-end targets to meet. However, dealerships often offer special offers on vehicles during various holidays and nationwide events through the years in the hope that increased sales volume makes up for the price reduction. Be cautious, though, if you see a car on “special offer” – ensure the price is actually lower than other models, and it’s not just a sales technique to lure you in.
  • End of the quarter – salespeople have a lot of targets, often including end-of-quarter goals. As such, prices might be lower here, too.
  • In the UK, the number plate indicates the year (and which half of the year) the car was registered when new. For example, 08 represents a car registered between March and August 2008, whereas 70 shows it was between September and February 2020. Because of this trend, people often sell their cars when the new plate numbers come out. Since they’re desperate to get a newer car, they’ll often sell their older one as quickly as possible, meaning the price might be lower.

How Seasonal Sales Affect Some Models

Average family cars don’t fluctuate much in price, as the demand doesn’t change much throughout the year.

For a case study in this situation, let’s look at some used car data for the UK’s most popular car, the Vauxhall Corsa. For this, we’ll be using used car sales data from SMMT. We’ll also be using data from 2018 for accuracy, given that the Covid-19 pandemic severely impacted future years. If you’d like to see the latest data for 2021, click here.

Data shows the following sales numbers for used Vauxhall Corsa transactions in 2018:

  • Q1 (winter) – 81,663
  • Q2 (spring) – 81,710
  • Q3 (summer) – 80,789
  • Q4 (autumn) – 69,540

As you can see, sales figures are pretty consistent throughout the year. Even the drop in sales in Q4 isn’t particularly huge and matches similar trends across the industry for that period.

In contrast to this, here are the European 2018 records of the Mazda MX-5, a small European sports car, often a convertible. These figures also relate to new vehicles rather than used.

This data is sourced from Car Sales Base.

  • January/February/March (winter) – 3,863
  • April/May/June (spring) – 4,653
  • July/August/September (summer) – 3,331
  • October/November/December (autumn) – 1,856

The most popular month for buying an MX-5 was March, with 2,289 models sold, up from 756 in February. These people likely purchased the car in preparation for the warmer months. By contrast, the three worst months were October, November and December, with 680, 645 and 531 sales respectively.

As expected, the small sports car doesn’t sell well in the cold but does in the warm. By contrast, the average daily car – the Corsa – sells relatively consistently throughout the year.

Summary

There are many good times to buy a used car.

Crucially, don’t forget to get a car history check or inspect the car thoroughly before you buy it.

The most important aspect is to be prepared. Don’t rush into buying a used car by planning the best time to purchase it – you could save yourself quite a lot of money.

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