If you've been thinking about buying a new vehicle, now's the time of the year to do it, says Kristin Varela, the senior family editor at Cars.com. Varela says that August and September are typically when most model years turn over, and dealers are looking to get rid of the older models to make room for the new vehicles cycling in. Or, if you'd prefer to wait a few months, December is another good month to score a new car because making sales before the end of the calendar year is motivating for dealers. Here are Varela's top tips for getting the best car at the best price:
Know what you want: It's a big mistake to stroll into a dealership, thinking, "Oh, I'll just have a look around," says our expert. Know what vehicle you want before stepping into the dealership, or you'll wind up having a car pushed on you that won't fit your needs. Make your decision on what car to buy by doing research, talking to people and reading reviews. Seek out reviewers who have similar lifestyles to you. In other words, if you're a family person looking for a car to fit your whole brood, you wouldn't want to read reviews focusing on the best cars for weekend racing. Cars.com has a special guide for families, and Consumer Reports is another popular place to start your search. Talk to friends and family about what they drive and how they feel about their vehicle. And get real about your budget. Edmunds.com has a helpful price-range calculator.
Visit multiple dealerships: You've decided on the car. Now it's time to step into a dealership for a test-drive. This first visit is not about buying; it's purely to take the car for a spin. Set up multiple appointments to visit a few different dealerships, and plan to keep each appointment short and sweet — say, 30 minutes. Then "cut one appointment short by saying you have to go to another dealership to look at another car," says our expert.
Listen up: We know it's no fun to haul the entire family to test-drive a car, but you have to, Varela says. "A lot of people shy away from taking the kids, the car seats and the strollers to the dealership, but that is a big mistake," she says. "Do not leave them behind. You want to be sure your car seats fit, that your kids can fit into the third row, that your jogging stroller or wagon fit into the vehicle. Take the time to check those things so you don't get home with a new car only to discover that you can't fit three child safety seats side by side."
Know what's hot: There are two reasons to find out which cars are the current best-sellers on the market. One, it takes some of the power away from the car salesperson because he can't claim that a particular car is selling like hotcakes if it's not. It's also a good way to negotiate a better deal if a car isn't selling as quickly. To see the stats, Cars.com's blog, KickingTires, has a monthly feature tracking sales data.
Wait for the deals: If you don't have to buy a car right this instant, you can hang back and wait for those zero percent interest rates or other incentives. (Don't expect too many generous cash-back offers, though, as our expert says they're not all that common these days.) Check the automaker's website to see what's going on in terms of incentives. They don't typically change on the first of the month, but they generally do by the first week of the month.
Ask for what you want: Once you've gotten a ridiculous amount of knowledge and decided on a car, get in there and ask for what you want. "Everything is up for discussion and negotiation," Varela says. If one dealer won't give you a certain deal or extra, maybe another will. And don't feel intimidated. The automotive industry knows where the purchasing power lies. Not only are about 52 percent of all new cars purchased by women, but women also influence a whopping 85 percent of car-buying decisions (we're talking $83 billion a year in purchasing power!).
Don't mention a trade: Interestingly, Varela suggests you finish negotiating every detail before you even whisper that you're looking to trade in your current car. That way, you can be sure that you've gotten the very best deal possible and that your trade-in talk doesn't prevent you from a "clean and pure" offer.