Where to Look for the Best Car Deals This Fall

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The autumn-to-early winter period is traditionally an excellent time for car shoppers on the hunt for bargains. Why this is so can be explained by factors including consumer behavior (more people tend to buy in spring and summer) and automaker habit (new models are introduced in fall, and dealerships look to unload the previous year’s models). This year in particular, there is a trio of car categories that is likely to be discounted more than usual.
‘Leftover’ Cars
Leftovers are rarely anyone’s first choice when they’re in the fridge. Same thing at the car dealership lot. Hence the reason that 2012 vehicles that are “leftovers”—models that are being discontinued or redesigned, so they’ll clearly seem outdated in the months ahead—are in low demand and can be expected to be sold with big incentives and deep discounts this fall. An Edmunds post offers up 13 such 2012 models, all of which are “about to be replaced by new-generation models, yet represent excellent value and performance.”

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The list ranges from solid economical classics (Honda Accord—big things are expected of the 2013 model); to luxury sedans (Lexus ES 350—the new model gets “a more dramatic exterior look and some additional interior room,” according to Edmunds); to muscle cars (Ford Mustang); to an assortment of SUVs and crossovers (Ford Escape, Hyundai Santa Fe, Nissan Pathfinder, GMC Acadia). The incentives and discounts for the 2012 versions of these vehicles will only grow more attractive to buyers as time passes. Then again, the selection will decrease as well as discounted older models sell out.

In this week’s “Steals on Wheels” roundup, auto research site TrueCar focuses on hatchbacks—the Focus, in particular. Based on the average price for recent purchases, TrueCar estimates that the typical Ford Focus hatchback is selling for $16,433, after discounts and incentives are factored in. That’s $2,662 less than MSRP ($19,095), representing a savings of nearly 14%. (Normally, prices that amount to 8% or 9% off MSRP are considered outstanding.

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Side note: The Ford Focus is on pace this year to be the world’s top-selling car, a title usually held by the Toyota Corolla, which starts at a sticker price of $16,230.

Used Cars
A report published in early summer anticipated a drop in used-car prices as the months passed. It looks like the forecast was correct, and even more decreases can be expected in the months to come. At the end of August, research from CarGurus indicated that the average price for a used car in the U.S. was $19,316, a decrease of 2.4% from May, when prices spiked, and a decrease of 2.2% compared to the same period in 2011.

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The site’s analysts expect used-car prices to keep dropping in 2012, easily dipping another 4% or more by year’s end, and here’s why:

“This Fall is setting up to be a good time for consumers to find savings on a used-car purchase, which is quite a change from a few months ago,” said Langley Steinert, founder and CEO of CarGurus. “The tight supply issues that drove many used-car prices up earlier this year seem to be resolving, and that, combined with a typical seasonal drop-off in demand, bodes well for shoppers. Still, we recommend that consumers do careful research and their price homework as they shop for the right car.”

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.