If You’ve Been Thinking of Buying a Car, Now’s the Right Time

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Car dealerships are happy right now, thanks to what’s looking like the biggest December ever for new car sales. Customers are happy too—because it’s arguably the best time of the year to get a deal.

As predicted, 2013 has been a huge year for auto sales. The latest data from Edmunds projects that new car sales will total 15.66 million for the year, an increase of 8% over 2012, which was itself a very strong year for dealerships and manufacturers bouncing back after years of a cautious post-recession marketplace.

All signs indicate that, in terms of new car sales, 2013 will finish strong. Edmunds’ forecast calls for 1,425,818 new cars and trucks in the U.S. to be sold in the U.S. for the month of December, a 15% increase over November and a 5% rise compared to December 2012. Citing data from J.D. Power and LMC Automotive, The Detroit Bureau reported that consumers are on pace to spend a total of $34 billion on new cars in the month, which would be an all-time high for December:

“Strong consumer demand in December is the culmination of another strong year for the automotive industry,” said John Humphrey, senior vice president of the global automotive practice at J.D. Power. “Retail sales in 2013 are expected to reach 12.8 million, with consumer spending reaching a record $375 billion, a $40 billion increase from 2012.”

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Thus far in 2013, August was the biggest month for total car sales—in fact, it was the biggest August ever—but by the time December is over it may beat out August for the year’s highest sales title. Experts told the Los Angeles Times that dealerships are eager to move cars before the month (and the year) end, in order to make way for new-model cars and reap the benefits of automaker sales incentives. “December is the perfect storm for these discounts,” said Alec Gutierrez, of Kelley Blue Book. “Dealers and manufacturers are all trying to hit their month-end target, their quarterly target and their year-end sales targets.”

While December is an exciting, fast-moving, lucrative time for car dealerships, it’s an equally good time to be a buyer. Earlier in the month, Gutierrez told MarketWatch that the last day of the year is when it’s “most likely to get the best possible value when buying a new car.”

Edmunds.com analyst Jessica Caldwell suggested that buyers have a little more flexibility in terms of when they go shopping for deals. “The last sales day of 2013 for most dealers will be Jan. 2, 2014,” she explained to MarketWatch. “Any time after Christmas – assuming a dealer hasn’t already met his/her sales target – would be a favorable time to buy a new car.”

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At an Edmunds.com post, Caldwell further explained that bargain hunters must go specifically in search of leftover models that dealerships are motivated to get off their lots:

“December has become one of the best times of the year to buy a new car, and there’s good reason for that,” says Edmunds.com Senior Analyst Jessica Caldwell. “Smarter shoppers will especially zero in on leftover 2013 model year vehicles, which dealers will be more than happy to unload with big discounts and rock-bottom interest rates.”