Is It Better to Buy a Car in February? Google Data Can Help Answer That

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Chevrolet pickup trucks and SUVs are seen at a dealership in Silver Spring, Maryland

It might be tempting to run out and buy a new car at this time of the year, but delaying your purchase by a few weeks could save you some money. Sometimes it’s not an option because your old clunker simply gives up, but if you can plan, then make sure you walk into the dealership at a time when you’re likely to get a good deal.

Automobiles are a retail business, and just like any other retail business, the end of the year makes a retailer’s year. That can have serious ramifications on how much a dealer is willing to budge on price.

Shop During the Winter

You may think standing in a car lot checking out your new ride on a blustery winter day doesn’t sound like fun. You’re probably right, but it’s the perfect time to buy. Historically, the winter months see greater discounts as dealers try to lure people out into the cold weather.

Take a look at the graph utilizing Google data showing actual foot traffic to dealerships by month in 2015. Conventional wisdom would suggest that people are so busy with the holidays that they’re not shopping for cars, but instead, the absolute opposite is true: Foot traffic increases steadily throughout the year, to a crescendo in December, just as holiday craziness is at its peak. Then, immediately afterward, it drops off a cliff.


Wait Until the End of the Month

Salespeople have performance goals and those numbers are often tallied up at the end of the month. Walk through the doors late in the month and you may find a salesman eager to hit his monthly quota and a sales manager just as ready to cut you a better deal.

Even better, walk in at the end of the quarter or the end of the year. Sales numbers are hugely important for dealerships. Take advantage of this by shopping when there isn’t much time left and coming back in a few days means your sale won’t help the current quarter’s numbers.

They’ll be especially happy to move a car off the lot if its been sitting awhile. Take a look at their on-hand inventory and see if there’s a car right there that can be sold rather than having one shipped from another dealer. They really want to move what they have as the month comes to a close.

Shop Late in the Day

Time of year isn’t the only thing to consider. Time of day is just as important. A new Google/TNS survey unveils some interesting trends in foot traffic during the day. Their analysis shows that the vast majority of consumers are walking through the door at or near lunchtime. Look at how foot traffic drops off in the evening, even as dealerships stay open later to service customers:

For you as a shopper, visiting a dealership just after opening, or later in the evening may allow you more opportunity to ask questions, understand your options, and even get a better deal.

The takeaway? Consider your timing when purchasing a car. If you’re buying in December, you might be fighting for a place in line. If you’re buying in January or February, there are tumbleweeds blowing through the showroom.

Early automotive dealers knew that fact, even without Google data. In 1897, bicycle salesman and soon-to-be Buick dealer Alvan T. Fuller was hanging signs outside his bicycle shop urging customers to avoid the horrible cold of February to enjoy a Washington’s birthday sale in his shop.  He knew just as clearly as Google analysts did that shoppers in February were avoiding his shop like the plague after the holidays.