Planning to car shop over the Thanksgiving break? Better start now.
With dealerships eager to unload inventory and manufacturers offering sizable discounts to help move cars off the lots, waiting until Black Friday to start the process could put you at a disadvantage.
“There can be so much activity at dealerships that the sales staff can be overwhelmed and you might not be able get deep questions answered,” said Matt Jones, senior consumer advice editor at Edmunds.com.
“You also can’t deliberate for three or four hours that day, because while you’re doing that, someone else might buy the car,” Jones said.
Black Friday sales typically account for 15 percent of November car transactions, which translates into a rough doubling of shoppers encountered in showrooms, according to Edmunds research.
Yet given the special deals being offered by manufacturers — and potentially by local dealerships — braving the crowds can be worth it, especially if you’ve planned ahead.
The manufacturer’s discounts alone can save you a bundle. For instance, Hyundai is offering up to $3,500 off the suggested retail price of $16,950 on the 2018 Elantra SE. That would reduce the price by nearly 21 percent to $13,450.
The average incentive per car in October was at $3,472, according to Edmunds. The estimated average price for new cars hit a record $35,428 in October.
At the same time, sales have slowed. October’s year-over-year per-unit sales posted a 1.4 percent drop, according to Cars.com.
To take advantage of dealers hoping to move inventory, here are some tips for making your car purchase go more smoothly.
Do your research
Beyond zeroing in on a make and model you’re interested in, check to see if there are differences in pricing and incentives among your local dealerships.
“Each dealership is individually owned,” Jones said. “The manufacturer might be running a special and that’s great, but there might be other deals at the dealership level.”
For instance, some dealerships might give away freebies on Black Friday with every car sold. That could include hot consumer items like iPads, lifetime warranties, or special financing deals on cars that normally do not qualify.
Get pre-approved financing
Unless you plan to pay cash, you should get pre-approved for a loan from a bank or credit union. While there’s no obligation to use the pre-approval, you’ll at least be armed with a comparison when the dealership offers its best loan terms.
“If what a dealer can offer beats your pre-approval, then great,” said Jones. “If not, you still have the pre-approved loan with the better interest rate.”
For those with excellent credit, zero percent financing deals are available through some manufacturers. For instance, on the 2017 Ford Fusion — list price starts at around $22,000 — Ford is offering zero percent financing for 72 months, plus a $1,500 cash bonus.
Before you head to the dealership, make sure you have all paperwork you might need such as your license, proof of insurance and your down payment.
“If you forget all that, it can slow down the whole process,” Jones said. “Have your ducks in a row because it’s already going to be busy.”
Patience is a virtue
Once you enter the showroom, don’t be surprised if your salesperson is dealing with several customers at a time. With this weekend being one of the busiest for car shopping, the buying process is likely to take a bit longer. So even if you’re well-prepared, be ready to spend some time waiting.
Beware the add-ons
Once you get to the nitty-gritty of a deal, you might be offered an optional feature or service contract, such as an extended warranty. Do the math before signing on the dotted line.
“When a dealer breaks down the price to only $13 a month more, it doesn’t sound like a lot,” said Jennifer Newman, editor-in-chief of Cars.com. “But if you have a 72-month loan, that’s an additional $936.”
It’s also worth noting that if you are shopping for a used car and find one you like, don’t delay the purchase.
“Used cars all have different mileage, warranties and prices, so if you find one you want to buy, jump on it,” Jones said. “You can’t replicate that car exactly the way you can if it’s a new car.”