If getting a brand new or preowned vehicle is part of your plans for 2023, there are some things to keep in mind. As we’ve seen over the past few years, the typical strategies to getting a bargain may not apply to more modern times. Many people have gotten used to the higher price tag on new and used vehicles — brought on over the past three years by the pandemic, supply chain issues, chip shortages and other factors — and simply cannot put off a purchase any longer.
To be successful in purchasing a car this year, you’re going to have to be ready to act wisely – and fast. Keeping in mind the going rate for vehicles in the current market. “We’ve come off highs of this cycle, but car prices are still well above pre-pandemic levels and likely will be for most of 2023,” says iSeeCars Executive Analyst Karl Brauer.
With that in mind, experts say despite fewer cars on dealer lots, there are things prospective car buyers can do to drive away happy.
Get a reality check
Shopping for a car in 2023 is not like it was years ago when you could test drive a vehicle, go home and think about the purchase and inevitably get a follow-up call from a dealer and then haggle on the price.
“The first thing is to recognize what the market is like nowadays. The deal you got the last time you bought a car is not likely to happen now,” says Edmunds’ Senior Consumer Advice Editor Ron Montoya. “Though average transaction prices are falling from all-time highs, prices are still much closer to sticker price (if not over for the most popular models) than they were the last time current shoppers were likely in the market. And if they don’t have the trim or color you’re looking for, ordering a vehicle has become another popular option for consumers that have time on their side.”
Research cars online first
What is a fair price for your desired vehicle? One way to find out is by spending some quality time with Google. With online tools and car shopping sites being more robust than ever, doing research for vehicles and pricing in a digital environment to help narrow down the best fit for a person’s lifestyle and budget remains a significant step in the process.
There are, however, things to watch out for when it comes to online searches. With cars quickly selling, some dealerships may struggle to keep their inventory up to date in real time on their websites. “Some cars are selling even before they are on the lot, especially popular models like EVs,” says Montoya. “You do want to conduct your search online, then you want to call in to verify it’s there, then go in and see it in person so you can test drive it.” Furthermore, Montoya suggests that when you call to confirm a vehicle is still available, ask if other features like tinted windows have been added on – this could result in the price edging upwards.
With inventory still on the lighter side, it’s useful to come up with a list of must-haves for your next vehicle. Try and be as flexible as possible when it comes to everything from manufacturer to color to trim options. In the current market, being brand loyal just might end up costing you. In fact, you may find you’re just as happy with a similar make and model as your ideal car that doesn’t stretch your budget as much.
Traditionally speaking, vehicles that stay on lots are ripe for bargaining. While such finds aren’t as plentiful these days, they do exist. “There is always variation in supply and demand across models, which means a consumer willing to do the research can still find deals,” says Brauer. “If you identify multiple models that serve your needs you might be surprised by the variation in pricing, allowing you to pick the lower cost option.”
Montoya concurs, noting price-conscious customers may be able to save money by being open to other manufacturers. “Take a look at some of the competitors to vehicles you might initially be more interested in. A less-popular model will likely have a better discount than the top pick in its category,” he says.
It’s also wise to cast your search wide in terms of location. Looking beyond your ZIP code – even crossing state lines – may be what it takes to find your next vehicle. This level of flexibility may result in finding more cars with your desired features and the ability to compare prices.
Consider ordering a new car
If you don’t want to scour the internet or drive all over the place in search of your next vehicle, you may want to consider ordering your car. “With the delays in availability for many new models you might as well order the exact car you want,” says Brauer. “Make the waiting pay off by getting your ideal color and features.”
This “secret menu of car buying” is a sound option for those with patience. Montoya notes while order times vary, buyers can expect to wait six to eight weeks to get the keys to their vehicle if they go this route.
Are used cars the best bargain?
Purchasing a car that has been on the road for many years may offer the lowest price tag, but it’s important to be mindful of the vehicle’s overall condition. Older vehicles with high mileage may have incurred a lot of wear and tear. Sources like Carfax and Autocheck can help you glean insight into a vehicle’s past.
Historically buying a used, but fairly new vehicle made for a deal. Not so much recently, but things could be shifting in 2023. “Used car prices didn’t offer much of an advantage over new for much of the past 2 years, but they are falling now and savings can again be found by buying used versus new,” says Brauer. “The good news is, modern cars are more durable than in previous eras, so even a 5- or 10-year-old car might have plenty of life left in it while offering substantial savings. But always get a vehicle history report and, ideally, a pre-purchase inspection from a mechanic.”
Make higher used car prices work in your favor
In today’s tight market, you’d be surprised how much your used car may be worth. With many people put off by the high prices of new vehicles, a larger group of shoppers are gravitating toward used options that fit into their budget. This scenario makes your trade in desirable.
”You can still get a strong price for most used cars, which presents an opportunity for consumers willing to sell a car themselves,” says Brauer. “If a consumer wants to trade their vehicle in, they should still do the research to know what it’s worth and ensure the dealer provides a fair value versus giving it away for too cheap.”
Leasing has also been affected by the volatile market. If you are coming off a lease, buying the vehicle may be the best decision, suggests Montoya, assuming you signed on the dotted line before the pandemic-fueled vehicle shortage. “The deals are not as great as they were before, and current high interest rates make leasing a difficult choice,” he says. “Even if you were looking into leasing again, it would be more expensive than in the past.”
Bargain for what you can get
While you may not walk away from the showroom floor with thousands of dollars slashed off the price tag, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few perks to be had. Research what sort of discount offers on particular vehicles of complimentary service programs (say for free oil changes) may be available. Happy shopping!