My Audi was in warranty for a few more months, but my husband decided he didn’t want to keep it past that. He told me to start researching another SUV with good gas mileage and to be prepared to execute at the end of December when dealerships are motivated to move inventory.

Given that I had an enormous December workload, family about to arrive in town and was hosting Christmas–let’s just say I wasn’t motivated to tack on finding a new car. Plus, I liked my Audi and still had a few months left to drive it.

In the end, he was totally right. The afternoon of New Year’s Eve is an excellent time to buy a car, though slightly stressful. Here’s why, along with some issues I ran into. This info will hopefully help anyone who is buying car in a hurry.

1. Dealerships have end of the year quotas. The reason why you’re likely to get a great deal on a car during the last week of December is that dealerships (naturally) want to close out the year with high numbers. I have read that you’re likely to receive about 9% off MSRP if you buy on December 31, regarded by some to be the best day of the year to buy a car. I got a bit less than that because mine is a new model car that’s in high demand, but they gave us a good price on the Audi so our out of pocket was more than fair.

2. There’s pressure to sell what’s on the lot. If your preferred color combination isn’t available at the dealership and they can’t easily source it on the day, you will receive pressure to buy what’s on the lot. Before you go, think about what color combination is acceptable to you and at what price. I almost had a car salesman convince me to choose an interior color that wasn’t ideal, just because the car was on the lot. Even with a great deal, I would have hated the color in a manner that would have negated the savings. New, prior year models are also where huge savings opportunities await, if they are available.

3. It’s not crowded. After much frustration, I saw the car I wanted online at another dealership. When I arrived (an hour later) to test drive the car, I was surprised that there wasn’t really anyone out there car shopping. I did have a different salesman tell me that it was his busiest day of the year, but I’m not sure if he was scaring me into coming earlier than I had planned.

4. Be careful if you have a trade-in.  One dealership offered me a new 2013 car at a few thousand below invoice (great deal), however, the offer for my Audi was awful, even after negotiating. Therefore, no real savings, but the below invoice offer and salesman really played with my mind. I am glad we walked away from it.

5. Decide which options you really need in advance. Because you’ll need to execute on the spot, visit a site like Edmunds to decide which options you need. Once you arrive at the dealership, it can get confusing.

I was often just shown the invoice price without a breakdown of included options. If you hurry to buy a car that is loaded with things you don’t need or want, then it’s not a good deal. Print the page on Edmunds that shows the invoice and MSRP costs of every available option–even the ones you don’t want. I found that the cars I was looking at had not only the premium package, but an assortment of other smaller bells and whistles too that added up significantly. It’s good to know what you’re getting.

I live in Southern California so don’t need to pay extra for heated seats (ok, since I wrote this post, I realized the car does have heated seats but they were included in the price) or want super fancy rims, even at a great price.

edmunds car options

6. Prepare to pay on the spot. If you want the car, at that price, you’d better execute. After January 1, it’s a new year.

7. Decide your walk away price in advance.  My husband is a big believer in this and I’m pretty sure it saved me from buying a car I didn’t love.

8. Plan enough time. I had narrowed my car choices down to two through online research, prior to ever setting foot in a dealership. However, it still took two full days of work to finally buy one between back and forth with several dealerships, having my Audi appraised, discussing options with my husband and all of that.

9. Don’t waste your time. Don’t just wander into any dealer. Most dealerships list current inventory online or the car manufacturer will list local inventory online. See who has the color and option combination you like and go there (though verify the car is still on the lot before you go). On New Year’s Eve, it’s difficult for dealers to source cars from one another.

10. Go it alone. I actually found it really handy, since we couldn’t go home together and think it over, to be the only one at the dealership. I could call my husband at any time. Since the salesman could only hear one side of the conversation, I believe my husband and I could be more direct with each other and level-headed.

I should caveat that we put extraordinary thought into car purchases because we pay cash for our cars. Every dollar counts plus it pains my husband to spend money on a depreciating asset. In the end, I bought an Infiniti JX35, because it gets good gas mileage for an SUV, fits in our garage, seats 7 and was at a price we are comfortable with.

My salesman was Dee at Hoehn Infiniti and I’m mentioning him here because he arranged a VERY low-pressure experience. I even told him I had a party to go to so he rushed to get the paperwork finished, uninstalled La Jolla Girl’s car seat and cleaned out my the remaining belongings from the Audi for me (it was a mess) so that I wouldn’t be late.

I told him I’d give him high marks on the survey I eventually receive from Infiniti but hope this helps him too if you’re in San Diego and in the market for a new car. He has no idea I’m writing this, but I’m grateful and love the car so far.

Happy New Year!

*Photo courtesy of Infiniti USA via James Yates

Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide, like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai, that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both).

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  1. Excellent info. I think buying a car is easier if we remember that it’s just a machine. We will eventually need to trade it in, and it will grow old. Take alllll emotion out of it.

    1. Agree–my husband reminds me of that constantly. And, to be honest, it’s rubbed off on me too over time. A car does not define who you are or what’s in your bank account, either. I WILL say, that I almost shed a tear as I drove away from my old car. Machine or not, they have memories! I wasn’t expecting to feel like that!

  2. Great post and tips! We plan to transition from large SUV to smaller SUV or wagon and this information is very useful.

  3. We just bought a Honda CRV last Summer and the dealer makes all the difference. We also chose Hoehn up in Carlsbad, they were great to deal with and were up-front, no games or high markups. We saw another dealer that were marking up their accessories 15 times of what you can buy at auto parts store. Yep, we walked away there.

    1. I wonder if they have a low-stress, no pressure policy. I left another dealership feeling like I was going to cry.