For car buyers, the end of the year is usually the best time to get a lot of best car deals.
This time things look different. While discounts and special financing are still available for certain brands and models, those incentives typically aren't as generous as they used to be in December, experts say.
"It's not a buyer's market, but there are still discounts," said Ivan Drury, senior manager of insights at Edmunds.com. "Are they as widespread as they used to be? Of course not."
best car deals have not been as heavily discounted this month because of a combination of factors, including a stock squeeze caused by the closure of pandemic plants and unexpected demand from home-based consumers looking to hit the road.
Basically, the dealership doesn't have to go to great lengths to get the car off its lot. The average selling time for both new stocks in 2020 and 2021 was 50 days.
"It used to be 60 to 70 days," Drury said.
What's more, prices have dropped an average of 10 percent or more in recent years, occasionally falling below that threshold, said Kelsey Mays, senior consumer affairs editor at Cars.com.
"We've now been below 10 percent for four months in a row," Mays said.
The average price paid for a new car is now more than $38,000, a record high, up from about $37,100 last month, according to a forecast released last week by JD Power and LMC Automotive. The main reasons are a shift in consumer demand for larger vehicles such as SUVs and trucks rather than smaller cars, as well as improvements in technology and safety features.
While demand in the used-car market has surged this year, pushing up prices (and trade-in prices), it appears to have cooled somewhat as some buyers have discovered that less expensive new cars are not. Experts say it's a lot more than some expensive used products. As of October, the average used-car buyer paid $24,000 for a three-year-old car.
Other used-car shoppers may be waiting for the 2021 best car deals.
"Often people prefer to wait for the next calendar year to change because the model year is a year older," Drury said.
Where's the deal?
In general, you'll probably find a bigger discount on the current model. Across all categories, from large SUVs and trucks to compact cars, the average 2020 car discount is more than $5,000, according to Edmunds. For the 2021 model, the figure is less than $3,700.
Some brands may also offer deeper discounts because of slowing sales of certain 2020 models. Overall, 34% of the vehicles in the Cars.com database are this year's models. But for Ford, it's more than 72 percent, and for Nissan, it's more than 61 percent.
"These are two very mainstream brands," Mays said. "They have a full range of 2020 models that consumers can find quite significant discounts on."
The 2020 Ford EcoSport, for example, starts at about $20,000, according to Cars.com, with manufacturer discounts ranging from $3,250 to $6,750, depending on the car's interior and where you live.
It is well known that best car deals lose value quickly once purchased and continue to depreciate over time.
So if you're considering a longer loan (72 or 84 months), be aware that it may take longer to reach a car payment you no longer need to make. That is, when you pass what is called the point of negative equity, it is also known as an upside down loan.
While this depends on the type of car and the details of the transaction -- the amount of financing you have, the interest rate, the number of years you need to pay -- negative equity can make it very difficult for you to at least owe you the money for the price of selling the car to trade, or trade it without turning the remaining balance into a new loan.
Ask yourself if you'll still love this car in three, four, or five years.
"By extending the loan term, the commitment is not only longer, but you get to the break-even point where you're not upside down," says Matt Jones, TrueCar's director of industry education.
"Make sure it's the right car not just for now, but for the future," Jones said.
Also, it's worth checking how this new car will affect your insurance. Depending on the make and model (and factors such as where you live, your driving history and claims history), your premium may increase.