"This year, when looking at the data, we don't see specific days sticking out as much when the discounts will be bigger," says Jesse Toprak, vice president, market intelligence at TrueCar, Inc. "There's a better balance of supply and demand, and dealers aren't as desperate to discount as much."
Despite this, Toprak says shoppers can expect an 8 percent discount on average for any new vehicle, and more than 10 percent for 2012 model-year vehicles. He also suggests that shoppers not wait until the end of the month to take advantage of these sales. "Now is a good time to buy. You can wait until early next year, but the 2012 selection will be less and your color choices and options will be limited."
Kelley Blue Book says that new-car shoppers can expect a 7 percent discount on average for a 2012 model-year vehicle, and a little less of a discount for new 2013 models. Shoppers will also find bigger discounts on certain vehicles over others. "Buyers looking for a truck or SUV will find the best opportunities for savings since there are a slew of models available with more than 100 days supply nationwide," Kelley Blue Book says in its December market report. "Popular models such as the Chevrolet Silverado, Chevrolet Tahoe, Ram 1500 and Ford F-Series are available with thousands of dollars in rebates, thanks to high supply. These may be some of the best deals available all year, so buyers in-market for a truck will want to act quickly." Certain Ram truck models have about an $8,000 discount right now, the F-150 has about $6,500 cash back and Nissan Titan buyers can get almost $7,500 in cash.
If you're trading in your vehicle for a new one, some used cars will garner more cash than others right now, as dealers are looking to replenish their inventory with top-selling models. If you have a fuel-efficient small car or small SUV, you'll likely get more for your trade than big, gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs. "The more marketable your trade-in is, the more money you'll get," Toprak says. "A 2- to 6-year-old small vehicle is the sweet spot, but if it's a 10-year-old, large vehicle with a lot of miles, you're out of luck. You may want to sell it on your own."
Before you sit down to negotiate with the salesperson or finance manager, Toprak says it's essential to have some idea of what a good price is for the vehicle you're considering. "Checking the market price of a vehicle is a must before you go to the dealership. Would you buy a stock without knowing the market price?" The U.S. News Best Price Program helps you find the best local prices in your area and gives you an idea of what others are paying for the vehicle you want to buy.
Toprak says that only 15 percent of buyers pay cash, so shoppers who plan on financing their purchase should check out the numerous manufacturer cash back, low interest rate and lease dealsbefore they go to the dealership. "Leasing has been revived this year," he says. "One of four new vehicles are leased, and more than 50 percent of luxury vehicles are leased. Leasing lets you get a lot of car for your money." There are lots of lease deals this December that require no down payment. The 2013 Mazda CX-5 is $329 a month for 39 months, the 2013 VW Jetta can be leased for $189 a month for 42 months and the 2013 Honda Accord is $310 a month for 36 months.
No matter which financing option or deal seems the most enticing, analysts say that you still need to pick a vehicle that works best for you and your family. "At the end of the day, the basic advice hasn't changed," Toprak says. "Don't buy a pink elephant structure because it's on sale. Choose the car that meets your needs and budget. I would advise against shopping by the biggest discount. There's always a reason it's on sale."