Is September the best time to buy a new car?

Are there deals to be had at a traditionally quiet time of year?

The market for new cars in Ireland is highly seasonal, and it has been ever since 1987 when we switched over to numberplates that revealed the year of the car’s first registration. Since then, new car sales have traditionally been clumped at the start of the year, as those who buy new usually quite fancy having a car with a shiny new-year registration on their driveway in January. Since 2013 that has evened out slightly, as the second registration period, which starts in July, meant that if you wanted the shiny-newness, you had a second bite that the apple each year.

Even so, there are distinct peaks and troughs in the new car sales graph every year. If you look at total new car sales in Ireland last year, for instance, there are two distinct peaks in the graph — the first days and weeks of January and July — with some pretty deep valleys between them. A deep valley in the graph means that sales are slow, and therefore you might be able to find yourself a better deal from a salesperson who’s keen to hit their quota.

Is September one of those times?

In 2022, Irish new car sales hit a July peak of 21,904. That figure more than halved the following month, August, to 8,154 sales and were even lower in September — 6,318.

This year, the graph is looking similar so far. July 2023 saw an even higher total — 27,105 new sales (or registrations to be more precise, which we’ll come back to in a moment) followed by a drop to 8,119 registrations in August. The graph shows a distinct fall-off in sales towards the end of August this year, which suggests that sales in September might be very flat.

Why? There are many possibly reasons. The Government’s cutting of the SEAI grant for new electric cars — which reduced from €5,000 to €3,500 in July — is likely having an effect on the market, as many EV buyers will have rushed to get their cars ordered before July in order to avail of the higher grant. Equally, stubbornly high inflation and rising interest rates, with the concurrent increase in people’s mortgages, may well be throttling the desire, and indeed the ability, to buy a new car right now.

So, if you’re in the lucky position of having the cash in hand, or the finance package in place, is now a good time to buy a new car in Ireland? Will you get a better deal?

The short answer is yes, but you’ll need to do your homework, and a little legwork, to get the best deals.

To start with, you’ll need careful timing. The good news is that not only does September come after a major summer sales peak, but it’s also the end of a financial quarter. Why is that good from a consumer point of view? Because dealers have annual, monthly and quarterly targets to meet for new sales. If they hit those targets, many will receive a significant cash bonus from the car maker for whom they hold a franchise. If they’re a car or two short of that quarterly target when you walk in, then they may well be willing to offer a major discount in order to get a car out the door, quickly, and hit that target.

Remember we talked about registrations?

Although it’s rarer now than it used to be, dealer and importers often pre-register cars in order to hit those monthly and quarterly targets — they effectively sell the car to themselves, only to then sell that car straight on as a ‘nearly new’ or ‘ex-demo’. Most of these cars will have only delivery mileage, so are essentially brand new, and as long as you don’t mind having the second name in the logbook, you can score a major bargain with one of these.

Again, timing is everything. Wait until late in the month, when that quarterly target is looming large in a dealer’s mind. If you can, take the time to go to the dealer mid-week and mid-morning — these are the quiet times, and although it’s only a small detail, that lack of footfall might put you in pole position for a better deal.

Next, do a bit of research

Read the major car websites and find out what new models are launching in the next couple of months. If there’s a new version coming soon — for instance, MINI is about to launch an all-new all-electric three-door hatchback model — then there may well be dealers who are keen to get rid of stock of the outgoing model. It’s still a new car, just not the newest design, but for most of us that won’t be an issue. In this instance, even if you don’t get a massive discount, what you might find is that you can get a higher-specification model for the same price as a basic car.

Speaking of discounts, be realistic. The most successful dealers will be working on a profit margin on new cars of between four and eight per cent, so if you go in demanding ten per cent off, you won’t get very far. So, play the percentages. Try to get as much money off as you can, but also try to squeeze the best value from the deal in other ways — extra dealer-fit equipment such as nicer alloy wheels perhaps, or a complimentary inclusive service package.