7 Ways to Manage Labor Day Car Sales Madness

By Philip Reed Personal Finance NerdWallet.com

Much-hyped Labor Day auto sales promise screaming deals on outgoing 2017 models — but you might face jammed car lots and long waits for attention.

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Thanks to an advertising blitz by manufacturers, the atmosphere on car lots this holiday weekend will be like “a feeding frenzy,” warns Dave Cavano, manager of car buying for AAA’s Southern California auto club.

Jeremy Acevedo, an analyst for car site Edmunds.com, predicts a 33% increase in car sales compared with other, non-holiday first weekends of a month, noting that this will be “a particularly aggressive Labor Day sales weekend.”

If you think the savings are worth the aggravation, the usual advice for how to buy a car still applies to the Labor Day weekend, but you’ll need to make a few adjustments. Here are seven ways to take advantage of this perfect storm of car shopping.

1. Start shopping before the holiday

Get a jump on the process by deciding what model to buy and researching its current market price, financing options and available incentives. These incentives might be available in “pre-Labor Day sales,” and some will remain in effect after the holiday.

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“With sales slowing, carmakers are doing everything they can to sustain sales,” Acevedo says. New-car sales dropped 7% in July compared with the same month a year ago, Edmunds data showed.

2. Get preapproved financing 

Even if you plan to finance through the dealership, which usually offers the lowest interest rates, get preapproved for a car loan. This is especially important if you have less than stellar credit, which leaves you vulnerable to interest rate hikes at the dealership. A loan offer from an outside lender is an effective bargaining chip because the dealer now has to beat your rate to get your business.

Also, rather than relying on monthly payment figures provided by the dealer, estimate yours beforehand with an auto loan calculator.

3. Sleep on it

Don’t try to do everything in one day. In fact, test driving on one day and deal-making on the next gives you time to do something car salespeople hate: think it over. Sure, you risk someone else buying the car you want, but it’s worth it to ensure you make the right decision.

4. Shop early — or late

To avoid the crowds, “If there’s any way you could go on Friday, do it,” Cavano says. If not, then his advice is simple: “Go early.” If that won’t work, he points out that some dealerships extend their hours to midnight.

One note of caution: Never buy a car you haven’t seen in the daylight so you can see the car’s true color and possibly check for damage. If you must do it all in one day, test drive during daylight hours, have dinner, then come back and close the deal.

5. Double check the sticker

With nearly identical current-year models and next year’s models on the lot, it’s easy to get confused, Acevedo cautions. But there’s a big difference. This year’s models should be deeply discounted and the dealer should be offering strong incentives, while next year’s model will be pricier. Check the car’s window sticker to verify the year and other important information: fuel economy ratings, safety test results and all the car’s standard and optional equipment.

6. Bring all your paperwork

If you’re trading in your current car, bring your documentation, including driver’s license, proof of insurance, title and registration. If you still have a loan on that car, bring your loan documents, too. And don’t forget a check or cash for your down payment.

7. Be prepared to wait

As the day progresses and the dealership sells more cars, a bottleneck forms at the finance and insurance office because there are more salespeople than finance managers. On normal weekends, dealers are doing well to get a customer through the entire process in two to three hours.

“This Labor Day weekend, you can double or triple that,” Cavano says. So bring some snacks to help you stay alert and a book to help pass the time.

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