Car buyers could snag fat discounts during Labor Day sales push

  • The average manufacturer incentive stood at $3,665 in July, although many current deals are far higher.
  • U.S. consumers spent an estimated $86.5 billion on new vehicles in July, about $2 billion less than in July 2017.
  • If your weekend plans include car shopping, make sure you get pre-approved financing in advance.

Anyone thinking about a new car might want to plan a trip to the showroom over this three-day holiday weekend.

The combination of softening sales and dealers' annual Labor Day sales to make room for next year's models is expected to put consumers in the driver's seat when it comes to snagging good buys on a various makes and models.

"We're seeing some pretty fat discounts on some pretty cool cars," said Matt Jones, senior consumer advice editor at Edmunds.com, an online automotive research guide. "Sometimes, in the past, we've seen them only on certain segments, but this time it looks like they're fairly spread across the board."

A customer browses through rows of cars for sale at the Jack Maxton Chevrolet dealership in Columbus, Ohio, U.S.
Ty Wright | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A customer browses through rows of cars for sale at the Jack Maxton Chevrolet dealership in Columbus, Ohio, U.S.

U.S. consumers spent an estimated $86.5 billion on new vehicles in July, about $2 billion less than in July 2017, according to research firm J.D. Power. And although the latest estimates show that the average manufacturer incentive decreased to $3,665 in July — down $204 from last July's $3,869 — the forecast also noted higher discounts were likely soon on their way.

Indeed, some of the current discounts are far above that estimated July average. For example, for the popular Chevrolet Silverado 1500 crew cab, which has a sticker price ranging from about $40,000 to $56,000, some dealers are offering discounts of $12,000 to $15,000 or more.

"That's a big amount of money for a vehicle like this," Jones said. He added that the savings are available because a 2019 model is coming out, which pushes the value of the existing version down.

Generally speaking, though, it's best not to focus only on the dollar amount of the discount, Jones said.

"That amount can be eye-popping," he said. "But you have to put it in the context of the price."

For illustration purposes: While $5,000 off of a $30,000 car is close to a 17 percent discount, that same amount applied to a $20,000 car is a 25 percent discount.

It's worth noting that if your need for a car isn't pressing and price matters most, you might find deeper discounts later in the year. However, the selection of cars that come with special pricing will be more limited, Jones said.

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Additionally, it remains uncertain how trade wars between the United States and other nations will end up affecting car prices. So far, threats from President Trump to impose additional tariffs on imported autos has not materialized.

If you do plan to head to the dealership, here's how to prepare for your trip.

Compare prices in advance

If you know what make and model you're interested in, do some research before showing up at the showroom. There can be differences in pricing and incentives among your local dealerships.

"Each dealership is individually owned," Jones said. "The manufacturer might be running a special and that's great, but there might be other deals at the dealership level."

Get pre-approved financing

Unless you plan to pay for your new car with cash, it's smart to get pre-approved for a loan from a bank or credit union. While there's no obligation to use the pre-approval, you'll at least be armed with a comparison when the dealership offers its best loan terms.

"If what a dealer can offer beats your pre-approval, then great," said Jones. "If not, you still have the pre-approved loan with the better interest rate."

Gather your paperwork

Before you head to dealership, be sure to gather the information you might need to do a transaction, such as your license, proof of insurance and down payment.