MONEY Autos

Check Out This Revolutionary Car Buying Advice—Then Disregard It

steering wheel with clock in it
Valerie Loiseleux—Getty Images

Consumers have been told that everything car-buying experts have been advising about the best time to buy a new car is wrong. So what's the right approach now?

Earlier this summer, the car-buying research site TrueCar offered some stunning insights concerning car prices throughout the year. The takeaway from the numbers seemed to throw the conventional wisdom of when to buy a new automobile on its head. August, TrueCar data revealed, “has historically shown to have the lowest average transaction price of the year at $29,296.” After analyzing data from 2009 to 2013, the site concluded that consumers in August paid $716 less for a new car compared to all other months and declared that August may very well be “the best time of the year to buy a new car.”

What’s more, the numbers showed that Sunday is “typically the best day of the week to buy a new car,” with transaction prices that were $1,402 lower than the daily average, and that “the first two days of the month are the best time to shop for a new car,” because prices on those days represented an “average $390 in savings over the remaining days of the month.”

If you’ve ever read an article on the best time to buy a car, you’ll know that these tips basically spit in the face of the consumer expert consensus on the matter. For instance, a fairly boilerplate post from Kelley Blue Book offers this advice to shoppers who want to get the best prices on cars:

• Buy around the last day of the month — dealers have monthly sales quotas
• Buy at the end of the year — some dealers will clear out inventory for tax reasons

Meanwhile, analysts at Edmunds.com are regularly quoted saying things like, “December has become one of the best times of the year to buy a new car,” and virtually every article on car buying mentions advice along the lines of: “As you might guess, the end of the month is often a good time to buy a car, particularly if salespeople are trying to meet their quotas or qualify for a monthly bonus.”

What gives? Should we throw out the conventional wisdom on when to buy a car? Well, yes, says TrueCar CEO Scott Painter. “When you look at the real data, you see that you’re almost always better off doing the opposite of what conventional wisdom tells you to do,” Painter told CBS Moneywatch recently. “Unfortunately, much of the conventional wisdom is just wrong.”

The truth, however, is a lot more complicated than what Painter would have us believe. August may be a great time to buy certain kinds of cars, and the first couple of days of the month could be an opportune time to seal the deal. Then again, depending on the buyer and car model in question, those times might not be ideal to get the best price.

Here’s why, despite TrueCar’s seemingly groundbreaking analysis, the conventional wisdom on when to buy a car still holds up—even as TrueCar isn’t 100% wrong.

Let’s start with the business about the first couple days of the month. A representative for TrueCar replied to our inquiry about this issue by explaining via email, “the end of car sales month goes a few days into the next calendar month. Dealers are more eager to sell cars at the end of a ‘sales month’ to reach manufacturer incentive program sales targets for the month.”

In other words, car sales finalized on the first or second day of September generally count for August in terms of the purposes of the dealer’s and salesperson’s tally. So it’s somewhat of a matter of semantics: Yes, you still want to follow the conventional advice and buy at the end of the month—only be sure it’s the end of the dealership’s sales month, rather than the regular old calendar.

Now let’s move on to TrueCar’s data regarding average transaction prices, which are lowest in August ($29,296) and peak in December ($31,146), and what this actually means for buyers. On the one hand, sure, August tends to be a good time to buy because car dealerships are eager to get rid of leftovers from the previous model year and make space for the new, more in demand (and higher priced) models. On the other hand, it’s much too simple to state that the deepest discounts on leftover models take place in August and August alone. “The model-year changeover is another opportunity for a great time to buy,” said Kelley Blue Book analyst Tim Fleming, “but this has generally taken place more in the September-October timeframe rather than August.”

What’s more, the average vehicle transaction price in any month depends a lot on what vehicles people tend to be buying during that month. Fleming explained that December has the highest transaction prices because it’s an especially big month for sales of luxury cars and SUVs. It goes without saying that cars in these auto categories cost more than the average sedan, so when many of them are purchased, the average transaction price increases.

A closer look at the TrueCar data shows that the average incentive (a.k.a. dealership discount) is higher in months such as December ($2,686) and March ($2,746) than it is in August ($2,619), even as August has the lowest average transaction price. How could this be? It’s because the average sticker price of vehicles purchased in August tends to be lower than other months. To a large degree, cars cost less in August because people are buying cars that are cheaper to begin with. It’s not because cars are being discounted by a larger amount.

“Anyone generating an average of transaction prices would be remiss not to consider the mix of models being sold,” the car-buying experts at Edmunds.com said via statement, in response to an inquiry about TrueCar’s advice. “Edmunds.com’s data suggests that historically March has actually had some of the lowest average transaction prices over the past few years, and this is largely due to the types of vehicles that sold during the month.”

Finally, what about buying on Sunday? Let’s defer to some older insights from TrueCar on that matter. “Weekdays are better than weekends,” TrueCar advised car shoppers in 2010. “The fewer people on the lot, the more likely the dealer is willing to make a favorable deal.” TrueCar has also gone on record stating that one particular Sunday—Easter Sunday—is the absolute worst day of in the whole calendar year to get a good deal on a new car.

TIME Gadgets

Navdy Projects Apps Onto Your Car’s Windshield

My car’s in-dash navigation system did me wrong a few months back, sending me on a wild goose chase around the greater Boston area.

In a fit of despair, tears and anger-sweat, I finally relented, pulled over and used an ever-updated GPS app on my phone, which pointed me in the right direction in less than a minute.

Not long after, my car was due for one of its 10,000-mile checkups, at which point I asked the dealership to update the GPS software with the newest routes. Should be free, right? It’s not. They wanted $200. Give me an hour and I can make you a list of 100 things I’d rather spend $200 on.

What I could do is spend a measly $20 or less on a smartphone mount for my car, but that solution feels equal parts inelegant and unsafe, with all the docking and unlocking and app poking and whatnot.

I’ll admit to being intrigued by upcoming efforts from Apple and Google to more deeply integrate my phone into my car’s infotainment system, but this Navdy doodad looks pretty interesting as well. It’s basically a projection system that sits on your dash and beams a transparent interface onto your windshield.

 GPS system
Navdy

It’s compatible with Apple and Android phones, and taps into Google’s Maps app to display turn-by-turn directions near your line of sight. You can also make and take calls and respond to notifications — tweets, text messages and the like — with simple gestures (thumbs up to answer a call, left and right swipes to navigate) and voice commands. It lets you control music apps as well, and there are no monthly fees to use any of the features. The GPS system is always updated, in other words.

It’ll be available early next year, with pre-order pricing set at $299 until early September of this year. The regular price will be $499. That’s expensive, yes, but I like the idea of being able to take it quickly from car to car (I have 13 cars*). And just a quick note that the company is using a Kickstarter-like pre-funding system wherein it collects the money from pre-orders to help fund the production of the product. The whole “early next year” thing could be a moving target.

Here’s a demonstration video of the Navdy in action:

*We actually only have one family car, and my wife drives it most often. But imagine if we had 13!

MONEY Autos

WATCH: Behind the Wheel of the New Chrysler 200

The new mid-size sedan has an aerodynamic design reminiscent of cars from the 1930s — and some powerful engine options.

TIME Saving & Spending

5 Super Simple Secrets to Save Your on Car Insurance

5 Secrets to Save Your Teen Car Insurance
Jane Sob—Yellowdog Productions

Experts say many people aren’t taking advantage of steps to ease the costs of car insurance when their teens get behind the wheel

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

If you’re anything like me, you anticipated the birthday at which your teen was eligible for his (or her) road test with a combination of glee and dread. Glee because – finally – he could get himself to the tutor; she could pick up her little sister; your days as a chauffeur were coming to an end. Dread because you weren’t sure exactly how much adding this new driver to the family policy was going to cost, but you were sure it was going to be a lot.

I’ve been through the experience now twice. And I can tell you that you’re right on both counts. It is incredibly liberating to have another driver in the family. It is also tres expensive! Car insurance costs an average 79% more when a married couple adds a teenage driver to the family policy, according to a new report from InsureQuotes.com. Boys, as you’ve heard, boost costs more than girls – by 92% compared to 67%, respectively. And costs vary widely depending where you live. In New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island, premiums jump by more than 100%, while in New York and Michigan the increases are relatively reasonable at about 55%.

Say it with me: Ouch!

For the rest of the story, go to Fortune.com.

TIME FindTheBest

We Crunched the Numbers to See Which Country Makes the Best Cars

Poll a random sampling of drivers on car preference, and you’ll likely get a mix of responses like the following:

“I’ll never drive an American car again.”
“I don’t trust any automobile made outside of Japan.”
“Once I drove German, I never went back.”

If there’s one thing we humans do well, it’s swearing off entire product categories on the basis of one or two experiences. And why not? That’s every consumer’s privilege.

At FindTheBest, however, we were curious to see what the data would say. Which car stereotypes are backed up by the facts, and which aren’t? We started with 2014 models, compiling information on over 1,500 cars across 36 different manufacturers. We then calculated the average spec, rating or score for each of 10 key data points, with an overall focus on performance, safety, fuel efficiency and size.

Here’s what we found:

Performance

Horsepower

avg_hp_country

Thanks to a host of high-powered McLarens, Bentleys and Aston Martins, the Brits win round one rather handsomely. Even the mid-powered Land Rover can’t get Britain down. The most surprising loser here is probably Italy, whose Ferrari-Lamborghini-Maserati trifecta can do little to counterbalance the sputtering Fiat line, which drags down the Italian average significantly.

Acceleration (0-60)

accel_country

Italy earns the acceleration crown with its 3.9-second 0-60 average, though its win here comes with a Barry Bonds-sized asterisk: slowpoke Fiat does not report 0-60 figures, while Britain’s slowest brand—Land Rover—does. So what if we took out Land Rover as well? Italy still wins, but only by eight-tenths of a second.

Top Speed

topspeed_country

Once again, we see a strong Italian victory, inflated by the fact that Fiat didn’t bother to report top speeds (and in fairness, why should they?). Meanwhile, all those lumbering American trucks keep the U.S. far out of contention.

Towing Capacity

tow_country

Here, America’s trucks rumble back, towing the USA into second overall. But Britain’s pesky Land Rovers roll in yet again, strong enough to stave off a slew of Fords, Rams and Chevys in a battle of the tow-friendly automobiles.

Note that we only considered towing-equipped vehicles for this category (sorry, Aston Martin), which helps explain Britain’s surprising win. It’s also worth mentioning that American cars easily dominate in sheer volume. In fact, 188 of the top 200 autos in this category were made in the U.S.

Safety

NHTSA Overall Safety Rating

safety_country

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) runs automobiles through a variety of rigorous tests, including frontal crash, side crash and rollover, assigning a score from 1 (high chance of passenger injury) to 5 (low chance of passenger injury). They then provide an overall score out of 5.

Sweden wins here on the strength of Volvo’s safe, sturdy line-up. Meanwhile, the Italians place last—the plight of the small and speedy.

Fuel Efficiency

Gas Mileage (combined)

fuel_country

With gas mileage, the efficient Japanese score their first win, narrowly edging out their Korean neighbors. Our calculation was based on the EPA’s combined MPG figure, which assumes 55% city driving and 45% highway driving. Korea actually does a bit better than Japan if you focus exclusively on highway MPG.

(We left out Italy because we didn’t have a big enough sample size of reliable gas mileage figures.)

Size

Seating Capacity

seating_country

The average Swedish car has nearly six seats, big enough to beat out the rest of the world in size. That said, if you want a giant car, you might as well still shop American, as 33 of 2014’s 50 largest cars were made in the U.S.

Overall Weight

weight_country

Forget about seating capacity. What about raw weight? The standard measurement in the industry is “curb weight”—it includes any necessary components for operating the car (i.e. fuel), though it does not include any passengers or cargo.

America finally snags an outright win, barreling past Germany and Sweden on its way to heaviest in the world.* The Italians might be nimble, but fittingly, the U.S. remains the champion of girth.

* Though, naturally, this depends on whether you believe a bigger car is better.

Price

MSRP

msrp_country

Thanks largely to a couple of insanely priced autos (we’re looking at you, Lamborghini Veneno and Ferrari LaFerrari), Italy’s average cost per car is over three times that of its closest competitor (Britain). (For numbers geeks, Italy wins easily on median MSRP as well, with a $192,000 price tag next to Britain’s $93,000.)

Ratings

Smart Rating

rating_country

Finally, we calculated a Smart Rating, which combines expert awards (73%), safety (18%), and value over time (9%) for every car on the list. Experts included North American Car of the Year, Popular Mechanics, The Car Connection, Motor Trend, Cars.com, Automobile Magazine, Car and Driver, and About.com Best New Cars.

The big winner? Sweden. The Swedes ride Volvo’s solid, consistent line-up past a multi-tiered assault of luxury cars from Britain and classic favorites from Germany. Meanwhile, America fares poorly, though it avoids a last-place fate. In the end, it’s Italy that ends up with the lowest score of all, confirming that raw performance can’t always beat a well-rounded package.

Not convinced? No problem. You already knew you liked Japanese cars, and who are we to say otherwise? Besides, we hear they “drive better than anything else on the road.”

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

MONEY Ask the Expert

How to Know When Your Car is Really a Lemon

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Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q. My new car has been in the shop for a month. Will a “lemon law” be of help? — Mark Wisner, Morrisville, N.C.

A. Assuming your car is deemed a lemon, you’re entitled to—your choice—either a replacement car or a purchase price refund (see below). The definition of “lemon” varies by state; in your home of North Carolina, a car qualifies if it has been out of service for a total of 20 business days over 12 months or has been ­repaired for the same problem at least four times. The car must have fewer than 24,000 miles on it and be less than 24 months old.

Before submitting a claim, notify the manufacturer in writing of the problem (via certified mail) and give the company a reasonable chance to fix it, says Rosemary Shahan, president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety. Check your state attorney general’s office for details, and carefully document your complaints and attempted repairs.

LEMON LAW

TIME Automakers

Chrysler Recalls Up to 800,000 Jeeps Over Ignition-Switch Problems

A 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee rolls down the assembly line Wedn
A 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee rolls down the assembly line Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2004, at Chrysler's Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit, Michigan. John F. Martin—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Older Jeep Grand Cherokees and Jeep Commanders may have a faulty ignition switch

Around 800,000 older Chrysler Jeeps could be affected by a recall due to a problem with the ignition switch, the company said in a statement Tuesday.

The company said it is aware of one reported accident associated with the defect, but no injuries.

The recall will affect a still-undetermined number of model year 2006-2007 Jeep Commanders and 2005-2007 Jeep Grand Cherokees. In vehicles affected by the problem, contact with a driver’s knee or other outside force can move the ignition switch from on to off, causing the engine to stall and cutting power brakes and power steering.

The company said its investigation is ongoing but that around 792,000 vehicles could have faulty switches, including 659,900 in the U.S. and others in Mexico, Canada, and elsewhere. Newer models have been redesigned are unaffected, the company said.

Chrysler’s recalls come as rival automaker General Motors has recalled nearly 28 million automobiles worldwide for similar ignition switch issues. The GM problems have been linked to at least 13 deaths, and the company has faced federal investigation over its handling of the situation.

Chrysler also announced that 21,000 vehicles, including certain 2014 Ram pickups, 2015 Jeep Cherokees and 2015 Chrysler 200 sedans, will be recalled for inspection and, if necessary, have their shocks and struts replaced.

TIME energy

New Poll Shows Americans Won’t Give Up Their Cars

Stuck in Traffic
Cars stuck in traffic. Maureen Sullivan—Getty Images

Our car-crazy culture lags behind global competitors in using public transportation

Gas prices are high, roads are clogged and driving alone is worse for the planet. But Americans still prefer to commute in their air-conditioned cocoons.

A new global survey conducted for TIME on attitudes toward energy reveals that Americans are more reluctant than international counterparts to ditch their cars for public transportation.

Only 16% of Americans prefer using public transportation to get to work, compared with 41% of respondents overall in the poll, which compared U.S. attitudes toward energy and conservation with those in Brazil, Germany, India, South Korea and Turkey. Just 8% of U.S. respondents said they always take public transit instead of a personal vehicle, sharply below the overall total of 27%.

Americans’ reluctance to ditch their cars may be a symptom of their overall disinclination to take steps to reduce their carbon footprint. One in three U.S. respondents said they were willing to change their behavior in their name of conservation, 10 percentage points below the overall average and ahead of only South Korea.

Or it may stem from our long-running love affair with the automobile. A full 79% of respondents from the U.S. said they rely on their car for transportation, about double the overall average of 39%. (Germans were the second biggest gearheads, with 47% relying on cars to get around.) Just 9% of Americans said they lean most heavily on trains, metro systems or public buses.

The survey was conducted among 3,505 online respondents equally divided between the U.S., Brazil, Germany, Turkey, India and South Korea. Polling was conducted from May 10 to May 22. The overall margin of error overall in the survey is 1.8%.

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