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Are car deals better at the end of the year?

Are car deals better at the end of the year?

Conventional wisdom says that car deals are better at the end of the year. But is this still true? Our analysis shows, some new-car offers in late December are great, while others are just hype.

Working with TrueCar, our data analysts scrutinized car-pricing information for the past four years, identifying trends in incentives, rebates, and pricing to determine when are the best times to buy.

While the perpetual year-end clearance ads depicting cars with bows on top could lead one to believe a magical, once-in-a-lifetime savings opportunity will soon end, we find the deals aren't always better. It is also worth noting that July is another peak time for new-car discounts.

We focused our analysis on Consumer Reports recommended models: those vehicles that performed well in our more than 50 tests, have average or better predicted reliability, and have solid performance in crash tests. After all, the saying that a "good deal on a bad car isn't good" still holds true.

Focusing on the good cars, we find that about 30 of 240 current models have better deals this December than in November. This group includes a mix of 2012 and 2013 models. Despite the proverbial cash on the hood, those 2012s that still linger on dealer lots are fast losing their appeal, as they are likely the least desirable configurations and those models have already depreciated a year's worth BEFORE being driven off the lot.

The deals on this group range from $500 to $4,000 better than the month prior, with total discounts ranging up to $6,000.

The best year-end deals

Model Added year-end discount Total discount
2012 Hyundai Genesis sedan V6 3.8L $4,000 $6,026
2012 Hyundai Genesis sedan V8 4.6L $4,000 $6,335
2012 Toyota Sienna 8-Pass I4 LE $1,500 $2,023
2012 Toyota Sienna 7-Pass Van V6 XLE $1,500 $2,310
2013 Chevrolet Suburban 1500 LTZ 4WD $1,023 $4,276
2013 GMC Yukon XL 1500 SLT 4WD $1,023 $3,299
2012 Chevrolet Suburban 1500 LTZ 4WD $1,000 $4,743
2013 Nissan Rogue SV AWD $1,000 $2,235
2013 Acura MDX AWD $1,000 $3,366

Annual trends show the higher-than-average, year-end discounts tend to fade away with the closing of December incentives in first week in January, meaning that in general, prices are as low as they are likely to be for most 2012 models. Of course, supply, demand, and model changeover for specific vehicles play an important role.

That said, we found that the vast majority of vehicles for sale now with discounts are not marked down lower than last month. So, good deals can be had. But outstanding deals may be less frequent than advertising would lead you to believe.

As always, do your research to find the best model that meets your needs and fits your budget, factoring test scores, reliability, owner costs, and safety. All this information and more is available on our model pages.

Online subscribers are eligible for hassle-free shopping and low prices through the Consumer Reports Build & Buy program. Unlike traditional car buying, there is no pressure or obligation to purchase. Participating dealers are held to high standards of competitive pricing and customer service. Simply click the "Build & Buy This Car" button that appears on the vehicle's model overview page to access the program.

See all current Best Deals. Complete pricing, road tests, and ratings for these models, and many more, can be readily accessed via our simple A-to-Z directory.

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More from Consumer Reports:
2013 New Car Preview
Best & worst used cars
Complete Ratings for 200 cars and trucks

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on Yahoo!. Copyright © 2007-2012 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission.