The Best End-of-Year Car Deals

If you're in the market for a new car, the end-of-year presents the best opportunity to get great deals. You can take advantage of the fact that both car dealers and manufacturers are trying to hit their yearly sales targets, which is why December is typically the month when shoppers will see the largest incentives across the board.

Leftover models, in particular, offer the very best deals. These are 2012 models that must be sold in order to make room for the new 2013 models. Practically every manufacturer is offering clearance sales since they don't want these vehicles competing against the more profitable new models on the showroom floor.

However, before buying a leftover model, you need to be aware of the pitfalls. Leftover models, although they're brand new, are technically considered a one-year-old vehicle come January. That means if you're forced to sell it soon, you're going to be hit by a large depreciation cost. For this reason, you should consider buying a leftover ONLY if you intend to keep it for a long time - at least 6 years.

You will also likely have to settle for a vehicle that doesn't come equipped with your desired options or colors. Production on most 2012 models ended during the summer months, so the vehicles with the most popular colors and options packages have already been sold, leaving the less desirable ones on dealer lots. Leftover models may also be missing certain safety and convenience features found on the latest vehicles.

In order to fully maximize savings on a leftover model, you should buy one being replaced by a newly redesigned model. The mid-size family sedan segment has had several redesigns take place this year, including some of the most popular passenger vehicles such as the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, and Chevrolet Malibu.

I've gathered data to show you which of these models has the highest potential for deals based on the amount of inventory that still remains. The data was gathered from nation-wide classified listings and shows how quickly the inventory has been depleting since October. The last column shows the estimated number of months before the vehicle will be completely sold out. (There's a bit of guesswork here, so consider these numbers ball-park figures).

VehicleInventory in OctoberRemaining Inventory (Dec)Monthly Sales (estimate)Months Remaining
2012 Ford Mustang725519103 5 months
2012 Nissan Altima3,8812,623629 4 months
2012 Chevrolet Malibu3,0412,0215104 months
2012 Chevrolet Traverse16,61310,9552,8294 months
2012 Chevrolet Impala7,3724,6841,3443 months
2012 GMC Acadia13,4728,1142,6793 months
2012 Ford Escape5012671172 months
2012 Toyota Avalon2,4171,1706242 months
2012 Nissan Pathfinder6,2942,8801,7072 months
2012 Lexus ES 3509504252632 months
2012 Ford Fusion5,0332,0741,480 1 month
2012 Hyundai Santa Fe851332260 1 month
2012 Honda Accord11,9714,0153,978 1 month

According to the figures, the Ford Mustang, Nissan Altima, Chevrolet Malibu, and Chevrolet Traverse offer the best combination of deals and inventory to choose from. You'll have a harder time finding a leftover Ford Fusion, Hyundai Santa Fe, or Honda Accord - since they're down to only about a one month supply.

Be sure to contact several local dealerships to inquire about their inventory and try to get multiple price bids. You may need to expand your search to dealers that are far away in order to find vehicles in stock, but the savings could easily be worth the extra travel or shipping costs.