Is there such a thing as a “good time” to buy a truck? The short answer is yes.

The longer answer is that finding that buying sweet spot on the calendar is all about timing – and the right time can be any time – if you know what to watch for.

Some buyers swear that all sales are just bogus hype to get people in the dealership door. And while there is a grain of truth in this statement, most sales are a direct reflection of what’s going on in the automotive world.  

Knowing (from independent sources like the web, newspapers, and business news) what’s going on with the manufacturers you’re interested in is the best way to judge how good a sale really is.

What influences prices at the dealer? First, something called “the pipeline.” This is the number of vehicles that are on a dealer’s lot, the number on order and the number of days of production the factory is ahead (or behind) on filling orders.

If the pipeline number is high (say, above 90 days’ worth of inventory) prices will come down. If it’s fewer than 40, they will stay up.
The other more common figure given monthly in the news is sales — this year’s versus last.

Looking at just these two numbers, what do you want to see? A sales drop and a full pipeline means the dealer is much more likely to cut you a deal. If this trend continues into month two or three, that’s when you will see manufacturer incentives start up.

It’s all about moving inventory — trucks that sit cost everyone money.

Is a model year change-over a good time to buy? Yes, with a “but” attached. Each year brings some small incentives, but the best deals come with generational changeovers. In the truck world this usually comes along every five and seven years.  

Incentives and deals are deepest as the new trucks are arriving; dealers (and the manufacturer) want the late models off the lot so as not to muddy up the new business coming in.  

News of gen changes are widely published and usually come at least nine to 12 months ahead of the introduction; this give you time to plan and watch for the incentives. If you’re lucky enough to catch this change-up while the market is down, too, well, that’s a winning hand.  

When you leaf through the shiny brochures (or click through that website) it’s easy to get excited about the options, add-ons and special editions. And sometimes you just want what you want — that’s fine. Just be aware that manufacturers make the bulk of their money on single-ordered options.

The simple fact is that the best dollar-for-dollar value in a truck comes in the base model the factory offers. All around, it has the least profit built into its price, for the builder and the dealer.

But who wants a stripped-down truck? Not too many people, that’s who. Luckily, this is a fact the dealers are very aware of. Many negotiate a package of options (knowing full well what their local buyers like most) with the factory, then offer it as an all-inclusive deal on a batch of trucks they order and have on the lot.

Using the dealer’s bargaining power to your advantage is good business, which brings me to my next point: if you can buy off the lot, do it.

The simple fact is that vehicles age on a dealer’s lot. Each day they are worth just a little less — and each day the dealer has to pay a carrying cost on his inventory. His deal is always going to be sharpest when he has a chance to move a truck off his asphalt today.

If you can, sell your old truck yourself — it will keep the new deal cleaner and leaner. Not to mention if you’ve cared for the old workhorse, you’ll generally get more from a buyer who can see and appreciate the condition of your current ride.

Yes, you can get a sweet deal on a truck — just follow the formula. Watch the auto news. Know when the market changes.  Plan your purchase around the sales those changes bring. Take cash, not trades, and buy the best truck on the lot. Good luck.