As Jalopnik’s resident car buying expert and professional car shopper, I get emails. Lots of emails. I’ve decided to pick a few questions and try to help out. This week we are discussing employee pricing programs, Lemon Law cars that are certified, and the best time to buy a used car.

First up, are all those employee pricing sales that pop up this time of year actually good buys?

Question for you regarding OEM employee discounts: are they actually good deals, or am I better off just negotiating with the dealer as a regular customer?

My curiosity was sparked recently by the ads GM has been running advertising that “everyone” gets the employee discount on select 2018 models (which just sounds like any other manufacturer incentive program). One commercial advertised a stacked discount of around $11k on a new Suburban, and another showed $4k off a new Equinox (screenshot attached). These seem fine, but they don’t seem like remarkable deals. Other OEMs offer similar programs (e.g. Ford X Plan), but are they really that good?

These programs can be confusing and it really depends on the tier of the program. Most supplier pricing programs or sometimes called friends and family programs, like Ford’s X Plan, and don’t offer particularly awesome deals. Dealers that want to offer an aggressive deal will usually match or beat the pricing on that tier anyway.

However, employee pricing is a tier better and are usually pretty good deals. It’s sometimes possible to wiggle a bit below that depending on the car and the region, but there is usually not thousands of dollars worth of additional discount to be had. Basically, the manufacturer is incentivizing the dealers to sell these cars at a loss, but all that discount isn’t coming out of the manufacturer’s pocket, the dealer has to contribute as well.

Advertisement

If you are in the market for a domestic car now is a good time to jump on a deal, just make sure you shop the numbers carefully and get everything spelled out.

Next, can a Lemon Law car qualify as a certified pre-owned model?

I’m looking at a used BMW M235i X-drive. I found one local that is CPO that I’m interested in. However, when I checked the CarFax on it, it had an alert that it was a lemon law buyback. Looking at the history it seems there as an electrical issue that caused the car to overcharge.

Is that a deal killer? I have no idea how insurance companies handle that scenario. Is the fact that it’s CPO (5 years / unlimited miles) compensate for the buyback? The price is below market, I assume in part because of the buyback.

Advertisement

On the surface, this does seem strange. Normally a serious blemish on the history report would disqualify a car from a certified program. However, BMW’s CPO website does not indicate that a car would need a clean history to qualify. The only key prerequisites are age, miles, and a “vigorous inspection.” So on the one hand if this car did qualify you would be covered. On the other sometimes you get what you pay for and the lower price may come back to bite you later when you go to trade it in.

And finally, does the end of the year matter on used cars?

My wife and I are kind of in the market for a used Toyota Sienna minivan, but there is no rush. The cars we have both run well but one is 10 years old and the other is 11 and both could start to go south anytime. As this is more of a “want” than a “need” purchase so I am interested in trying to time it to benefit myself as much as possible. My wife mentioned trying to buy before the new year, but I believe that you wrote once that that wasn’t the best time. Is it better to try to time the dealer’s fiscal year, the brand’s quarter or some other mark?

Advertisement

Typically, the theory goes that dealers want to hit sales goals for the end of the month and end of the year, so they should be more willing to discount a car in order to score a sale. However, the used car market is not really impacted by seasonal discounts, rebates, and programs from the factory level that can help lower a transaction price.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, the wiggle room on pre-owned cars is typically hundreds of dollars. While a dealer looking to make or exceed their sales quota for December may be willing to toss you an extra discount on a pre-owned model, it’s not going be dramatic. Remember, sometimes dealers are more willing to deal on a unit they know is problematic, in the hopes that someone jumps on a deal and doesn’t take the time to inspect the car. So be careful if they are a little too quick to throw out a big discount. On a pre-owned model, the key here is to find a car that is the best value when it comes to condition, miles, and price.

Advertisement

Got a car buying conundrum that you need some assistance with? Email me at tom.mcparland@jalopnik.com!