0% Financing Car Deals in Canada: Fact or Fiction?

Aug 29, 2023. By CanadaDrives

Free Ford Antique Car photo and picture


There’s something about seeing those 0% financing offers in car commercials and internet ads that makes you think “free money!” Doesn’t 0% financing essentially mean you not only get a loan, but you don’t have to pay interest on that loan?

Technically yes, but like most too-good-to-be-true deals in life, it’s not that simple. 

The offer of 0% financing is one of the most common in the auto industry for a reason. It entices the buyer like few other promotions can. But what many don’t know is that while saving money on a vehicle with 0% financing is possible, it’s not easy to get approved for a vehicle at this rate. And for those select few who do get approved, 0% financing still may not be worth it in the long run.

Let’s pull back the curtain on 0% financing and see what’s really going on behind the scenes. And then let’s talk about how you can find the best car deals near you, with or without 0% APR.

What does 0% car financing mean?

When you apply for auto financing, you agree to borrow money from a financial institution—either a bank, in-house financing at the dealership, or other lending institution—to help pay for the car loan. For this service, you will be charged an interest rate, which is a fee that you pay every month in addition to the principal sum of money borrowed.

Zero percent financing means that you can get approved for finance without having to pay any interest.

But why would any lender do that?

Well, it’s usually not the banks that offer this type of financing, but rather the automaker or dealership itself.

This financing incentive is beneficial to dealers and manufacturers because it helps them clear out old inventory in order to make space for newer models. It can also spark sales of slow-selling vehicles. 

If the dealer can motivate a purchase by forgoing the interest on your loan, they might calculate it makes good business sense in order to move inventory.

Furthermore, this typically happens when you have already qualified for a loan with a low APR, so the dealer has calculated that the amount they are covering is acceptable.

How can I get 0% financing on a car?

While the offer of 0% financing might be easy to find, your chances of actually getting that interest rate could be more elusive. Zero percent is commonly reserved for customers with outstanding credit.

Dealerships that promote these 0% APR special offers don’t usually specify that only buyers with great credit will get approved. That’s in the fine print. The reality is that automakers maintain strict applicant criteria that must be met before 0% financing is offered. 

Having said that, qualifying for 0% car finance with imperfect credit is possible. Despite a lower credit score, applicants may get approved for special vehicle offers if they can prove that they can make their monthly payments in full for the duration of the term. Sometimes a co-signer, larger down payment, or collateral will be requested. It also helps if the customer has shown loyalty to the car brand.

If you walk into a dealership that has a special promotion and you find out you’re not eligible, don’t fret because 0% financing isn’t the only offer worth pursuing. At any given time, there’s plenty of value to be found in the new and pre-owned car market. 

Is 0% car financing worth it?

As enticing as 0% financing sounds, it might not always be the best deal on offer. For example, a 0% interest loan is usually offered versus a cash rebate option, and the rebate option can often work out better for you, so make sure you have a calculator close by when you’re considering your options. See the example below.

0% Finance vs. Cash Rebate

Steve wants to buy a car priced at $30,000. He applied and got approved with two different dealerships/lenders. With Option A, he got a financing rate of 5% and a cash bonus rebate of $5,000. With Option B, he was offered the 0% financing rate instead of the cash rebate.

In Option A, Steve will take the $5,000 cash rebate and pay $3,300 in interest on the $25,000 sum borrowed over the course of a 60-month term. He pays $28,300 altogether.

In Option B, he will take 0% APR, but his monthly payment will be higher without the cash rebate. Over 60 months, he will pay $30,000 altogether. Just the principal. There is no rebate or interest to calculate.

In this circumstance, the cash rebate works out better than 0% financing. If there’s a trade-in or down payment, you should factor these into your calculations as well.

Furthermore, this example does not factor in car sales tax, but it’s worth remembering that the rebate not only decreases the amount of interest you ultimately pay, but also how much tax you will pay on the total amount financed.

Other reasons why 0% finance might not be the best offer

While the 0% APR promotion is usually the most attractive at first glance, there are multiple reasons why you shouldn’t jump at the first offer that comes along.

Your options are limited

As we mentioned earlier, 0% financing usually offered by dealers and manufacturers to clear out old stock or move under-selling vehicles. Sure, you’re getting a good deal, but you might not be getting the car that you actually want. 

You don’t decide the term

It’s important to note that 0% financing offers typically don’t let you choose the length of the term. You might only get 0% interest for a certain period before a higher interest rate kicks in. This abrupt change in monthly payments could be disruptive to your financials and it might encourage you to accept a shorter term. That’s not ideal if you were hoping for a longer term to keep monthly payments low. With 0% APR, you may have to provide a larger down payment to keep payments low and get the loan paid off before the higher rate kicks in.

No 0% financing on used cars

The 0% interest rate offer is often utilized by dealers and manufacturers to move inventory to make space for incoming models. For example, don’t be surprised to see 0% financing available on 2023 models just when 2024 models are making their way to dealer lots and online shopping. In other words, pre-owned vehicles are not part of the equation. While there are many great deals to be found in the used car market, don’t expect to find this promotional offer. 

How to get a great deal (without 0% car finance)

If 0% financing doesn’t work out for you, don’t lose heart. There are plenty of other ways to find the right car at the right price. Follow these tips to ensure you find the best possible deal with or without 0% financing.

  1. Get pre-approved in minutes: Before you start looking at cars, it’s a good idea to find out firsthand what rate and deals you’re eligible for. Canada Drives can help you figure out what kind of financing you qualify for, and can even get you pre-approved in a matter of hours. With a pre-approval in your back pocket, you’ll know exactly how what vehicle options you’re eligible for, saving you a lot of time and frustration.
  1. Shop pre-owned: There are fantastic deals to be found in the used car market regardless of 0% financing. The benefit of buying a used car from a dealership (or online retailer) is that you know the car has been professionally inspected and serviced. Furthermore, car dealers and online vendors rely on repeat business, referrals, and online reviews. Therefore, you can be confident that you’re getting a reliable vehicle. Typically, you won’t enjoy the same value for money with a brand new car, or the same peace of mind when you buy a used car in a private sale.
  1. Mark your calendar: Even if 0% financing offers are coming up short, look for special sale events like Employee Pricing, cash rebates, and other promotions. These events generally kick off in the late summer months alongside other promotional offers to clear lots and make space for next year’s models. But there are other opportune times to snag a deal, such as:
    • towards the end of the year. 
    • towards the end of every month. 
    • during slower days at the dealership (i.e. weekdays).
    • During the off-season for your vehicle type (i.e. shop for convertibles in October).

Read more about the best times to buy a car.

  1. Work on your credit score: Traditionally, 0% financing is reserved for customers with the best credit scores. But that’s not always realistic for many potential car buyers. Fortunately for today’s car buyer, you can get approved for great deals regardless of credit. But in the long run, it makes good financial sense to work towards improving your credit score. Fortunately, any car loan you get approved for today can help you start building credit for tomorrow.