Are you in the market for a new vehicle? How do you know if you’re getting a good deal or if you’re overpaying? If you’ve never bought a new car before, the process can be a little intimidating.
I bought my first new car about a year and a half ago. All my previous vehicles had ranged in age from ten to fifteen years old and usually had more than 130,000 miles on them. However, at this point in my life given my financial stability and savings rate, I was willing to try a new car. After a year and a half, I have no regrets about my decision.
From a pure financial perspective, purchasing a new car is almost never a good investment, because the value of the vehicle depreciates the moment you drive it off the lot. However, there could be a variety of reasons why you might prefer to buy new rather than used. A new car comes with the manufacturer’s warranty, the latest technology and safety features (which may also mean lower cost for insurance), and most importantly, peace of mind.
There are a few things to consider before I tell you exactly what steps I took to find and get my car at a great price. You should be able to get a great deal, too, if you arm yourself with information and cash.
Timing is important when buying a new car
Every year, some time late in the summer or early in the fall, the next year’s models are released fresh from the factory and begin to appear at your local car dealerships. That is typically the best time to look for a new car.
Dealerships want to clear out all of the current-year models and make room for the gleaming new ones. At the same time, manufacturers want to start selling more of the new year models, so they’re offering great incentives and rebates to help all of the local dealerships get the current year cars out the door faster.
Exact timing may vary from one car manufacturer to the next, so do your homework ahead of time.
Negotiate up to 23% off the price of a new car
Because of the incentives for dealerships to sell off current-year vehicles, I discovered that you could negotiate 16% or more off the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) if you wanted to finance the vehicle, or up to 23% off MSRP for cash offers.
It turned out that I was a little late to get the best deals so by the time I got my car in late September of 2019 the best I could get was 16% off on a cash offer, which was still a good amount, considering there was no discount at all on the 2020 models.
Narrow down the specifics and your budget
I was looking for a family vehicle with good safety features that could also go off road for more nature adventures. It also had to be able to withstand the winter conditions in the north-eastern United States. So, after researching brands, consumer reports, price points, and models, I decided on a Subaru Outback.
Then I had to decide on the trim and engine size that I wanted. I chose the 2.5-liter engine because I prefer higher MPG. After weighing all of the trim options, I decided on the Outback Limited because I want it to hold up well for at least the next 20 years. So I knew the vehicle I wanted was a 2019 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited.
To get an idea of how much the car would cost, I looked into the prices of all the different accessories that could be added to the Outback. I compared the cost of pre-installed (or dealer-installed) accessories to the cost of purchasing OEM parts later on Amazon and installing them myself. My price range was around $35,000.
Then I began contacting dealerships to obtain quotes. I was able to find the websites for all of the local dealerships by visiting Subaru’s official website. I looked through their inventory to see if they had the model and trim I was looking for and then requested a quote using their automated e-Price system.
During the search, I made a spreadsheet (as I usually do) to compare the various offers and vehicles and to keep track of communication. According to my spreadsheet, by the end, I had inquired about 74 cars from 28 different dealerships.
Here’s an example of a message I sent to dealerships when I asked for an initial quote:
Hello, I am interested in a quote(s) for a 2019 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited. I don’t need the Moonroof/Nav package, but it’s important that there is CarPlay available. Ideally Blue or White exterior, black interior. Could you please send me what you have available and the price for both financed and cash offers? If you don’t have one in your lot, but are able to get it from another dealership, could you please quote that as well as provide a typical ETA? Thank you in advance, Name
This got the quotes rolling and my phone and email were flooded. Next, I took the lowest price and went back through the list of dealerships with the following message:
Thanks for your offer. I checked with several other dealers and I got a price of $31,200 for a similar vehicle (MSRP $36,707) which comes with: – Moonroof/Nav package – Body Side Moldings – Splash Guards – Rear Bumper Cover – Wheel Locks
Seems like a good price. Can you beat it? Thanks, Name
Some were able to beat it, while others were not. I got the lowest price from a dealership that was a four-hour drive away. I had read on the Subaru Outback forums that other people had gotten a good deal from them, so I asked for a quote as well.
Once again I repeated the process by asking the local dealerships if they could do better. I eventually found the exact car I wanted at a great price at a local dealership. I ended up paying just under $31,000 for a car with MSRP $37,200 (with all the accessories installed). The entire research and negotiation process was done online, and it was nowhere near as painful as I had anticipated.
Finally, when it came time to pay for and pick up the car, I refused all dealer add-ons such as paint protection, prepaid maintenance, and extended warranties. This was their last-ditch attempt to recoup the excellent deal I had just negotiated. If I really want the extended service/warranty, I can always decide to get one later.
Choose the vehicle you want to purchase (make, model, trim, accessories, price range).
Find an online community for that car’s owners and try to find out when the next year’s models will be released.
To request a quote, send an email to several dealers or use the contact forms on their websites.
Tell them what car model and package options you want and request a quote for both the financed and cash price.
Inquire about any additional fees.
Most of the time, you don’t want to pay for extended warranties and other prepaid services when buying a new car.
Chris (the Finance Squirrel) is a personal finance blogger on a journey to learn about building enough passive income to retire early. He has been working in corporate America for over 15 years and has been able to (and still does) save a significant portion of his earnings while living well below his means. Having accumulated cash which he has not invested well is one of the main reasons for him to start this blog and share his experiences as he learns. Chris is a family man and has a baby boy whom he would like to spend more time with. This is the other main motivation behind this endeavor to improve his financial education.