How to buy a new car: Image of a new car window sticker.

How to Buy a New Car at a Great Price (without stepping inside a car dealership)

Last week I bought a new car for the first time since 1986.

For decades I believed buying a new car was a really bad idea. Due to the tendency for a new vehicle’s value to drop 10% one month after you drive it home.

But then a link in my Facebook feed began to gnaw at my stubborn, no-way-new-car resolve. The link? Car & Driver’s top 10 cars of the year list. There I saw for the first time, my dream car. My baby was listed last because it was the least expensive option: a Volkswagen Golf. 

I’d wanted a VW for a loooong time.

In the 80s, one of my co-workers at the Times-Journal in Springfield, Virginia drove a white convertible Volkswagen Cabriolet. Wow, was it sweet scooting around downtown DC and cruising to Rehobeth Beach in her ride. Topless. The car, not us.

I promised myself back then that one day I’d have a VW of my own.

In the meantime, I drove hand-me-down vehicles from my father.

  • Subaru (Rumor had it, my dad owned the first Subaru ever in Best Virginia.)
  • Ford Escort
  • Toyota Corolla 

In 1986, around the time my Corolla needed a new head gasket, Hyundai Motor America began selling cars in the US. Drawn by their reasonable price point (and the cost of replacing my Toyota’s head gasket), I showed up at a Hyundai dealership in Fairfax one afternoon. By the time I left, it was a dark and stormy night.

At 10 pm, worn out, the sales manager let me phone my father. Once Dad read up on the Hyundai Excel in his Kelly Blue Book, he gave me his approval.

That night I drove home in a shiny red  Excel I named P.D. which stands for… Never mind. I was wild back then.

Fourteen years ago, when I received news my father had passed, the first thing I thought was:

“You’ll never help me buy a new car again, Daddy.”

Even so, last Saturday as Tony and I drove to Cincinnati, Ohio to pay for and pick up the Volkswagen Golf I’d already negotiated a price for, I felt my father’s approval. 

How did I buy a brand-new car, sight unseen?  Not with my dad’s help, but with Ramit Sethi’s. 

Ramit Sethi appeared on my radar earlier this year as I researched investing advice. After I read a few of his wise and witty blog posts, I ordered his book, I Will Teach You To Be Rich.*

When I first began to consider buying a new car, I reviewed the section of Sethi’s book titled: “How to Save Thousands on Big-Ticket Items.” I wondered what Sethi thought of car purchases. According to him,

Is it okay, or not, to buy a new car?

As it turns out, Ramit Sethi is not Dave Ramsey. On his website, Ramsey advises: “Don’t buy a new car until you have a million-dollar net worth.” I love Dave Ramsey (Remember this post?), but that was not what I wanted to hear.

Ramit is not so black-and-white on the matter. You can review his reasoning on when/if to buy a new car here.

Six of Ramit’s reasons (to buy new) made sense to me. 

  • Cost—A new car does cost more than a used car, but in the long run, not that much because… Keep reading.
  • Reliability—New cars tend to break down less frequently.
  • Pleasure—It feels awesome to drive something that is not a hunk of junk.
  • Resale value—Chances are, if you buy a new car, take good care of it, and sell it years later, you’ll get more money than if you originally bought an older vehicle.
  • Insurance rates—Insurance rates are lower for a new car compared to a used car. Not a lot, but still.
  • Gas mileage—Newer cars tend to be more fuel-efficient than older ones. Unless you purchase a Titanic-sized SUV.
  • New-car smell—There’s  nothing like it. 

Next Ramit taught me to bargain like a beast. 

Ramit recommended pitting multiple dealerships against one another to get the best price. Here are the steps.

Identify the car you want: make, model, options, color, etc..

I also read a ton of (Car and Driver) articles on Volkswagen Golfs to make sure I was choosing wisely.

Take your baby for a test-drive. 

Find the closest dealership with the car you want on their parking lot. Test drive it. Around town and on the highway. Take your spouse, partner, or best friend along so they can confirm your pick is awesome. And to keep you from signing on the line too soon.

Do you like the way the driver’s seat feels? Is your vision unobstructed through the windshield and rearview and side mirrors? Do you find the control panel intuitive? Is the trunk size acceptable? 

Once you’re back home, identify the dealerships you want to work with.

How far are you willing to drive to fetch your new car? Since I was cool with a distance of 300 miles, I looked for cars in Pittsburgh, Columbus and Cincinnati, Washington DC, and Allentown, Pennsylvania.

In your chosen towns, Google all dealerships that have the car you want on their lots.

Make sure each car you’re looking at:

  • is the year and color you want
  • has your preferred transmission type
  • includes the option package and accessories you prefer

On each dealership’s website, go to the webpage with the EXACT car you want.

Somewhere on that page is a link to contact the dealership. Maybe it says: “Confirm Availability” or “Make an Offer.” After you enter your name, zip code, phone number, and email address, in the comment box, type something like:

“Hello, ILOVECARS.COM folks: I am interested in an automatic transmission Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0 SE with the “Experience” package in Great Falls Green. I have contacted multiple dealerships regarding this particular vehicle. Within 7 days I will buy from the dealership who gives me the best out-the-door price.”

FYI, the out-the-door price is the negotiated cost of your car PLUS your state’s sales tax on purchased (versus leased) vehicles, PLUS dealership fees.

Two hours after I sent out six my emails, the offers started to come in. 

Some salespeople called. Others texted. A few emailed. 

In the end, Chris Davis, a super friendly and helpful salesperson at Kings Volkswagen in Cincinnati messaged me. “Once you receive all your offers, call me with the best one and I’ll beat it. I did and he did.

Per Sethi’s suggestion, I went one step further and sent the King’s offer to the other dealerships. Alas, none of them countered.

Even so, when Tony heard the number I negotiated, his eyes bugged. “Do you realize what you just did? That is a fantastic price!” 

I actually did realize what I accomplished. By using Sethi’s approach, I saved $5,000 on my brand new baby.

Above all, I was glad no one had pressured or “hornswoggled” me, my father’s favorite word for getting ripped off.

“I feel like I won,” I told Tony.  

“You absolutely won,” he said.

And yet, 

Under ordinary circumstances, I’m not sure I would’ve bought a new car this year ever.

But my mother passed away last September, and she left me a bit of money. I thought a great way to honor Mom would be to buy a new car for the first time in 33 years and think of her–and thank her–each time I drove it. 

Meet my new car, JJ. “JJ” was my Dad’s nickname for my mom—Janet Joy. I like JJ a whole lot. 

Thanks, Mom. And you, too, Dad. For helping me buy a new car.

Leave a Comment

Let's Be Friends

The Brave Knight

Grab Your Free Child Safety Tips!

Skip to content