I'm going to be getting a car before the end of November. It's going to be a nice, cheap car as my priorities will be price, reliability, safety, and fuel efficiency in that order. Right now I'm leaning towards a new 2012 Nissan Versa SV sedan, which has an MSRP of $15,320.
Why new? I'm pretty cheap (I like to think frugal) in most aspects of my life. So why would I get a new car? Well, the issue with late-model used cars nowadays is that everyone is buying them because of the recession, jacking up the price of used cars close to new cars. For model years 2009, 2010, and 2011, used Nissan Versas (Versii?) are only a few thousand dollars cheaper than new (if that). Now, a Nissan Versa is a pretty cheap car to begin with so this makes sense.
But the first few years of a car's life are its most trouble-free (and that's one of the reasons there's a new car premium). I'm willing to pay a bit more to get the new car and get those reliable years. If a good condition late-model used Versa was dramatically cheaper (say $5,000 to $6,000), I would spring for it. But they're not, so I'll be buying new.
Upon the recommendation of my friend Rich, I am using edmunds.com as a starting point. On the website you specify which make and model of a car that you're looking for. You then give provide your name, address, phone number, email address, and additional comments. Here is my comment:
Contact only via email. Looking to buy the car before the end of November. Show me your most competitive offer.
I put in the comments that I only want to be contacted via email, but all the dealers call anyway. Why only email?
Rich recommends using an email only system right up into purchasing the car. With phone conversations, the dealers can let their inner weasel shine through. If you come to an agreement on the phone and then walk into the dealership, more often than not you hear something like, "Oh, $22,500 was for the basic package, not what we were talking about. That didn't include the steering wheel or windshield."
So, the reasoning for using emails is simple: it's straightforward and everything is written down. You ask the dealer a question and they can respond. If they're not answering your questions, you move onto the next one. If they're changing their answers, you move onto the next one. Everything is already saved in text, so you can refer to it easily.
Once you've negotiated a bit with the dealer via email, ask for a final, walk-out the door price. Print their response and take it with you when you go to the dealership. If they try to charge any more than the agreed price, get up to leave. They'll probably come down to the agreed upon price. If not, there are plenty more fish in the sea.
That last point highlights the most important principle of getting a good deal on a car: not really needing the car. If I desperately needed a car for transportation or if I had to have a particular model, the last thing I would want to do is tell the dealer that. Then the dealer would have me over the barrel, now that they know that they can charge a premium to me because I'm willing to pay up.
So, with all that said, I just submitted my request on edmunds.com to get price quotes. To tell the truth, I've done this before this year and have had some final, walk-out the door offers from a few dealers that were good enough for me. I didn't really need the car at the time so I didn't take them up on it. I will be doing so shortly, though.
I'll be doing further blog updates as I buy this car.