How To Buy Your Dream Car

Make the Dream a Reality With These Shopping Tips

Many people seem to have a dream car — that vehicle they long for year after year. Then, one day, something happens — perhaps it's a cash windfall or a life change — and they decide to make the dream a reality.

It takes some work and savvy, but people can have the car of their dreams, and for a price that's not a nightmare. Here are some dream-car stories, along with advice on finding, inspecting and negotiating for that special set of wheels.

A $50,000 Savings on a Sought-After Porsche

The dream-car derby became real for David Jacobs, who lives in suburban San Diego, when he learned that some stock options had come due and he had to cash them out. He suddenly would have the funds he needed to buy a used Porsche. Not just any Porsche, though. Jacobs wanted a 2006-'09 Porsche Carrera S with an automatic transmission, preferably in a hard-to-find Cobalt Blue.

"I wanted a car that was recognizable from far away," Jacobs says, and that would be this "distinctive" Porsche that wasn't like "every other car on the road." He also wanted to buy from a Porsche dealer, reasoning that financing would be easier and he'd be able to have the security of the longer warranty offered by a certified pre-owned program.

Jacobs test-drove cars owned by his friends and family to verify his choice. Then he began trolling dealers' certified pre-owned Web sites. But given the limited number of available used Porsches, with the right specs, in his favorite colors, he quickly found he was dealing with a small pool of cars. His search seemed to have reached a dead end.

Jacobs talked with several editors at and learned that when you're looking for a hard-to-find car, you need to cast a wider net — maybe even a national search. Transportation is no longer a barrier: Buyers can use car-transport services to bring their purchases to their front doors. At the suggestion of Edmunds editors, Jacobs expanded his search by using a distance filter at, widening the target range by several hundred miles.

Jacobs also tried out the now-defunct used-car buying Web site Carsala. Jude Carter, a Carsala negotiator, found a Porsche on a lot in the San Francisco area that seemed like a hot possibility. He negotiated a $5,000 discount off the $77,900 asking price. The car was dark olive green. And while it wasn't the exact color Jacobs had been searching for, the price sounded great.

Jacobs happened to be in the Bay Area, so he went to see the car. He thought it was too dark — virtually black. His gut told him it wasn't the right car, so he walked away from the deal.

Finally, Jacobs was surfing AutoTrader and found a 2008 Porsche Carrera 4S in the Los Angeles area with 17,000 miles and an asking price of $70,000. It was the Cobalt Blue he'd been looking for. He began communicating with the owner and made a deal for $68,000, contingent on verifying the condition of the car. While the financing was a bit complicated (the owner had to pay off a $51,000 loan before the title could be released), Jacobs did the deal, and is now the happy owner of a car that two years earlier had cost $109,000.

"I saved over $40,000 and have a car that even smells brand new," Jacobs says. "The best part is I didn't have to compromise."

While he was searching, Jacobs says, it sometimes seemed as if he was not making any progress. But then, in no time, "it can go from 'there is no such car out there' to writing a check," he says. Even weeks after purchasing the car, the thrill has not worn off. "It's smooth as glass," he says. "I don't know what it is, but that car is solid as a rock."

A Cool Mercedes Convertible Is His for $11,800

Frank Risalvato, the 51-year-old owner of the recruiting firm, lives in a classic car mecca. Charlotte, North Carolina, is thick with automotive museums, exhibits and classic car companies, making it tough to settle on just one knock-out car. He test-drove an old Pontiac Trans Am and said it made him feel as if he was 19 again. But he decided a muscle car wasn't appropriate for someone who would frequently have to drive the car to business meetings. Still, he loved the horsepower and wanted a convertible. Gradually, he homed in on the Mercedes-Benz SL500 V8, the R129 model, manufactured between 1990 and 2002.

For Risalvato, the search was a big part of the fun. He frequently worked late into the evening, chatting online with gearheads he'd met during his virtual car searches. His wife joked that the search was so much fun for him that actually buying the car might be a letdown.

After combing Web classifieds, Yahoo Autos, Craigslist and eBay Motors, Risalvato found and bought a 1991 SL for $10,300. So far, he has made only $1,500 in repairs.

"So for $11,800, I have a car that cost $91,000 when it was new in 1990," he says. Luckily, his wife's prediction didn't come true. Ownership has been as much a source of pleasure as the buying process. "I love popping the top on my Mercedes convertible and driving to a restaurant in the Carolina autumn," he says. "There's nothing like it."

A Car To Celebrate

Not all dream cars are hard to find or take a long time to buy. Dee Burrell celebrated her recovery from breast cancer by leaving the treatment center and going directly to a Mercedes dealership near her home in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, to buy the car she'd always wanted. She wound up behind the wheel of a 2005 Mercedes C240.

"Every time I enter the car, it reminds me of the battle of struggling against breast cancer and my gift to myself," Burrell says. "It symbolizes my journey and knowing there are still more good things coming my way."

If you've got a dream car in mind and want to actually put it in your driveway, here are a few tips to guide you.

  • If you don't find what you want locally, use the "Any Distance" setting on the search filter to see how many cars are available nationally. If you have input hard-to-find features in the "keywords" search box, remove them and search again. If you can't find any of your choices, you might have to revise your target dream car.
  • If you don't have the time to do exhaustive searching, consider using a car concierge.
  • Use AutoCheck or another vehicle history report service to check cars before you go to see them.
  • If possible, do a pre-purchase inspection on the car, working with a local mechanic or a mobile service such as AiM Mobile Inspections. But keep in mind that you might not be able to get an inspection before making a deal. In that case, make the sale contingent on inspection of the car.
  • To price used cars, use True Market Value (TMV®). For older cars, check specialty forums for your target make and model or review listings on Hemmings Motor News.
  • Don't be afraid to negotiate, especially with dealers who may have inflated asking prices.
  • Factor in any needed repairs when you make your offer and carefully weigh projected maintenance costs.
  • Ask the owner if the car's title is in his possession and ensure it has no liens or co-signers.