Tell the salesperson exactly what you are looking for. Make sure you describe the make, model, color and all the options you want. If the car is on the lot, ask them to fax you a copy of the window sticker or invoice. In their zeal, salespeople often imagine cars have options that are not actually there. But the sticker or invoice doesn't lie. When you get it, look it over carefully.
After you locate a dealership that has the car you want, or has one on the way, you need to begin to set a price. Consult the True Market Value pricing on Edmunds.com and use this as a benchmark. When you talk to the salesperson at the dealership, you can say, "The research done by Edmunds.com shows that these cars are selling for such-and-such price. This is a fair price and I'm willing to commit to paying that price now and make a deposit." This is apt to be met with some resistance. And the pricing of in-demand cars varies wildly from one dealership to the next. But if you can set a price now, it will avoid attempts by the dealer to bump you when the car comes in.
Even if you find a dealership with a car coming in, and you make a deposit, you should continue your search. First, you may find a closer, more readily available car that happens to be in the exact color you want. Secondly, you will have a chance to check the pricing at another dealership. If you find two good prospects, you might consider making a deposit at two different places. This increases your chances of getting exactly what you want at a fair price.
Once you reach an agreement, try to get it in writing. If you are going to finance the car, or lease it, set the terms and get a quote on your payment. Obviously, if you are working with a dealership across the state, you need to get this information faxed to you in what is sometimes called a "Deal Disclosure" or "worksheet." Once everything is set, call the salesperson and tell them you are accepting the terms in the fax. You might even sign their fax and fax it back to them. There is nothing legally binding in this, but it might make it harder for them to change the terms once the vehicle arrives.
And what if they do try to raise the price on you? Remind them you have a written agreement. Remind them you put down a deposit to hold the vehicle at those terms. Remind them that you are willing to buy the vehicle at the agreed-on terms.
This price hike might come disguised in valid-sounding reasons. "We didn't know it included the extra-whoopie-reclining luxury seats — you have to pay extra for that," the salesperson might say. If this is a dealer-installed option, ask to have it removed and the money deducted. If they refuse, and the bump in price is modest, take the car and swallow your pride or demand a return of your deposit, walk out the door and start the process all over again.
While all this might sound like a lot of work, keep in mind that the search can be exciting and fun. Not only that, but if you're the first on the block with the latest car, you're going to get a lot of envious stares from your neighbors. That might offset the sting of paying over-sticker prices.