Let’s be real, the car buying experience can be intimidating.
So being prepared is crucial if you want to drive off of the dealership lot as a happy new car owner. Unfortunately, many car buyers skip the prep work and end up in a car they really don’t like. We want to help you avoid that, so we’re sharing the top 10 car buying mistakes.
Top Ten Car Buying Mistakes
Don’t worry, you’ve got this! Just remember to avoid these car buying mistakes.
1. Skipping the Pre-shopping Research
Like our moms told us when we were kids, “You have to do your homework.” The same holds true for buying a car. Conducting research before heading to the dealership gives you a car buying advantage. First, you’ll want to narrow down the type of car you need. Is a minivan right for you or an SUV? Are you in the sports car stage of life? What are the latest safety features? Which ones are most important to you? If you’re not sure what your ideal car is, consider attending an auto show. There you’ll have all the options in front of you to check out.
Next, you’ll want to compare prices and calculate monthly payments. Can you afford the car you want? To stay within your budget, be sure to consider things like estimated gas mileage and insurance premiums.
2. Not Looking Up the Dealership Reviews
Who hasn’t seen a movie featuring a stereotyped car salesman with questionable morals? While these characters are funny in the movies, in real life morals matter. Like people, dealerships have reputations. In this age of instant information, it doesn’t take long to research a few dealerships in your area. You can read reviews online or check social media. These non-advertorial reviews provide a clear picture. Buying a car produces enough stress without having to deal with any questionable characters!
3. Not Doing a Background Check on a Pre-Owned Car
If you’re buying a pre-owned car, do a background check using the car’s vehicle identification number (VIN). Just like your Social Security number is the key to so many things in life, a car’s VIN identifies it from the moment it’s born until the minute it’s crushed in a junkyard and headed to the smelter. You’ll know where it came from, what it came with and its history since it left the dealership by tracing a VIN, including (in theory) every oil change, repair, and maintenance checkup. Never buy a car that’s had its VIN plaque removed or obscured, and just to be sure, compare the VIN on the Monroney (window sticker) to the plaque on the car.
4. Not Knowing the Value of your Trade-in
If you’re planning to trade in your old car, showing up without doing an appraisal of the vehicle beforehand can cost you thousands of dollars. Research your car online at Edmunds.com or kbb.com taking into consideration the condition of the car. Print out your findings and take them with you to the dealership. And, if you’re not happy with the value you’re offered, consider selling your car to a private party. Another option is to use a dealership like CarMax. When my husband and I bought our last vehicle, we were given several thousand more at CarMax than the dealer was willing to offer. It was worth the extra time and effort!
5. Failing to Do a Proper Test Drive
Test drives never last long enough, but you still need to figure out if this is the right car for you. Jumping in that new car with the salesperson to drive a few blocks isn’t going to tell you much. Consider how you plan to use the car on a daily basis. Will you be on the highway? Taking local roads to drop the kids off at school? Ask to drive on the type of roads you’ll encounter in your daily routines, if possible. If you’ll be using a car seat, bring it along and see how it fits. How does the back-up camera work for you? Can you adjust the seats to a comfortable position? Before you go, make a checklist of your “must-have” features. Check these things off during your test drive. And don’t be afraid to ask for more driving time.
6. Not Exploring Your Options
If face-to-face negotiations stress you out, consider checking out online car buying. Many dealerships have an online process that allows you to negotiate the price and make a deal. Typing in your offer in your PJ’s is completely stress-free!
If you’re buying a pre-owned car, consider an online buying site like Carvana.com. Choose the car you want, make the purchase and wait for delivery. You’ll have seven days to return it if you’re unsatisfied. That’s plenty of test driving time and much less stress.
7. Choosing a Car Based on Monthly Payments
Most of us have been there. We need a new car and our budget is already fairly tight. When this happens, choosing a car based on the monthly payment seems like a good idea. It’s not. Yes, you’ll need an affordable monthly payment, but not if it’s going to cost you thousands more than the car is worth. Be sure to look at the whole picture before you sign on the dotted line.
8. Forgetting your Insurance Agent
Selling price and monthly payments are only part of the financial picture when buying a new car. Before you head to the dealership, give your insurance agent a call. Having an estimate of the cost of insurance for the car you want ahead of time provides a clearer understanding of the financial commitment you’re about to make.
9. Failing to Shop Around for Financing
While getting everything done in one stop seems like a good idea, it often pays to shop around. Dealer financing isn’t your only option. Consider checking with your bank or credit union before you shop. In some cases, you can get a pre-approval for a car loan. When you’re armed with all the financial details you need before you shop, you hold the cards to a successful purchase.
10. Letting Emotions Steer your Negotiations
If you’re a good negotiator, this won’t be an issue for you. When it comes to car buying, I tend to get emotionally attached to a car I think I want which makes walking away from the deal so hard for me. After driving the car, finding the color I want and getting close to the price I hope for, I’m sold. But good negotiators aren’t afraid to walk away. Keep the emotions out of it and walk out if you don’t get exactly what you want. And never ever buy under pressure. It’s always a good idea to “sleep on it!”
Happy car shopping 🙂