Not shopping around

Maybe it’s because your parents always drove Fords or your best friend drives a Toyota. But whatever the reason, when it comes to cars, people tend to focus on only one dealership or car company rather than looking around for the best deal. Brand loyalty won’t serve you well when you’re buying a car, and you should never go looking with a fixed idea in mind about what model or dealer you want.

Skipping the research

You thought when you finished school that you’d never again need to hit the books or do deep-dive research projects online? If only! There are lots of major purchases in life that to get the best deal will require research. But don’t worry. Today there’s an abundance of news articles, car websites and personal finance sites (like ours) that offer advice and statistics on which car models offer the best safety features, have the best gas mileage and hold up the longest over the years. Sure, it can be hard to spend some time doing research when your last car broke down and you are desperate, but putting in a little time now can save you lots of pain in the long run.

Not figuring out financing first

While doing research is of vital importance when buying a car, there’s a step that’s equally (if not more) essential: figuring out how you’re going to pay for the darn thing. Sure, it would be nice to have 20 or 30 thousand dollars lying around (or better yet, a fund you smartly set aside years ago to purchase a car), but not all of us have ready access to that kind of cash. That means you’ll probably have to borrow the money from a bank or other lender.

If you end up applying for a car loan, you’ll want to take time to weigh your options and decide whether you should buy or lease, what interest rate you’ll settle for, and how many years you can feasibly carry the loan. Plus, if you have a poor credit score or have ever declared bankruptcy, the amount you’re approved for will be affected, so take those factors into consideration. Not so fond of math? Put your pen down and use an automated car loan calculator to find out how much a specific car loan will cost you in interest over time and what your monthly payment will be.

Not assessing your needs

Don’t go on a car hunt until you have a full understanding of what your needs really are. What do you want from your vehicle? Do you have a growing family that makes size and safety a prime concern, or will you mainly be using the car for a long daily commute and hence need good fuel mileage? Get the car you need, not just the one that feels or looks nice—you’ll be happier in the long run.

Sticking with the sticker price

Never go with the displayed purchase price; when it comes to car buying there’s always room for a bit of negotiation. Make sure to take a look at the prices of similar models so you have a price range in mind. If you don’t feel comfortable bargaining, take a friend along who loves to haggle and have them do all the negotiating.

Not doing a test drive

Many people assume all new cars will offer the same nice, smooth ride, so they skip the test drive. This is a big mistake, because every single car model has its own unique cons and quirks. A test drive will tell you how comfortable you feel and lets you consider things like blind spot locations and the flow of the dashboard. Remember, once you drive off with the car, it’s yours for keeps. So make sure it’s a good fit before you take it off the lot.

Getting unneeded extras

Do you really need deluxe leather seats, a sunroof or rustproofing? It’s easy to get caught up in the moment when you’re buying a car. Protect yourself from upselling by writing our a clear list of essentials and non-essentials before you buy, and consider sticking beneath a maximum price.

Not knowing the value of your trade-in

Trade-ins are common practice at most dealerships and seem like an appealing way to quickly make some money off your old car. Before you agree to a trade-in value, however, ensure that you look into the real value of your vehicle via a car appraisal site like Kelley Blue Book. Once you feel like you have a good understanding of your old car’s value, considering selling the “trade-in” on your own, rather than literally trading it in via whichever dealer you’re getting the new car from. Most experts agree that you’ll generally get more money if you sell your old car independently, for example, via a site like eBay Motors.

Consider a used car

Going for a new car means you know what you’re getting, and you can generally count on nothing major going wrong for years (unless you get a lemon). A used car, however, can be a good choice if you’re smart about your purchase (like making sure it’s been inspected)—especially if you’re only going to be using the car for occasional driving.

Falling in love

Are you inexplicably drawn to the lines of a Lexus or the power of a 4×4? Now’s not the time to think with your heart; use your head to make a reasoned, rational decision that will serve you well not just in the moment, but through your many years of car ownership. Before you say “I do” to the car of your dreams, carefully reconsider your decision and, if necessary, ask trusted friends if they think you’re choosing the right partner for the long road ahead.

Sandra MacGregor Freelance Contributor

Sandra MacGregor has been writing about finance and travel for nearly a decade. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications like the New York Times, the UK Telegraph, the Washington Post, and the Toronto Star.


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