When you're shopping for a car, there's a lot at stake, including time, money and your family's driving happiness for years to come. You don't have to do everything perfectly when you're car shopping, but there are some big mistakes you definitely should avoid. As you start your search for your next car, stay away from these top buying blunders. They can really cost you.
1. Skipping the research phase
With any major purchase, you need to do your homework beforehand. Thanks to the Internet, there are reliable sites (like Edmunds.com) that supply a wealth of information on car makes and models, reviews, pricing, rebates and incentives and negotiating techniques.
2. Shopping at just one dealership
When it comes to finding a great deal, it pays to shop around. Plan on checking out at least three different dealerships. You don't want to do this in person — and you don't have to. You can use Edmunds.com and dealership Web sites to view vehicle inventory, and you can ask for prices via the quote-request systems.
Compare deals, and when you're ready to buy, let the dealerships with whom you're talking know that you're keeping your options open. This can help you secure a great price. Also remember that it's not just about money: You also want to choose a dealership you're comfortable doing business with. Edmunds.com has dealer reviews that let you read what other shoppers have to say about the dealership with whom you might be working.
3. Ignoring the Internet department
Most people aren't even aware that dealerships typically have an online operation that lets you negotiate a price and make a deal remotely. That's a huge stress reliever for those of us who hate negotiating face to face. For the ultimate in stress-free car shopping, check out Edmunds Price Promise®, which offers shoppers an up-front, no-haggle price.
4. Focusing on the monthly payment
Many buyers go in with a set amount they'd like to pay every month, and are happy to share that figure with the salesperson.
"When you do that, you're not actually talking about the total price of the car," says Edmunds.com Senior Consumer Advice Editor Phil Reed. "You also need to take into consideration the interest rate, as well as the length of the loan." For example, a dealer might suggest a longer loan so the car fits in your budget. But a longer loan also means you pay more in interest. In the end, you wind up overpaying for the car.
5. Not doing an appraisal of your trade-in
If you're planning on trading in your old car, be sure to look up its value on your own. You can get an estimate of your car's trade-in value from Edmunds.com: Be sure to print out the details and bring them with you to the dealership. If you don't think you're getting a fair deal, you might be better off selling the car on your own, either to a private party or to the used-car superstore CarMax.
Does your vehicle need some minor work, such as new tires or wiper blades? It's probably not worth fixing, says Matt Jones, senior editor, retail experience at Edmunds. It won't add much value to the trade-in. You're better off putting the money toward the new car.
6. Failing to do a thorough test-drive
You're driving a car that doesn't belong to you, so it's normal to be a bit nervous. That's why the salesperson usually directs you where to go during a test-drive, which probably involves going down some local roads and making a few right-hand turns. But does that really give you a sense of how the car handles and how comfortable you are driving it?
"Many of the complaints we get about cars could have been avoided with a good long test-drive," says Jack Gillis, director of public affairs at Consumer Federation of America and author of The Car Book.
Buyers need to think about how they are going to use the car on a daily basis: driving on the highway, transporting kids and pets and parking under various conditions, for example. The test-drive also is the time to check out visibility when backing up, how a car seat would fit into the back, if that third row is really so easy to get in and out of. Make a checklist of your "must-have" features and refer to it during the drive. Our article "How to Test-Drive a Car" has some useful tips.
7. Skipping the call to your insurance agent
You need to look at the big picture when you're buying a new car, especially when it comes to insurance. Will you be paying more or less with this new vehicle? Do you need gap insurance? These are questions that should be addressed with your insurance company, says John Ulin, a second-generation insurance agent at Allstate in Levittown, New York. "Many people let the dealership handle everything, but agents often think about issues buyers forget about, such as asking for a Carfax [vehicle history report] if buying a used car. The dealer will pay for it, but you have to request it."
8. Buying from a salesperson you don't trust
Too many of us buy cars from salespeople we don't particularly like or trust. Even worse, says Reed, many people buy from salespeople because they feel sorry for them. Remember, this is a business deal, and the result is for you to get the right car at the right price. If a salesperson makes you feel uneasy for any reason (she's too pushy; he doesn't seem to know much about the cars), walk away.
Ideally, the salesperson can demonstrate the features of the car and help match a customer to the right car. So look for a salesperson who listens well and answers your questions directly. Then, as you move from the test-drive to the deal-making phase, you will have established a rapport that should make the rest of the process easier.
9. Underestimating the importance of F&I
You've negotiated the deal, and you're headed to the finance and insurance office (F&I). You're in the home stretch, right? Wrong. While this step seems like an afterthought, it's actually an essential part of the deal-making process, says Reed. "F&I is where the verbal promises made by the salesperson are carefully put into the contract. It's also where they try to sell you extra things, such as extended warranties, gap insurance, etc. that can wind up costing you more than anticipated."
This is another place where research pays off. If you think you might want an extended warranty, check out what they cost and negotiate for a better deal.
10. Taking dealership financing without shopping around
The convenience of one-stop shopping at the dealership can be hard to pass up, but it's smarter to look into financing with local banks or your credit union first. Better yet, get a pre-approval for a car loan before you get to the dealership. You will know exactly how much you can afford to spend on the car, and you'll immediately know if the dealer can offer you a better deal on the interest rate.
11. Buying under pressure
You may hear that a car is "the deal of a lifetime" that happens to only be good on that particular day. But shopping for, buying and driving away with a car in just a few hours is unwise. After all, this is a major purchase that can affect you financially for years to come, so you have the right to sleep on it. And Reed points out that when you express hesitation, you may well get a better offer later on. If you get too much pressure to buy the car that very day, it may be best to walk away.
With any major purchase, it pays to be informed and prepared. Now that you're aware of these common car buying mistakes, you can ensure you'll find the right car for your family — as well as getting the most bang for your buck. Who knows? You might actually enjoy the process this time around!
To find a dealership that knows how to treat shoppers right, please visit Edmunds.com's Dealer Ratings and Reviews.