• Not doing your homework. The Internet has democratized the car-buying process. Now, anyone can get access to facts and figures about vehicles, features, pricing and financing. There’s no reason to step foot in a dealership without having first researched vehicles and their competitors.
• Choosing the wrong car for your needs. With all of the choices available on the dealer’s lot, you have to have a very good idea of how you need to use your car so that you can find a car that suits your needs. How often will you really carry seven passengers in that big SUV? Don’t saddle yourself with a car that only suits occasional needs — you’ll do better matching your general needs, and renting a vehicle for the special occasions, like family road trips.
• Skipping on the test drive. Many car buyers fail to spend enough time behind the wheel to really get familiar with a vehicle’s performance and features. A thorough test drive should include a wide range of conditions, including bumpy back streets and smooth highways. The time to discover that your car is noisy and harsh at 65 miles per hour is not after you’ve already taken delivery.
• Buying new when used would do. Every potential new car buyer should consider used vehicles before buying. Certified Pre-owned programs by many of the manufacturers have raised the bar for used cars. Most include a detailed vehicle inspection and refreshing, along with an extension of the new car powertrain warranty that might run up to 7 years/100,000 miles. Used car financing is cheaper than ever before – in many cases competitive with new car financing.
• Rushing to buy. Cars are commodities, and there will always be another one coming down the road. This much is certain. So don’t rush into the purchasing decision. Take your time, even if it means that you have to rent a car for a few weeks in order to bridge the gap between your old car and your new one. Car dealers love buyers who are in a hurry — it shifts the negotiating leverage toward the dealer because the buyer is much less likely to walk away without making a deal.
• Blowing the budget. You have done your research. You’ve arranged for financing. You’ve assessed your needs. Then, you go to the dealership and get talked into a car that costs way more than you’ve budgeted for. Stick to your budget, make sure that you can afford the car that you’re buying, and avoid buyer’s remorse.
• Trading in your old car. This is a big mistake that will always cost you money. Even if you owe money on your old car, you’ll do better selling it on your own, or even selling it to a dealer, if you don’t get involved in the trade-in process. Trading in your old car gives the dealer one more opportunity to profit on your convenience, and a chance to muddy the waters on the details of your new car purchase.