Buying a car is an accident waiting to happen for the unwary customer. Whether you're looking for a brand new vehicle or visiting the used auto lot, being prepared can help ensure that you get the best deal, and that means avoiding the most common mistakes that buyers make. Here are nine blunders that could potentially see you drive away in an unsuitable vehicle at an inflated price.
Before you set foot in a showroom, you should have a good idea of what kind of car you're looking for, how much you should realistically pay, and which extras you're willing to add. If you don't do your research, you're leaving yourself at the mercy of the dealer's sales techniques.
And once you've done your research, make sure you stick to your decisions. Don't let the salesperson pressure you into choosing a model which you don't know anything about, or a car that doesn't fit your needs, just because you're told it's a brilliant deal.
Car dealers make most of their money by selling additional items on top of the basic vehicle. Once you've shown interest in a particular car, you can expect to be offered options such as enhanced warranties or technological gizmos from GPS navigation to fancy in-car entertainment systems. If you hadn't decided on these before your research, don't be tempted to pay extra for them without careful thought. This is the area that the dealership makes the most profit, and where they are most inclined to give you the hard sell.
Even if a dealer's offer seems to match your research, there's nothing to be gained by accepting it there and then. Despite the salesperson's protests, the car will almost certainly still be there tomorrow. Don't be afraid to walk away and look elsewhere for a better deal - if nothing else, this will encourage the dealer to consider making a better offer.
Always treat the windshield sticker price as a starting point, not a figure that's set in stone. Most dealers have a lot of room to negotiate, so don't be afraid to haggle the price downward. Even if you don't end up with a lower price, being prepared to negotiate may gain you extra benefits such as free oil changes or a new set of floor mats.
And speaking of finance, you're not likely to get a great car loan package from a dealer - at least, not without a little effort. Most car dealerships take a cut of any vehicle financing they sell, so it's in their interests to make you pay as much as possible. If you can, arrange credit from a cheaper source such as your bank. If this isn't possible, at least wait a while before accepting any dealer finance, to see if you can negotiate a lower rate. You should negotiate the financing terms the same way you negotiate the price--the first numbers are only the starting numbers.
No matter how old your current car is, don't be sold short on a trade-in. If a dealer says they're doing you a favor just by taking it off your hands, look elsewhere immediately. Any working vehicle is worth a decent price, so do your homework ahead of time, and find out what you could expect on the secondhand market. When researching the trade-in price, bring a print out of it. If the dealer offers you less than the trade-in amount, have them explain why they are offering less--and be wary, they will come up with some crazy ideas to justify their low offer.
Even if you've found the perfect vehicle at a good price and the financing seems appropriate, don't forget to include the costs of insurance, gas consumption, and repairs in your calculations. If you spend too much up front on the vehicle itself, you could easily find yourself struggling to pay the operating costs needed to keep it on the road.
Lastly, never sign on the dotted line for a car without taking it for a proper test drive. You need to do more than going for a spin around the block. If you're planning to do a lot of highway driving, make sure you include this in your test drive. Likewise, if your driving will mainly be in the city, try out the car in heavy traffic to see how it responds.
It's all too easy to get the wrong side of a deal when faced with a professional auto seller. However, with a little preparation, plenty of research, and a touch of hardheadedness, you can make sure you come out with a great car at a realistic price.