Avoid car shopping mistakes

Buying a car can be a fun yet exhaustive endeavor. It can fill you with optimistic ideas about future road trips and all the fun you can have driving it. At the same time, the process can be utterly overwhelming. Should you get a new car or a used one? Should you go through a dealer or a private owner? Should you go top of the line or economy? Should you focus on fuel efficiency or safety features? Should you lease or buy? The options and possibilities can seem infinite at times. The sheer amount of choices you need to make leaves the door open for a mistake to slip into your decision-making process. A small misstep can cost you additional money, leave you with a car you don't like or, worst of all, saddle you with a lemon.

Here are four common mistakes to avoid when you are looking to buy a car:

1. Purchasing because of a passion
Everybody's passionate about something, and you can definitely be passionate about cars. However, it's one thing to be a classic-car connoisseur or a muscle-car enthusiast, and it's another to buy an automobile for transporting your family around town. If you're making this purchase in an attempt to find the right vehicle at the optimal price with the appropriate safety features and warranties, you need to remain levelheaded and rational. Falling in love with the first car you see in the showroom only puts you at the dealer's mercy. Play it cool and weigh your options carefully before making any rash decisions.

2. Focusing on monthly payments instead of purchase price
The dealer may provide you with the actual purchase price you're looking for, but then extend the number of years you need to finance it or tack on a percentage point to the interest rate for the auto loan repayment. Low monthly payments with a higher interest rate over an extended period can end up costing you more over the long run. Focusing on the actual purchase price will ensure you're not overpaying for the car and that you get a fair deal.

3. Not knowing your trade-in's value
If you're trading in your old car, do some investigative work of your own before handing over the keys to the dealer. Spend time reviewing websites that provide information for car values, both for selling to dealerships and to private parties. This will require knowing the vehicle's mileage and repair history. While there might be some small fluctuations from website to website, take the average price and keep the number close at hand when you're shopping for a new car. If the dealer isn't giving you a fair price for your trade-in, you might want to try finding a different dealership.

4. Failing to inspect the vehicle
According to an IBM Corp. survey, approximately one in five individuals fails to test drive a car before purchasing the vehicle, Auto​motive News reported. Test driving has been a staple of the dealer process for decades, and failing to take advantage of this aspect can create additional hurdles down the road. From simple things like the front seat's comfort level and whether you like the dashboard layout to more substantial issues like braking problems or possible blind spots, you need to know how the car drives and how it responds. In addition to test driving it, running a Carfax report or having a certified technician inspect the vehicle can shed light on if the car was ever flooded or involved in an accident.

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