Dec 6, 2019
By Mariclare Cranston, Content Specialist

How to Avoid Making Common Car Shopping Mistakes

It is so easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of buying a new car or truck: cool new technology, upgraded features and of course, that coveted new car smell. Whether you’re purchasing a new or used car, though, It’s important to keep yourself grounded and avoid common car buying mistakes. We’ll break down the five biggest mistakes you can make when buying a car, and how you can avoid them.

1. Setting Lofty Expectations for Your New Car

You may dream of burning rubber out of the lot in a shiny new Corvette, but if you’re working with a Corolla budget you have to keep your expectations realistic. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look for your dream car, but don’t stretch your finances so thin that you’re cutting back on Savings or paying off other debts to make your dream car a reality. One of the first and most important steps you should take is determining how much you can really afford for a new car. Use a budget tool to compare how much income you make per month against how much you spend (and be sure to include all of your expenses, even those random convenience store runs and ATM withdrawals). Determine a monthly payment you’d be comfortable with and keep your car shopping within that parameter. If you really have your heart and mind set on a certain model, find ways you can cut back on some of your expenses to make that payment work. Don’t sacrifice your Savings, though, in order to justify a car payment.

2. Not Shopping Around For Your Car or Truck

It’s a good idea to shop around to see the types of vehicles you’re interested in and their current prices. This doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice an entire weekend dealership-hopping, though. Most dealerships offer their inventories and current deals online. Take advantage of that and do the foot work without taking a step. You’ll be able to compile a short list of dealers that have what you’re looking for. image of AutoSmart on mobile or tablet

MHV Offers an Online Car Shopping Tool

MHV offers an online car and truck shopping resource that provides you research, trade-in value and inventory from dozens of local dealerships. You can check out the safety features of your new car, determine the value of your current one, and find local dealers that have the color and trim level you want, all without leaving your home. Check out AutoSmart to jump start your car buying journey.

3. Under- (or Over-) Estimating Your Car’s Worth

Definitely take the time to research the value of your current car or truck if you plan on leveraging it as a trade. You can use a tool like AutoSmart to estimate what your current vehicle is worth based on make, model, year, mileage and condition. Don’t oversell or undersell; if your car has a few dents and dings, you won’t want to mark its condition as Excellent because your value won’t be accurate. You can try to sell your car or truck to a private buyer. If you do sell on the private market, be sure to read our tips on how to sell items securely online. Don’t make becoming a victim of fraud one of your car buying regrets.

Preparing Your Car for Trade-In

“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.”


4. Skipping The Test Drive

You have found it! The car you want, in the color you want, with the features you want, at the price you want. Perfection, right? Maybe. Never underestimate the value of a test drive, especially if buying a used vehicle. How does it handle? What does braking feel like? Are you comfortable with the dashboard layout? Is the acceleration acceptable? Do all of the features operate as they should? Check the heat, the A/C, windshield wipers, lights, all of the power accessories. If you do a lot of highway driving, you’ll want a test drive that simulates that. Ditto if you’re in a lot of stop-and-go traffic. Do you haul a lot of materials for work? Or pack a ton of groceries in your car every weekend? Be sure your dream car satisfies you in every situation you’ll put it in, not just on the showroom floor. Doing so may identify some concerns, helping you avoid car buying regret.

5. Underestimating the Cost

Owning your new car or truck may cost more than just your monthly payment. Be sure to factor in maintenance costs, gas (especially if your miles-per-gallon is changing dramatically) and any changes in your insurance premium. Add these costs to your monthly payment. Can you still comfortably afford it? It may be disheartening to discover your dream car will break your budget, but remember that it is better to discover that now before you buy it. Keep in mind that you should also be tucking away a little extra into your Savings Account to protect yourself against unexpected repairs.

Use our car loan calculator to estimate your monthly payment.

Use a payment calculator to come up with a good estimate for what you can afford, but when it comes to financing, you’ll want to know the cost of the car, not just what your monthly payment will be. Keep in mind that both the interest rate and the term, or the length of the loan, should be an important factor. Other itemized costs you should know before you agree to a monthly payment include items like an extended warranty. 

Extended Warranty

It can be hard to beat the peace of mind you get with an extended warranty. Opting for an extended warranty may help protect you from unexpected repair costs down the line, especially if you’re buying a used car. You should look at factors including car’s reliability ratings and your budget when deciding whether to purchase an extended warranty.


Now that you know what mistakes to avoid, what’s next?

Enjoy the excitement of buying a car or truck! There’s a lot to consider, and research to be done, and budgets to consider. But just as you shouldn’t get overly wrapped up in the excitement, don’t bog yourself down for weeks on end with comparisons and scenarios. Know your budget, use your research tools, and remember the common mistakes to avoid and soon you’ll be heading off into the sunset in your new car or truck – without any car-buying regret.

Want even more car-buying tips?

​Download MHV’s ultimate guide to buying a car or truck: Drive Away Happy!

Drive Away Happy eBook


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