7 Dumb Car Buying Mistakes Everyone Makes

A 2014 survey by AutoTrader unveiled a statistic that's unfortunate but not altogether surprising: Nearly 70 percent of new car buyers have experienced regret after completing their purchase.  One of the most common reasons given for the regret was that the buyer simply made a mistake. In other words, too many buyers make car purchases on impulse, get talked into a model with too few or too many features, or pay too much.

To avoid pangs of regret as your drive off in your new car, there are some key steps you can take. A new car is an expensive purchase, and you'll probably be stuck with it for a long time. Next time you're headed to the dealership, keep these common car-buying mistakes in mind, and be prepared to avoid them.'

1. Casting a narrow net

When you decide what kind of car you want to buy, check out every local dealership that sells that car. You’re only hurting yourself if you don’t shop around. That doesn’t mean you have to visit each shop in person, but you can use the Internet to get quotes and start to narrow down the field. Certain sellers may be more willing to deal than others, especially if they know you’re shopping around. Don’t miss out on a potential good deal. The first step is as easy as sending an email. You can use the U.S. News Best Price Program to find certified dealers near you. 

2. Arriving clueless

The first steps – basic research, checking on availability and getting quotes – can be done from the comfort of your home. That means there’s no excuse for showing up at a dealership with a target on your back. By the time you start cruising showrooms, you should have considerably narrowed down your list of options so you have a good idea of one or two models you’re interested in, the available features that you actually want and what you can expect to pay. Otherwise, it will be too easy for sales staff to pressure you into a car you don’t want, with features you don’t need at a higher price than you should pay. Use our calculator to figure out how much you can afford to spend on a car.

3. Skipping the test drive

Plenty of people buy new clothes without trying them on or take a chance on a new food product they haven’t sampled. Compared to a vehicle, though, those are low-dollar, relatively inconsequential purchases that won’t affect you for years. A test drive is your chance to make sure the car is what you expected, to have the salesperson point out and explain the key features, and to try to envision yourself driving it every day. Sure, a lot of buyers are drawn to a particular model based on exterior styling or engine specs or other personal preferences, and they may feel like a test drive won’t change anything. But a test drive is your only chance to make sure the entire package comes together. Learn about the 5 Things to Focus on During a Test Drive before you get behind the wheel.

4. Focusing on the payment

If you’re shopping for a new car based on the monthly payment rather than on the sales price, you’re sacrificing one of your biggest advantages. If you focus on the payments, you might end up paying too much in the end because you weren’t concentrating on negotiating the best possible sales price. Experienced salespeople use this common car shopping mistake to their advantage, so it’s best to head them off at the pass. Do some research at home beforehand to figure out a realistic final price for the car, what kind of payments you’ll have (including a realistic interest rate) and how affordable that payment is for you. Then, keep that information to yourself. During negotiations at the dealership, always focus on the car’s final price and let that dictate the monthly payments, not the other way around. If you buy a new vehicle at a price you can afford, then the monthly payments will work out just fine. Use our car payment calculator to figure out what your monthly payment will be.

Want to skip negotiation all together? Use the U.S. News Best Price Program for guaranteed savings on a new car.

5. Neglecting insurance

Don’t buy a new car without getting a quote from your insurance provider. If it’s been a while since you last bought a new car, you might be in for a real shock. Most financing agreements require you to carry full-coverage insurance, which is to protect your lender, not you. That way, if you wreck a car that you haven’t paid off (no matter who’s at fault), the bank will still get all of its money. This coverage is a lot more expensive than what’s typically required of an older car that’s paid in full, so if you’re new to the new car game, make sure to factor your insurance payment quote in to your budget. It might mean you can’t spend as much as you thought you could, but at least you won’t be caught off guard.

6. Rolling existing debt onto your new loan

Let's be honest, here. If you're deep underwater on your current car and owe way more than it's worth, this is probably a bad time to shop for an upgrade. The dealership is probably willing to take your car as a trade-in, of course. Here’s why that is an incredibly bad idea: The dealership is desperate to get you in a new car, so they'll take your old car and add the leftover debt onto your new loan. In other words, say you're $5,000 underwater on Old Car, and New Car is $20,000. You're essentially financing $25,000 for a $20,000 car, putting you way behind (again!) when what you really want is a fresh start. Furthermore, the extra interest on that extra $5,000 means you're paying much more over the life of the loan. Don't fall for this trap. The debt will catch up to you eventually. Here’s How to Get Out of an Upside Down Car Loan.

7. Skimming the paperwork

Congratulations, you're almost done! You're tired and coming down from the stress of the negotiation. The air in the sales manager's office is dry and stuffy. Oh, and you just spent tens of thousands of dollars. Time to grab the keys to the new car and head home, right? Not quite yet. The last step of a new car purchase is to sign the paperwork, and though you might feel like you've been held hostage for the last couple of hours, now is not the time to succumb to your exhaustion. Read the paperwork carefully, and make sure the terms reflect your discussions. Does your contract suddenly include an expensive third-party warranty, or is your interest rate a little higher than you remember? Those changes might be a mistake, or they might be a last-minute attempt to boost the dealership's bottom line. Regardless, once you sign, those are the final terms of your deal. Before you put pen to paper, read carefully and point out anything that doesn't look right. 

In the market for a new car, truck or SUV? Check out the U.S. News Best Car Rankings to find the right model for you.  When you’re ready to buy, head over to the U.S. News Best Price Program for guaranteed savings on a new car, truck or SUV. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and Facebook.