Skip to content
5 Common Mistakes First-Time Car Buyers Make When Looking for "The Car"

5 Common Mistakes First-Time Car Buyers Make When Looking for "The Car"

Everyone has a story about buying a car, especially their first car. It usually starts with spending days and weeks in car dealerships and showrooms, only to be blurred by the endless stickers, specs sheets and a whole lot of incentives and offers that you probably don’t even qualify for. You stress out about getting the perfect car at the perfect price, but as soon as you drive off the lot, you have this lingering suspicion that you could’ve done better.

Even seasoned car buyers experience these suspicion from time to time. It may seem like an exaggeration to hear that the car buying experience can be “life-altering,” but making a large purchase without prior knowledge can be detrimental.

The Car Buying Experience

The traditional car-buying experience involved spending most of your day in a showroom with your credit run by a slew of financial institutions. You then drive off the lot with a car you didn’t come in for because the rebates are better or provide a more attractive warranty.

If you have met anyone who works in car sales, you know that they are highly skilled at reading body language and smooth-talking. For most of these salespeople, your purchase equals commission for them (primarily larger car lots). If you don’t know how to navigate these tactics, you are liable to make some of the typical first-time car buyer mistakes.

Finding “The Car”

Here are five of the most common car buying mistakes you need to avoid when car-shopping. Allow us to walk you through each of them to help you avoid these mistakes and take control of your car buying experience.

Mistake 1: Not Doing Your Homework

Research is your friend when you are shopping for a car. There are different characteristics about a car that is important to factor in when shopping for the perfect car - fuel economy, colour, seating capacity, safety features and price. But do you know what each means? Luckily, there is an abundance of articles that offer advice and in-depth information on which car models offer the best safety features and have the best gas mileage. If this is all new to you, Car and Driver is a great place to start.

Doing your homework also means knowing the features that you need from the unnecessary extras. Dealerships often try to sell you extra services and features that boost their profit margin but are a waste of your money.

For instance, vehicle bodies are already coated to protect against rust - do you need that extra rustproofing service? Extended warranty is another one - it can cost hundreds of dollars, but if you buy a model with good reliability or expect to have the vehicle only for five years or less, it often isn't worth the cost.

Mistake 2: New is Better

Once you know what kind of car you want, you need to determine whether you are buying new or used. While there are reasons why a new car is better in the long run, there may be a disadvantage to making it your first car buying experience. Used cars cost less than a new vehicle, meaning you have to finance less overall. If you don’t have the credit history to facilitate a large financed amount, you might want to consider a lower car price.

Buying used can be done at the dealership and privately, and there’s a long list of online marketplaces that connect buyers with private sellers: Craiglist and even Facebook Marketplace. The advantage of going to the dealership is you’ll benefit from a professional-grade inspection, extended warranty protection and financing options - things that you won’t get from a private seller.

Suppose you are going the private seller route because of a better deal. In that case, we strongly recommend purchasing a CarFax vehicle history report and bringing a mechanic with you when inspecting the car before purchase - even the most reliable vehicle can turn into a lemon if it's poorly maintained. Put together a list of questions to learn more about how the seller kept the car, mechanical problems, and selling reasons.

Don’t know any mechanic friends? Bring along an OBD-II Diagnostic Tool, like the ThinkDiag. Simply plug the ThinkDiag dongle into your car, connect it to your smartphone via Bluetooth, and your smartphone becomes a professional OBD diagnostic tool. You can quickly run vehicle scans and diagnosis to determine if the car has any hidden but costly problems.

Mistake 3: Choosing by Sight

Source: TechSpot.com

Have you ever seen an iconic car and thought, that is the car I want? Com’on, who wouldn’t want the Aston Martin DB5 or the Dodge Charger or the Mini Cooper S - without even knowing how it will handle, you automatically want to own one just because you like how it looks (or how you’ll look driving it).

However, even though you like the way one looks, you need to keep looking if it doesn’t meet your needs. After all, what good is a little two-seater going to do when you have a family of six?

And, don’t forget to factor in insurance costs. For instance, are you thinking of going EV with the lowest-priced Tesla, the Model 3? The average insurance cost of the Test Model 3 is 50% higher than the national average cost of car insurance.

Did you know that the Tesla Model S is one of the most expensive vehicles to insure in 2021? In fact, from 2017 to 2018, the average annual premium for a Tesla Model S increased by almost 330%! These hidden costs are not part of the dealer price tag, but you need to know before making the purchase.

Mistake 4: Skipping the Test Drive

Part of buying a car is liking how it drives. If it doesn’t drive well, you aren’t going to be satisfied with your purchase. Unfortunately, many people assume all new cars will offer the same smooth ride and skip the test drive altogether.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when taking a car for a test drive before buying:

  • Adjust the mirrors and the seat. Can you see the road or easily check blind spots?
  • Pay attention to how the dashboard is laid out. Are the vehicle controls awkward or confusing to use?
  • Take the car through a rough road patch and check the severity of bumps you feel and how strong the suspension is.
  • Test the wheel alignment by driving at 20 to 30 mph beside a pavement line or sidewall
  • Roll down the window so you can hear if the car is making any unusual noises.
  • Test the wheel alignment by driving at 20 to 30 mph beside a pavement line or sidewall
  • Get a rough sense of the car’s fuel efficiency by noting what the odometer and fuel gauge say at the beginning and end of the trip.
  • Always check how the car steers around turns and whether or not the brakes are firm, also how well the car responds to steering unexpectedly.
  • Test any advanced systems, including rearview cameras, blind-spot monitors and voice command systems, as well as essential safety technologies such as ABS or ESC

Mistake 5: Taking the Word of the Dealer

A car dealer would never betray our trust, right? Wrong. If they are trying to meet a quota or get a better commission based on your sale, they are likely to try. Not all car salespeople do this, but you need to have your guard up and take any prospective vehicle to an independent mechanic for inspection.

Don’t get stuck paying the sticker price - everything is negotiable!

  • Do your homework and know your options. Letting the dealer know you know there are other options out there will allow you to discuss more than just price.
  • Don’t let yourself get talked into any features or “freebies” you don’t need or want.
  • Do bring up any concerns you have or problems you noticed during the test drive.
  • Don’t let your enthusiasm show or tell the dealer the maximum price you can afford.
  • Do walk away if you don’t think you’re getting the best deal - don’t settle for second-best.

Handling the Dealership

When you go into a dealership, many people assume that the dealer is right and has the advantage over the customer. That is not always correct. Going into a dealership with the knowledge of what you are looking for can help you gain control of the situation. You don’t want to relinquish power to the salesperson because you aren’t comfortable walking away. You have the right to walk away from any situation you aren’t comfortable with.

One of the most important things you need to understand before driving off the lot is the contract. The contract has a lot of fine print, and if you don’t understand it, you will pay for it in the end. Ensure when you choose to take advantage of rebates and discounts that you understand the contract involved in those. Not all deals are good deals, and in some instances, the car may be marked up to make the deal look like it is worth more than it does.

Understand Your Financing

When you are shopping for a vehicle, part of what the dealership does is find you financing. Dealers share your information with lenders or financial partners - the more lenders they send your information to, the more times your credit card is run. Each of these inquiries shows up on your credit report. Hard inquiries can reduce your credit score temporarily.

Key things to take into consideration:

  • You should shop based on your entire vehicle budget, not just the monthly payment amount. You want to be able to maintain your vehicle and fuel it. You have to budget for all the expenses you will incur with a car.
  • The longer the loan term, the more you pay for the car. To mitigate the extra interest, either pay more down or purchase less car at a shorter loan term.
  • Talk to someone (other than the dealership) about loans or leases. For some, leasing a car makes more sense. The problem with leasing is there are specific terms that you must meet and adhere to. Financing may be the best option, but you have more than one option when it comes to financing.

Tips for Smart Car Buying

As a first-time car buyer, you need to know when to hold, when to fold, and when to go all-in. With car buying, there is a right time to buy. It often centers around your need for a vehicle, but you cannot get sucked into looking more at what you want versus what you need. Overall, you have to take your time looking and purchasing a car as it is something that you should not take lightly.

Even with the pandemic still a reality, you are likely to find yourself in a large-chain car dealership for hours on end trying to purchase a car (even used). There are other options available now, though. You can go online, get approved for a loan, and shop for a car without leaving your home. Companies like Carvana make it possible to shop and have the vehicle delivered to you without ever going into a showroom.

So how can you buy your first car and do it smarter, not harder? One of the first things you can do when you decide to buy your first car is visit your bank. For most, having a relationship with a bank can help with gaining financing. Most banks will only finance specific vehicle types. The amount they approve will usually correlate to the vehicle in question. Take the information in for the car you have your eye on and see what they can do for you BEFORE you go to the dealership. Having financing in order gives you the upper hand in negotiations. After all, the dealership works for you – it is your first car, not theirs.

Then once you’ve purchased your first car, you need to protect it. At BlackboxMyCar, you will find a selection of great dash cam options to help you out. A dash cam can help you keep a watchful eye on your new car and may even help to lower your insurance because of the protective measure you are taking. Dash cams offer irrefutable proof of what happens during an accident, which can reduce liability.

Previous article Keep Your Kids Safe This Spring Break
Next article Are Self-Driving Cars Safe Enough?