Avoid these 12 mistakes when buying a used car! Thanks to Cars.com for sponsoring this post.
Being frugal about buying a used car can feel overwhelming, especially when you're trying to find a balance between cost, safety, and your family's particular needs.
Earlier this fall, both our furnace and our family car kicked the bucket in the same week. In my search for the most economical solutions to get our family "back up and running," I had to learn a lot in a small window of time. I thought I'd share what I learned in case your family ever finds itself shopping for a used car, too...
Check out 12 mistakes you'll want to avoid when buying a used car below!
How old are your kiddos? If they're anything like my girls, they likely will have a strong opinion (and 101 questions!) about making a major family purchase like a car. This video from Cars.com cracks me up, particularly the "unicorn power" reference. They sent two cheeky (and tongue-in-cheeky) kiddos to the Detroit Auto Show to interview CEOs, product managers, and salespeople. Take a minute to check it out here...
Just like the girl in the video, my girls would totally ask questions like she does, "Does the entertainment system 'bring the funk'?"
The last time we bought a car, my little ladies were in infant car seats. I'd like to say my girls (now 9 and 11) don't sway my decision making, but the truth is that I know at times they do. I wanted to ensure all of my online "homework" was finished before I brought them into the discussion, so I knew I was buying a car that both my head AND my heart would be happy with.
Below are my hard-learned tips on what NOT to do when buying a used car for your family... even when you're in a hurry and need to just "get 'er done."
12 Mistakes to Avoid When Buying a Used Car
Let's get started...
1. Focusing on the monthly payment
Most people head into this decision thinking about the amount they'd like to pay every month. This is one of the biggest mistakes you can make when shopping for a used car. It's easy for dealerships to stretch out loans over a longer term to seemingly meet your needs. This may make a car seem more affordable, but it really costs you more money in the long term due to added finance charges. Paying a little more now to have a loan paid off sooner might be a better bet for your family budget, if you can swing it.
2. Being unrealistic about your budget
You have to look beyond the monthly car payment cost alone. When searching for a used car that fits your needs, consider the overall cost of the car—including taxes, fees, insurance, gas, and maintenance. Search for options on the Cars.com homepage based on the total price first, then use their calculator to compute how much it will actually cost you per month to own—and operate—the vehicle. See what types of options are available, and if the cost is too high, consider picking a less-expensive car.
3. Skipping the online homework
Your best ammunition when you're car shopping is information. The more you know about the type of car you want and how much you're willing to pay, the stronger your bargaining position.
Purchasing a car can be overwhelming. Cars.com provides credible and easy-to-understand information to help car shoppers and owners buy, sell, and service their vehicles. So when you're talking to a dealer or an owner, be sure to mention that you've been doing research and shopping for cars online.
4. Not having a target list of cars
Build a target list of three different car models that meet your needs and that fall within your budget. Cars.com is a great starting place. They offer millions of new and used vehicle listings, side-by-side comparisons, build and price tools, expert and consumer reviews, unbiased editorial content, service and repair resources, and much more. They even offer multiple options to sell or trade-in your old vehicle.
This site made my research process so much easier. My husband and I did an overall side-by-side comparison of the models we were considering.
One of my favorite features of Cars.com is that my husband and I were both able to "favorite" and save vehicles that caught our attention. Then we were able to compare all the different options available to us so we could narrow down our choices to our final three models we both agreed upon.
We were then able to do a side-by-side comparison of the specific models we were interested in researching. Being able to do both an overall and a vehicle-specific side-by-side comparison was great for getting a feel for how year, mileage, brand, and style affects local pricing—even across the same car model.
5. Searching within too tight of a radius
Open up your search radius to get a good feel for price ranges in your area. I'd recommend a search radius of 75 miles to start. It might be worth an hour drive if you find a vehicle that's priced right and has just what you're looking for.
6. Falling in love with one car
If you're smitten with a car and the salesperson can see you're in love, you're unlikely to get a good bargain. Contain your excitement, until after you've agreed on a price. Remember, there are lots of fish in the sea.
Doing online research and having a target list of other potential options should help you keep your cool when it comes to negotiations and help you see in real time just how quickly another "perfect" car can come available.
7. Ignoring fuel consumption
Don't ignore your cars EPA rating. Gas costs will continue to be a part of your monthly budget, so be sure to research fuel efficiency when comparing models. You can find this info in the overall side-by-side comparisons on Cars.com (see chart above) or when you're researching an individual model.
8. Buying things you don't need
When looking at used cars, stick to a few core basics for making your decision: mileage, safety, and must-have features to suit your family's lifestyle. Write a list of exactly what you need before looking at vehicles. It's easy to be enticed by accessories such as sunroofs or heated seats. When choosing between vehicles, additional accessories and extended warranties can quickly push an affordable car over budget.
9. Ignoring higher mileage cars
There are maintenance risks associated with higher-mileage vehicles, but there's also great value to be had if you're willing to take the gamble. Modern vehicles, if properly maintained, can have great longevity. Cars with high miles tend to scare people off, so they can be a great bargain. When you're searching on Cars.com for different options, please note that you can order your result list by mileage. If you're taking this frugal route, I highly recommend you take it to a trustworthy mechanic to give it a once-over before you close the deal.
10. Forgetting to check the vehicle history report
This is an essential first step when comparing different vehicles that are available. If the vehicle history report is negative, you shouldn't go any further with the car. If you purchase the unlimited CarFax reporting, take note that only the first five reports are searchable with a VIN number. After that, you have to search via license plate number. So use your five reports wisely!
11. Missing the best times to buy
Do your best to schedule your visit to the dealership during the week, versus on the weekends. This will ensure you have your salesperson's full attention. Sites like Consumer Reports also suggest that you can find better bargains towards the end of the month, when sellers are trying to make their monthly sales quota.
12. Being swayed on the floor
You've determine well ahead of time what you can afford. You've done your research and know what models best suit your needs in your price range. If anyone even suggests you can deviate from your cap, give them the stink-eye and let them know your price-point is firm. You've done your front-end work; don't be up-sold into a vehicle that costs more than your budget allows.
Buying a car this year was an opportunity for my husband and I to really step back, look at our financial goals, our family's life goals, and plan for the future. Only after we finalized our research and reduced our options to two finalists, did we bring our girls into the fold. To learn more about our personal experience in buying a used car, be sure to read ...
In the end, having an unbiased one-stop info tool like Cars.com took the much of the stress out of the research part of the car-buying process and brought the JOY and FUN back into finding that "just right" car for the next leg of our family's journey. All that's left to do now is to crank up our new sound system and "bring the funk" for our girls...
P.S. If you know you'll be investing in a new car in the not-so-distant future, be sure to follow Cars.com on Facebook. They share great resources to help with your decision-making process.
Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Cars.com. The opinions and text are all mine.