Mistakes that first-time car buyers should avoid

Your Money

April 08, 2007|By Carolyn Bigda | Carolyn Bigda,Tribune Media Services

Gain a set of wheels, not a financial headache.

If you're ready to buy a car for the first time, you don't want to be taken for a ride on this significant purchase.

To make sure you don't overextend your budget and come to regret your decision, avoid these new-buyer mistakes:

Focusing on the monthly payment.

When you're just getting started, you may not have a lot of room in your budget for auto expenses after rent, utilities and food. So nabbing a low monthly car payment seems critical.

But that figure shouldn't be the starting point in your negotiations on the car lot. Doing so only opens the opportunity for a dealer to finesse the interest rate or other loan terms to meet your monthly price.

"The figure essentially doesn't have anything to do with the car," said Philip Reed, consumer advice editor for Edmunds.com and co-author of Strategies for Smart Car Buyers.

Instead, get approved for a loan from your bank or credit union before going to a dealership.

"With that one step you take away the strongest negotiating tool the dealer has," Reed said.

Leasing to get a "cool" car.

Leasing offers another way to get caught in the monthly payment trap.

With a lease, you essentially rent the car from the dealer for a set period of time, typically three years.

Because you're not buying the car, leases often carry a lower monthly payment.

But it's often tempting for drivers to lease a car that they otherwise couldn't afford. Good for your ego, bad for your wallet: You're still paying a sizable monthly payment, but when the lease is up, you don't own the keys. You have to buy or lease again.

"Your car is never worth more to you than when it's paid off," said Joe Wiesenfelder, senior editor for Cars.com (of which Tribune Co., publisher of this newspaper, is a part owner).

Buying used without considering repair costs.

Upfront, buying a used car will be more affordable. A car generally loses some 20 percent of its value the moment it is driven off the car lot, Wiesenfelder said. The value drops further once the manufacturer's warranty expires.

As a result, you'll pay a lower sticker price by buying used, and possibly receive more value for the dollar.

But you could spend more in repair costs.

So ask if the original warranty transfers to another owner, Wiesenfelder said. And most important, try to build cash savings so you can afford a trip to the mechanic.

Forgetting to call the insurance agent first.

Another cost that young buyers often fail to consider is insurance.

In addition to your age and driving record, insurance agencies calculate your premium based on the type of car you drive.

Cars that cost more to repair could be more expensive to insure. And even though traditional thinking says used cars are cheaper to insure, some insurers give discounts for cars less than three years old.

yourmoney@tribune.com.

Carolyn Bigda writes for Tribune Media Services

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