Navigating the used car market can be tricky, even for the experienced car buyer. These car enthusiasts discuss the common mistakes, especially for novices, they’ve experienced and what you can do to avoid making them. Read their tips to be prepared for your next big car investment.

What are common mistakes when shopping for pre-owned cars?

Mark Beneke

Mark Beneke is the co-owner of two buy-here-pay-here used car dealerships, Westland Auto Sales.

Buyers’ Common Mistake While Used Car Shopping

    ● Let salespeople choose a car for them
    Many customers show up to a dealership with no idea of what they are looking for and have the salesperson choose for them. Salespeople are incentivized to sell the vehicles that favor them, not you.

    ● Not line up their financing ahead of time
    Dealerships are not incentivized by finance companies to do what’s best for the customer. A lot of beginner buyers show up at a dealership and expect the dealer to finance them. You will usually get the best terms by securing your financing ahead of time. It will also provide you with the parameters that you should stick to when shopping.

    ● Don’t research cars or dealerships
    Not all makes and models are made the same, just as no two dealerships are the same. Everyone should take the time to research the makes and models that will fit them best for their lifestyle and preferences. They should also look up the reviews of the dealerships to ensure they are purchasing from a reputable location.

    ● Not test [driving] properly or not [driving] it at all
    One of the biggest mistakes a beginner can make is not test driving a vehicle properly or not at all. Never skip a test drive. Take the vehicle for a good drive through different types of terrain. Check for noises, loose suspension, weird shifts, smoke, etc.

    ● Purchasing on the same day without real thought
    Emotions are high when you find a car you like but don’t purchase on the same day. Salespeople know this and will use it to their advantage by socially pressuring you into making a decision right then and there. Ask for the final numbers and take them home to review them in a safe space.

    ● Go for cars based on looks
    A lot of buyers look at a car with big shiny rims and automatically fall in love, overlooking everything else. You are purchasing a machine to transport you from one place to another, not to win car shows. Your focus should be on the mechanical components, not its looks.

    ● Negotiating payment or down instead of price
    Down payments and monthly payments are only an illusion, but people fight tooth and nail to get these lower instead of focusing on what matters, price.

    ● Not running a history report or having the vehicle checked by a third-party technician
    Most new buyers assume that the test drive they took is enough to make sure the car in question is good. Most of us are not mechanics and do not know enough to determine that. You should run a history report to see all previously reported records of the vehicle and get a better idea of its past. You should also have a third-party mechanic inspection so you can be sure of its current condition or have room to negotiate further with the dealer if anything comes up during the inspection.

Taking The Owner’s Word And Not Test Driving

One of the most common beginner mistakes is not test-driving a car. In addition, to trusting the word of the seller on damage and repairs that are needed.

Before you make a decision on the vehicle you think you want, do some research on crash test rating, reliability, and inherent issues. Then check with websites like vehicle and These sites can offer information on maintenance, recalls, and damage. Not all the information can be accessed but can help a buyer beware.

What are common mistakes when shopping for pre-owned cars?

Lauren Fix

Lauren Fix is a nationally recognized automotive expert at The Car Coach.

What are common mistakes when shopping for pre-owned cars?

Jake McKenzie

Jake McKenzie is the Content Manager at Auto Accessories Garage.

Focusing On Specific Makes and Models

One of the biggest mistakes first-time used car buyers make is setting their sights on a specific make and model of vehicle. Especially if this is the buyer’s first car, they may have an idealized version of what set of wheels they’ll hit the streets. But when you have your heart set on a specific model, you might end up overpaying or settling on a vehicle in worse shape than you might have wanted. You have to realize the used car market is fickle and always changing. You’ve got to be open to what’s out there and stay focused on the condition of the vehicle and the asking price.

Caught Up With Appearance, Not Checking The Maintenance HistoryOne of the most common mistakes people make who have never purchased a preowned car is getting caught up with appearances rather than mechanical conditions. Just because a vehicle looks great doesn’t mean it will run great.

You always want to check for maintenance history to ensure the vehicle has been well [maintained]. Even better, a quick check-up by a mechanic you know and trust can reveal any glaring issues and help make sure you aren’t buying a lemon.

Another mistake is to accept the sticker price or asking price. You should always try to haggle down the price of a pre-owned vehicle. Most owners or used car dealers mark the car they are trying to sell up higher than what they expect to get for it.

I would also recommend taking the car for a test drive and giving a good look under the body. If you notice any weird vibrations or noises when you drive, that can be a bad sign. And if you see rust, that’s another big can of worms.

What are common mistakes when shopping for pre-owned cars?

Chaz Wyland

Chaz Wyland, Founder of SnowmobileHow.

What are common mistakes when shopping for pre-owned cars?

Lynda Fairly

Lynda Fairly, CEO, and Co-Founder of Numlooker.

Buying A Car Without Considering Financing Option

Buying a car that’s too expensive is one of the most common mistakes first-time buyers make. Though it can be tempting to buy the most excellent vehicle you can find, doing so means you’ll spend more money than necessary and make monthly payments for a longer time. Plus, too many bells and whistles on your new ride might tempt you to upgrade sooner rather than later.

Another mistake beginners make [is] buying a car without considering their financing options.
Before visiting a dealership, it’s helpful to decide precisely how much you can afford to spend per month. You can do this by calculating the cost of your total weekly payments on an online calculator – or by using a simple two-step process:

Step One: Estimate your monthly housing expenses, including mortgage/rent, utilities, and insurance. Multiply that number by 12.

Step Two: Subtract your minimum payment on credit cards and car loans from step one. The remainder is how much you can afford to spend per month on a car payment.

Remember, the lower your monthly payment, the more money you’ll have in your savings account.

It’s also essential to think about what type of vehicle fits most into your budget. Consider whether your primary mode of transportation will be driving or public transport.

Accepting The Initial Offer Without Negotiation

One of the most common beginner mistakes when shopping for a pre-owned car is to accept the initial offer and not engage in a negotiation. Don’t be afraid to “Make the Ask” and offer a lower price. Of course, you don’t want it to be unreasonable – do your research, so you know what [is] a fair offer. But don’t automatically think that the list price is the final price. Make your offer and see what they say – you may be pleasantly surprised!

What are common mistakes when shopping for pre-owned cars?

Lynn Price

Lynn Price, Author, Speaker, and Attorney at Lynn Price Consulting, LLC.

What are common mistakes when shopping for pre-owned cars?

Willie Greer

Willie Greer, Founder of The Product Analyst.

Not Considering A Car’s Mileage

A car’s mileage is very important as it will determine the car’s working condition and what future repairs could be. While there are a lot of cars sold at a bargain price, which may look like a real deal, one should always opt not only for how much it could cost them to purchase the car, but how much they would spend on repair to make the car more functional and as good as new by the time you use it. It may be a cheap purchase, but if the cost of repairs [is] too much, then it’s a no-brainer.

Getting Enrolled In Terrible Financing

One of the things I see people do time and time again with used cars is getting themselves enrolled in terrible financing. Often buying a used car is the result of a dire necessity. You need to walk off the lot with a car, so you agree to whatever terms the dealer presents. But even if you have bad credit, you don’t have to do this.

Before you go to the dealer, try to apply for financing on your own. There are sites online where you can submit one application and have it go through several different lenders. Compare rates, choose the best one, then come armed with that at the dealer. They usually get a kickback if you use their financing option, so force their hand and get them to give you a better deal than what you were offered online.

Above all else, be willing to walk away. Make it clear you hold the power.

What are common mistakes when shopping for pre-owned cars?

Carter Seuthe

Carter Seuthe, CEO, Credit Summit.

Connor Gross

Connor Gross is a senior editor at Garage Weekly, and also a passionate classic car fan and owner.

Not Checking The Safety Features

One of the biggest beginner mistakes that people make when shopping for pre-owned cars is not paying close enough attention to the safety features of older cars.

Most cars in the last decade [have] come equipped with side airbags, antilock brake systems, electronic stability control, and more. But the older pre-owned cars might not have all of the bells and whistles you’re [wanting]. Be sure to ask the dealership or previous owner which safety features come with the car before making a purchasing decision.

This is a crowdsourced article. Contributors’ statements do not necessarily reflect the opinion of this website, other people, businesses, or other contributors.