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Seven common money mistakes to avoid when buying a new car

Buying a new car is a tremendous financial investment. Here's how to avoid some common pitfalls associated with this major purchase.

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It's easy to make money mistakes anytime you buy a car — but your first car is especially risky. Here are some expensive first-time car buying mistakes and how to avoid them.

1. Buying the Wrong Kind of Car

When shopping for your first car, it's easy to overlook how you're going to actually use it in the long term. You might think about picking up friends to go out, but overlook routine chores such as hauling groceries home. Your car needs can change rapidly. You don't want a two-seater if your family could grow to three or more within a couple short years. The best way to save money on car expenses is to drive the same car for many years, so choose wisely!

2. Buying a Car With Poor Fuel Economy

If you are buying your first car, you probably aren't used to experiencing pain at the pump, and consequently you may not consider the cost of keeping gas in a pick-up truck. With the current low gas prices, you may not feel that fuel economy is a major consideration — but don't fall for this expensive mistake. If you choose a car that gets half the fuel economy, you'll pay twice as much for gas — no matter what happens to the price of gas. And just because gas prices are low today doesn't mean they'll stay low forever. If you buy a fuel hog and gas prices go up, it could seriously impact the resale value of your vehicle down the road.

3. Surprise Maintenance Required

Used cars are much less expensive to buy than new, and are a great choice for a first car. But sometimes a used vehicle can have expensive problems that are not obvious until after you have driven off in it. Never buy a vehicle with a check engine light on unless you understand what maintenance is required to resolve the issue. The problems indicated by a check engine light can cost only a few dollars to repair — such as replacing the gas cap — or thousands. The only way to know is to get the car checked out by a mechanic who can read the diagnostic codes, investigate the trouble, and provide an estimate for repairs.

Even if the check engine light is not on, I recommend having any used vehicle checked over by a mechanic before you buy it. Getting a vehicle inspection can be a bit inconvenient and costs around $50, but you could save thousands by avoiding a car with expensive maintenance needs. You can also use the inspection report as a bargaining tool to get a better price. Do you really want to risk buying a used car without knowing what could be wrong with it?

4. Buying to Impress

Start your car search by thinking of the things you need a car to do. It needs to be reliable, get you to where you are going, and hold the things you need to haul. That's pretty much it. There are all kinds of options and upgrades available, but these do not change the basic functionality of a car.

It is easy to think that a nice car will impress people and make your life better, but any reliable car provides the same basic utility. Try to approach buying a car as you would buying a tool, and don't let emotion overcome your judgment about what a car can do for you.

5. Thinking of a Vehicle as an Investment

Just because cars are expensive doesn't mean they are an investment. Almost any car you buy will drop significantly in value after only a few years. Dealers may encourage you to buy a more expensive car so it will have better resale value later. It is true that certain options such as automatic transmission and all-wheel drive improve resale value, but other options that add thousands of dollars to you car cost may bring only a few hundred dollars of resale value years later. Buying a car is an expense, not an investment. Try to minimize how much you need to spend to obtain safe, reliable transportation.

6. Not Negotiating on Price

Price negotiation can be a new concept for first-time car buyers. Car prices are not like prices for other items for sale — the sticker price is only a suggestion, and the seller is almost always ready to sell it for less. If you pay full asking price for a car, you are likely paying hundreds, or even thousands, more than you need to pay. With a few minutes of research on the Internet, you can arm yourself with the information you need to confidently negotiate a lower price.

7. Getting Tricked Into Dealer Financing

At the end of the car buying process, there is one more chance to make a costly mistake — dealer financing. The dealer may try to convince first-time car buyers that it will be difficult for them to get financing at all. After taking down some information and working some magic, they will appear with a financing offer and say that you were lucky to qualify. Just sign and the car is yours — along with its big monthly payments. The problem is that the interest rate from the dealer may be substantially higher than the rate you could get elsewhere. Avoid this trap by getting prequalified for financing at an online lender, credit union, or bank before you go car shopping. This way, you will know how much you can borrow and find a good interest rate before you fall in love with the car.

This article first appeared at Wise Bread.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best personal finance bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link in the blog description box above.

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