Edmunds: Top car-buying mistakes to avoid

By RONALD MONTOYAFeaturesAssociated Press

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This undated photo provided by Edmunds shows a 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Z71. When Edmunds bought the truck for its long-term vehicle testing fleet in July 2013, the editors doing the buying had to negotiate out the cost of dealer-installed but unwanted additional equipment, including wheel locks, an exhaust tip and a door-edge protector. Not having a plan for how to deal with these last-minute items can lead to overspending, a mistake many shoppers make. (Edmunds via AP)

Car shoppers often see themselves as targets of opportunity for dealerships and their salespeople. And while a few dealerships do engage in shenanigans, some damage can be self-inflicted.

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Here are some of the most common car-shopping mistakes people make when buying or leasing a car. Avoid them and you'll have a better car-buying experience.

EXPECTING TO GET THE ONLINE PRICE IN THE SHOWROOM

It is logical to think that a salesperson will honor an online advertised special price if you show up in person at the dealership, but it doesn't always work like that. Some salespeople who work the showroom or car lot won't be aware of all the incentives available, nor do they track pricing on the website. That's the responsibility of the internet or fleet manager. Those are the people to contact. Otherwise, you might think you've already secured a "no-haggle" price when, in reality, the negotiations might just be starting.

If you've spotted an online price for a vehicle you're interested in, call ahead to the internet sales team, mention where you found it, and ask about the details.

IGNORING THE FINE PRINT

An appealing advertised price might be all it takes to bring you to a dealership. But upon arriving, you realize that the dealership achieved the price by stacking every possible incentive. Are you a recent college graduate who serves in the military, is a first responder, and happens to own a vehicle from the same make? If not, chances are the price will be much higher than the one you saw.

A share of the blame lies with the dealership for these incentive pileups. But customers also bear some responsibility if they don't read the fine print. Look for the asterisks. If a price seems too good to be true, it probably is.

FORGETTING TO ASK ABOUT DEALER ADD-ONS

As profit margins have narrowed on new cars, dealers have increasingly added items to cars to plump up the bottom line. These include such products as nitrogen inflation for tires, all-weather floormats, pinstriping and anti-theft VIN etching. Besides raising the vehicle's price, these add-ons complicate the negotiations because you are now haggling over the (sometimes inflated) price of the add-ons and the price of the vehicle itself. Ask about add-ons up front, and politely ask for them to be removed. If the dealership gives you a hard time, take your business elsewhere.

STICKING AROUND WHEN YOU GET A BAD FEELING

Some people have a tainted view of car buying: They believe it will be a bad experience no matter where they go. When things start to go south on a car deal, many try to power through it and just get the car, rather than leave. There are plenty of car dealers who will give you good prices and honest, courteous service. If you're getting a bad vibe, don't be afraid to walk. What good is a rock-bottom price if it takes all day and you come away feeling beaten down?

FAILING TO HANDLE THE TRADE-IN SEPARATELY

Trading in a vehicle adds another layer of complexity to a car purchase. You might think you've gained ground by getting a solid offer for your trade-in, but then you can't get the dealer to budge on the selling price. It is a lot to juggle. And that's why splitting up these aspects of car buying is smart.

There are used-car chains and websites, such as CarMax or Carvana, that specialize in the fast and convenient purchase of your old car. They'll give you a quote that you can either accept immediately or use as a backup in case you don't get a better offer from the dealership. By separating the task of getting rid of your old car from buying the new one, you also spare yourself a marathon day on a car lot.

GIVING BACK YOUR SAVINGS

Many shoppers tell us about the killer deals they got on their cars, then explain how they wound up spending those savings on gap insurance, an extended warranty or a prepaid maintenance package. There's nothing inherently wrong with these products, which dealerships offer in the finance and insurance part of the vehicle purchase process. Just know that they are a top source of profit for the dealership. By buying them, you're essentially giving back the money you worked hard to save.

If you want an extended warranty, prepaid maintenance or other extras, research prices ahead of time. Armed with what you learn, you can potentially buy the coverage elsewhere or negotiate a better price.

EDMUNDS SAYS: Customers can sometimes get in their own way on a car deal. If you avoid these pitfalls, you'll be less likely to wind up with a deal that leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

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This story was provided to The Associated Press by the automotive website Edmunds. Ronald Montoya is a senior consumer advice editor at Edmunds. Twitter: @rmontoyaedmunds.

Related links:

— Negotiating a New Car's Dealer Add-Ons: https://edmu.in/2DGQflx

— Should You Buy a Prepaid Car Maintenance Plan? https://edmu.in/2G1FDQA

— Should You Fill Your Car's Tires With Nitrogen? https://edmu.in/2UGjudR

— Top Shopping Tips From a Former Car Salesman: https://edmu.in/2m9YRsX