Buying a car is a big deal. It is a big deal because it is generally a lot of money put into the hope that your car will run like a dream.

Well, my friends, not all cars are made equal. And if you are not careful and smart about buying your car, you could very well end up with a lemon. So if you want to avoid purchasing a money pit, make sure you do not make these mistakes.

  • Never requesting a test drive. Think of this like trying on clothes before you buy them: you want to make sure it fits, all of the buttons and zippers work and it looks good on you. The test drive will show you the handling of the car, how smoothly it runs and if there are any obvious problems such as smoke coming out of the car, constantly stalling, etc. During this test drive, you should be able to take the car to a mechanic to have him look over the condition of the “inside”. If an owner won’t let you do that, be warned: the might have something to hide.
  • Forgetting to test drive the whole car. During your test drive, test all of the other working parts of the car. Turn on the radio to make sure the speakers all work; test all windows to make sure they roll up and down easily; pop the trunk to make sure you have easy access. If some of these accessories do not work, you could score yourself a discount or insist the items get fixed before the purchase.
  • Avoiding car fax. A car may look good on the outside, but it might have a sorted past. There are many online websites that will tell you the history of a car through its VIN (vehicle identification number). The VIN is located on the dashboard where the dash and the windshield connect. If a VIN is filed off, be warned: this could be a stolen car and you do not want to be caught with the hot merchandise. Car fax will also show you if the car has been in an accident before and how badly the damage is. This may warrant you to not purchase the car.
  • Not doing research. Not all cars are made equal. Certain “brands” are known to last longer and be better cars and EVERYONE has a preference. (I grew up in a Toyota and Honda family, what about you?) The single best resource I know of is Consumer Reports. The nonprofit produces expert and unbiased product reviews. Unbiased, you say? Yep. Consumer reports does not accept any advertising (which is why the mag and online subscription are so pricey). Consumer Reports tests all popular cars for durability, gas mileage and more.
  • Not putting any money down. This is a big mistake. Putting money down will shorten your overall loan for the car, resulting in smaller car payments. If you cannot put anything down, save up and wait to purchase a car when you can.

Another mistake is not getting cheap insurance. There are a lot of car insurance companies that will take your money. Make sure to ask them questions.

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