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Top 10 car-buying mistakes

4. Picking the most conveniently located dealership.
No, they're not all the same -- not even for the exact same makes and models. Ask around -- learn from friends' experiences. Also, determine your seller's C.S.I. (Customer Service Index), which is a ranking generally maintained by automakers for the dealerships that sell their vehicles. The C.S.I. is a reflection of how well an individual dealer satisfies its customers both in terms of sales and service. "You can also check dealerships with the Better Business Bureau," says Mondin.

5. Going by payment rather than price.
This is an easy mistake to make, since most of us budget, and therefore think, in terms of monthly figures rather than going by grand totals -- and gee, paying only $400 per month sure sounds better than, say, $500, even if the car payments do drag on a bit longer with the former. But you've done yourself no favor in getting the dealer to agree to the lower figure. Why? Because the dragged-out loan means more interest charges for you -- and more profit for the seller. In short, keep an eye on the long-term total, not just the monthly payouts.

6. Prematurely talking trade-in.
This is another easy trap to fall into because dealers love to play the trade-in game. Don't let them muddy the waters: Negotiate a satisfactory price for the car, then bring up your trade-in. Another thought: If you bring your old car in all cruddy and dirty, the appraiser will rightly assume you don't put much value on it yourself.

7. Not shopping interest rates.
Too many car buyers ignore the importance of shopping interest rates, apparently thinking that if the payment fits into their monthly budget OK, it must be all right. But unless you have excellent credit, you're most likely better off getting your financing elsewhere. The little differences in the numbers can be huge. Consider this: $20,000 financed over five years at 3.9 percent costs $2,045.80 in interest. The same deal at 7.9 percent costs $4,272.20 -- a difference of more than $2,226.

8. One-stop shopping at the dealership.
The big advantage to doing this is convenience -- but in terms of financing, if you shop around via local banks, credit unions and other lenders, you may well get yourself a better deal.

Other things you should shop around for: various add-ons and accessories. Don't buy more than you need, and for what you do want, consider other sources. But before you get too bare-bones about it, remember that some safety options -- such as anti-lock brakes and side-impact airbags -- can reduce insurance costs, a major consideration.

9. Going it alone when you can use a helping hand.
If hassles give you headaches and negotiations make you nauseated, turn it over to a higher (horse) power. For example, the AAA Endorsed Auto Buying Program nets members special pricing through authorized dealers. To learn more, log onto aaa.com; or become a member by calling (800) JOIN-AAA.

10. Thinking it's over before it's over.
Or, in the case of car buying, it ain't over till the business manager sings. You may think you bought your car once the sales manager shakes your hand and tells you what a great deal you got. But beware the business office, often called the finance and insurance office. Dealers often make as much money in this room as they do on the showroom floor. Insurance, dealer add-ons, extra fees and interest rate changes are among the common ploys you could get clobbered with on your way out the door.

-- Posted: Nov. 1, 2006
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