Jay Leno: The No. 1 mistake people make when buying a car

Jay Leno says this is the No. 1 mistake people make when buying a car

Whether you're buying your first or tenth, Jay Leno has a word of warning: Don't let other people sway your decision, especially if they aren't experts.

The number one mistake car buyers make is, "they go, 'My friend said it's really good.' You know, this is the only country in the world where people do that," the car connoisseur and host of CNBC's "Jay Leno's Garage" tells CNBC Make It.

"You could go to a million doctors and they'll give you advice based on years of Harvard medical training. 'But my friend Larry works at the Shell station says that stuff doesn't work.' Well, OK, don't listen to Larry at the Shell station. Listen to the guy who knows what he does."

That applies to car shopping, too, says Leno. Expert opinions matter. Others, maybe, not so much.

Jay Leno has an impressive car collection
Donato Sardella | WireImage | Getty Images

You'll also want to do your own research. Start by figuring out exactly what you want to get out of the car. Is it purely for commuting to and from work? Is it for carpooling? Will you use it for long road trips?

Next, make a list of your "must-haves," which could be things like a back-up camera, extra trunk space or blind-spot monitoring.

Once you know exactly what you're looking for, you can start to shop around and price compare. Ultimately, you want to "buy the best car that you can afford," says Leno.

Once you've settled on one that you can afford, don't lease, he advises. "I always think it's better to buy a car," Leno told CNBC Make It in 2016. "Everyone seems to lease now. Everyone thinks you can write off this and write off that, and to a certain extent, you can. But at the end of the lease, you don't have anything."

Jay Leno has no debt thanks in large part to abiding by this one rule

There are pros and cons to both leasing and owning that you'll want to consider to figure out what's right for your situation.

Lease payments per month are typically cheaper than loan payments per month. Buying offers more flexibility, though: The car is yours to keep or sell, and you don't have to worry about going over an annual mileage limit.

Plus, once you pay off your auto loan, you eliminate a fixed monthly cost and won't have to worry about a car payment until you buy again. And, as Leno says, "When you don't have to write checks every month, you're just better off."

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