Buying a new car without a thorough test-drive would be like getting married before your first date. In both cases, the better prepared you are for the initial encounter, the more beneficial it will be. To help assure your new-car purchase is a match made in heaven, use this 25-point checklist to make sure you have all the bases covered.
Before leaving home
1. Get prepared. While still at home, make a list of the trade-offs you may be willing to make. For example, list the colors you're willing to accept in descending order from "to die for" to "could live with." Another list should be the options or special features you just have to have, and those you'd like to have, but can live without.
2. Reach for the top. Call the sales managers at all the dealers in your area that sell the make of car you want. Get the name of the dealership's best salesman and describe the vehicle you're looking for to make sure they have at least one on the lot. Make an appointment.
3. Arm yourself with photocopies. Make sure you have photocopies of your driver's license and proof of insurance. You'll see why later.
On the lot
4. Remember who's boss. Regard the salesman as someone who's working for you. If that person seems distracted, is trying to rush you or doesn't seem to know much about the vehicle you want, fire him and walk away.
5. Don't talk trade-in. Inevitably, the salesman will ask if you have a trade-in. The best way to maintain control is to say you haven't made that decision. Many dealerships will ask for your keys to have your car evaluated while you are on your test-drive. Don't allow that to happen. That way, when the test-drive is over, you're free to shake hands with the salesperson and leave. You won't have to wait while someone "finds" your keys.
6. Don't get trapped. For similar reasons, never surrender you driver's license -- give them a photocopy if you're asked.
At the car
7. Drive what you want. Always try to test-drive a version that is as close to what you want as possible. There is no point in driving a vehicle with a V-6 if you are shopping for one with a four-cylinder engine or driving a sedan if you want a convertible.
8. Get a demonstration. Before beginning the test drive, ask the salesman to demonstrate the vehicle's features as if delivering the car to its new owner. Let him show you the finer points of the audio and heating and cooling systems as well as navigation, rear-seat entertainment system and any other special features. And don't forget the cupholders.
Next: Under the hood and behind the wheel...