Even if a car is brand new, you should still test drive it. If you live in an area with lots of snow, make sure you know how it drives in the snow and ice. If you have kids, bring the car seats and see how they fit in the car during the test drive. Take the car on the interstate as well as side streets. Drive the car in a parking lot to see how easy it is to park and back-up. Learn different tips and advice for your test drive to find the car that's right for you.
• Get Comfortable. Adjust the seat, mirrors, pedals, steering wheel and anything else you need to make the car as comfortable as possible. You don't want to find out later that the stereo or climate control is just out of reach when your legs are comfortable.
• Drive the car cold. Show up unannounced and don't let the salesperson warm the car up. A car in need of service will sometimes sound strange when started but will smooth out as it warms up. This will also tell you how quickly the heating or air conditioning system starts working.
• Drive the vehicle the way you're actually going to drive it. If you usually drive at high speeds on the highway or down bumpy roads, a leisurely cruise around town won't tell you how the vehicle will perform once you actually own it.
• Listen carefully. And listen with the windows up as well as down. Listen to the radio, heater and air conditioner in the on and off positions. Some sounds are only noticeable under certain circumstances. Road noise can get annoying over time, and noises from the engine, transmission or suspension can indicate expensive problems.
• Take your time. You're probably going to own this vehicle for years, so a five minute drive might not be long enough to decide if it's the car for you.
• Check the tires. On a used car, you should check the tires for uneven wear (when one side of a tire has less tread than the other), which could be the result of a bad alignment or a worn out suspension.
• Drive the car during rush hour. The most stressful time of the day to drive is also the time that will tell you the most about the vehicle. Large blind spots or a weak engine can make merging onto the highway a scary experience and you should know how the vehicle performs before you make a purchase.
• Load the car up. If you usually play taxi to several people or carry large items, bring them along for the test drive. You don't want to find out later on that your golf clubs don't fit in your trunk or that only a contortionist can get into your back seat. If you have small children, bring their car seats along to see if they fit and to see how easy it is to install them in the new car.
• Park the car. Most dealerships pull the car out for you and then tell you just leave it wherever when you're done driving. This is very nice of them, but doesn't let you know how the car is in parking lots. Take the car to a busy parking lot and try a few spots. Make sure you try parallel parking if you live somewhere that requires it.
• Check under the car. Fluid leaks can mean big problems in the future, so check the ground under the vehicle's engine for any liquids. Get to the dealership early in the morning if possible to see if any slow leaks have accumulated overnight.
• Negotiate vehicle price
• Negotiate auto loan
• Negotiate auto lease
• Test drive
• Down payment
• Navigate the paperwork