You’ve comparison shopped for months to find the perfect model with exactly the accessory package and color you want, at a price you can tell your friends was a real steal. But don’t be so intoxicated by that legendary new car smell that you make expensive mistakes when the dealer hands you the keys.
Depending on make and model, a new car depreciates as much as 40% the moment it leaves the dealer’s lot, so take the time to double check everything before you sign the ownership or leasing papers. After all, it’s your money.
Do a walk-around to look for flaws in the fit and finish. Are the seams on the hood and doors exactly flush? Is the color of the paint on the spoiler a shade different than the rest of the car? Itemize any dings, dents of disfigurations on the contract and have the dealer sign it and authorize a free fix.
Now get behind the driver’s seat. Check the odometer. If there’s up to 20 miles on your new car, that’s fine, since manufacturers routinely test vehicles right off the assembly line. If there’s 100 miles or more, it may have been used as a test drive demonstrator or by for personal use by dealership family members. If that’s the case, you should get a reduced price to reflect the car’s used status, advises Consumer Reports.
If your new vehicle is a certified pre-owned model, check that the odometer is within a few miles of what’s on your contract.
Now, check every operating system, starting with the headlights, tail lights, parking lights and turn signals. Does the stereo sound as good as in the test drive? If you upgraded to a system with eight speakers, make sure you see – and hear – them all. Do the air conditioner and heater operate properly, and quietly? Ditto heated and cooled seats, if you ordered them. Does the sun roof open and close easily? And the windows and alarm system, too.
Plug in your mobile phone, MP3 player, or both, and make sure the connections work. Try the nav system, including loading a destination.
Look under the hood to be sure you got the engine you ordered, especially if you upgraded. Check that the vehicle identification number (VIN) matches the registration certificate and the title or title application. That is especially important with a leased vehicle.
Take a test drive, with the dealer, if necessary. Steering should be fluid and responsive, gears should change smoothly at the appropriate RPM, there should not be any rattles or whines. Try slamming the brakes to test the anti-locking feature.
If you are satisfied, check the paperwork again, this time for the financial details. Down payment, monthly payment, total payment and trade-in allowance for your old car should be as agreed. The state registration should have your correcgt name and address. The warranty certificate should have today’s date. There should be no blank spaces.
Once you are satisfied and drive away, treat your new car gently. No hot rod starts, no red-line tests of the tachometer, no slam dunk braking for at least 500 miles. Engines, brakes and clutches, even on automatic transmissions, need to be warmed up gradually, just like the muscles of an athlete training for a marathon. If you think about it, car ownership is just that – a marathon of miles.