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Take steps now to prevent problems early on. Vehicles and dealers keep improving, but problems can still occur, even if you buy a vehicle with a track record for reliability from a dealer with a reputation for good service. Good treatment during the sale doesn't guarantee the same reception when you return for service, though it's often a good predictor. Here are some tips on addressing problems before they become major hassles:

  • Always test drive the vehicle before taking final delivery.
  • Take delivery in the daytime. Artificial light can hide scratches or blemishes.
  • Make sure it is the vehicle you paid for. Match the title and all other documents to the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) atop the dashboard and the information on the window sticker.
  • Is every option you purchased listed on the window sticker? Are they all on the vehicle and in working order?
  • Inspect paint, trim, and body panels. Look for evidence of body repair, such as a color mismatch; glass fragments in the carpet; loose or missing pieces. Vehicles can be damaged in transit, and dealer prep work isn't always perfect.
  • Check that the doors, hood, and trunk open and close easily. Examine the upholstery and interior trim.
  • Insist that all problems are fixed before you drive away. Why should you have to come back for something that is not your fault?
  • Check for vital items such as the spare tire, jack, and owner's manual.
  • Do you have copies of all documents, including the bill of sale, warranty papers, vehicle registration, etc.?
  • Do you know where to go and whom to contact if and when service is needed?
  • Do you have a copy of the manufacturer's recommended maintenance schedule?
  • If a dealer-installed option isn't available at the time of delivery, get installation details in writing.
  • Don't sign the contract until you're satisfied that everything you're paying for is accounted for and operating to your satisfaction.
  • If the dealership doesn't volunteer to give you a "tour" of your new vehicle, ask them to do so. Be sure you know how to operate all controls and accessories before you leave.

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