After you test-drive the car you'd like to buy, take a little more time to check out a few more things. Much of the examination you should undertake is best done while the vehicle is parked. Below is a quick overview of the kinds of things to check out. It can be good to do this on your own or with a friend -- ask any salesperson breathing down your neck to leave you alone for a little while.

Examine these items:

  • Interior fit, finish, and color. Examine whether all the seats are comfortable and offer adequate support, whether the fabric is satisfactory, whether the space is roomy enough, and whether the color scheme is pleasing to you. Also, spend some time in the driver's seat, making sure all the controls are logically laid out and easily reachable and that the line of sight is good. Test the sound system and various buttons and levers (e.g., the windows, turn signals, wipers, etc.). If things like cup holders and glove compartment layout are important to you, check them out. Don't forget to try all the seats in the vehicle for comfort, support, and elbow room.
  • Exterior fit, finish, and color. Here you want to consider whether the color appeals to you; how practical the design is inside and out; how well the pieces fit together; how easy it is to operate the doors, trunk, and hood; whether there are any paint or surface imperfections . and so on.
  • Engine compartment. Here you should assess the engine compartment layout and how practical it is. Find out where everything is located, and evaluate how easy it is to jump-start the battery and how easy it will be to perform routine maintenance (such as checking oil or adding washer fluid).
  • Trunk and storage space. Evaluate whether there's enough room and whether the space is configured appropriately for your needs.

For much more scoop on the ins and outs of the car-buying process, check out the Fool's Buying a Car area and ask any questions on our Buying and Maintaining a Car discussion board. Our Insurance Center can also be of use.