You've found your dream car! You've done the research and read the reviews, and now you're ready to go into the dealership. But before you drive off the lot, there are several aspects of the car that you should examine before or after the test drive. Let's take a quick overview. It can be good to do this on your own or with a knowledgeable friend, and you should do most of it while the vehicle is parked rather than when you're cruising down the road. While you're looking things over, ask any salesperson breathing down your neck to leave you alone for a little while.

  • Interior fit, finish, and color. Examine whether all of the seats are comfortable and offer adequate support and elbow room, whether the fabric is satisfactory (how easy would it be to remove a coffee stain from the seats), whether the space is roomy enough, and whether the color scheme is pleasing. Also spend some time in the driver's seat, making sure all the controls are logically laid out and easily reachable, and whether the line of sight is good. Can you adjust the steering wheel to your liking? Test the sound system and the various buttons, levers, and other controllers. If things like cupholders and the glove-compartment layout are important to you, check them out, too.

  • Exterior fit, finish, and color. Here you want to consider whether the color appeals to you, how practical the design is, how well all of the pieces fit together, and how easy it is to operate the doors, trunk, and hood. Are there any paint or surface imperfections?

  • Engine compartment. Find out where everything is located, evaluate how easy it is to jump-start the battery, and see how easy routine maintenance will be to perform, such as checking oil or adding washer fluid.

  • Trunk and storage space. Evaluate whether there's enough room for your needs and whether everything is configured in a way that you like.

Car manufacturers have been churning out new models or updating the features on their current models to attract new customers. So make sure you ask the salesperson to demonstrate (not just talk about) the various features of the car -- especially the safety aspects. That is, after all, part of their job. To avoid the rehearsed car salesman speech, make sure to ask specific questions regarding the car -- anything from the car warranty to gas mileage to safety ratings.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. For a comprehensive guide to 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.