How to Inspect a New Car Before You Take Delivery

Before you drive off in your new car, consider working through this list.

Two people stand by an open driver's side door at a dealership.Getty Images


Restraint and patience can be hard to summon when the dealing's done and you're taking delivery of a new car. But before you sign any purchase documents, it's a smart idea to take a good look at the vehicle you're about to bring home. Once you drive off the lot, you may be responsible for any scratches or missing accessories, even if they're not your fault.

Physically Inspect the Car for Any Damages

Due to better visibility, it can be helpful to take delivery of your car during the day, when it's not dark outside. If you can't swing that, ask the dealership to let you inspect the car in a bright setting, such as in the service bay.

Look closely for any scratches or dents on the body as well as the wheels. Big plastic bumpers and metal fenders may not line up perfectly on some cars. Your dealer might be able to adjust these. While cars are darn near perfect the moment they drive out of the factory, the trip to your hands likely involves a train, a tractor-trailer, a boat, or some combination of the three. And there's the potential for the car to be bumped even after it arrives on the dealer's lot.

Be sure to look inside, too. Any smudges on the seats or scuffs on the trim, for instance, will be easier to address with the dealer before leaving the lot than they will be later. A quick online search can prepare you with a list of common issues. If you identify any flaws or damage, document it with your phone's camera.

Ensure All Accessories Are Present

Today's new cars often come with a slew of small extras that might easily go missing. Look closely for any bits that are supposed to be included. A list of typical accessories might include:

  • Floor mats (both carpeted and all-season may be included with some vehicles)
  • Roof rack cross rails
  • Trailer harness wiring
  • Wheel-lock key
  • Rear-seat entertainment remote and headphones
  • Paint-protection film
  • Window tint

When in doubt, consult the vehicle's window sticker as well as an addendum sticker or list of port-installed options. These documents may list some accessories that should be included with the vehicle. In some cases — mud flaps, for instance — these parts may have been shipped with the vehicle for installation at the dealer.

Take It for a Quick Drive

Your first drive in the car should come before you sign all the papers. A short test drive can reveal minor issues. While most new cars are ready to go, factory defects aren't unheard of. The silver lining to finding a mechanical defect now is that it should be covered under the car's factory warranty.

Listen closely for any unexpected noises. Be sure that the car accelerates smoothly and quickly. At idle, its engine should be relatively quiet. You shouldn't hear any loud squeaks or rattles, either.

What to Do if the Car Fails Your Inspection

It's wise to avoid taking the car home until after you and the dealership have worked out a resolution. The dealership may not be able to address your concerns immediately, which is where a "We Owe" form (also known as a due bill) comes in. This document lives up to its name by providing a list of items or services that the dealership still needs to provide to the vehicle's new owner.

A dealership may also choose to include any repairs it will carry out, though it might not include warranty work — those repairs generally will be covered by the manufacturer under the separate terms of the warranty.

A We Owe form is usually legally binding. You may want to ask the dealership to be specific, however, when listing any missing parts. Including the manufacturer's part number for an accessory, for instance, will help ensure that you receive the item you need. You could also have to wait for the dealership to order any missing parts, as they may not be in the dealer's inventory.

If a new car is damaged, you can refuse to take it home until it has been properly repaired. Conversely, if the damage is minimal, you can still take the vehicle home. Just be sure that the damage has been documented and that you have a written agreement with the dealer stating that it will be repaired in a timely manner. The dealership's body shop may not be able to get to the fix immediately, and it's also possible that you will have to wait for a repair part to arrive.

If there's a mechanical problem, leave the car with the dealer's service department. The issue might be covered under the manufacturer's warranty. Either way, since you didn't cause the problem and you have yet to take delivery, you're unlikely to pay anything for the repair.

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Andrew Ganz
Andrew Ganz has had cars in his blood ever since he gnawed the paint off of a diecast model as a toddler. After growing up in Dallas, Texas, he earned a journalism degree, worked in public relations for two manufacturers, and served as an editor for a luxury-lifestyle print publication and several well-known automotive websites. In his free time, Andrew loves exploring the Rocky Mountains' best back roads—when he’s not browsing ads for his next car purchase.