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T oday you take delivery of your shiny new vehicle. A lot went into deciding which new car or truck to buy and how to option it. You may have waited weeks or months for its delivery. Now, at last, it has arrived.
      Your new car or truck is expensive--likely one of the larger financial outlays you'll ever make--and you likely had help from your credit union in making this important purchase. Taking delivery can be exciting and emotional, but you need to be clearheaded and careful. Predelivery discrepancies can become postdelivery nightmares. And what about breaking in your new vehicle? Are there any special tips or cautions for its early miles?
       Here are three major issues you should verify before signing a receipt and paying for a new car or truck:
(1) that the vehicle you receive is exactly the one you agreed to purchase and that the dealer delivers it on precisely the terms to which you agreed;
(2) that it is in perfect physical and mechanical condition; and
(3) that you completely understand how to operate its systems. Remember, much of the consumer clout you enjoy before signing for and accepting your new vehicle may fade quickly afterward.
Remember, much of
the consumer clout
you enjoy before signing
for your new vehicle
may fade quickly afterward.

Verifying your order and evaluating your new car
When you placed your order you made several choices regarding model, equipment, options, warranties, and so on. However, due to mistakes, availability, or other factors, you may not get exactly what you ordered. Sometimes options are missing. Sometimes the dealer or manufacturer makes substitutions. Check your new vehicle against your order, item by item. Always make sure you're getting what you ordered and that no last-minute extra items or charges have been added.
       Don't let the excitement of the moment distract you from your purpose. Address any discrepancies. If, for some reason, the dealer or manufacturer has substituted a more expensive or desirable option for one you ordered, but at no additional cost, you probably will agree to the change. But don't accept a vehicle that's missing items or features, or on which inferior items have been substituted. If the seller asks you to accept less than you agreed to, you have the right to refuse or to renegotiate a lower price.
       If you paid for features like ABS (antilock brake system), traction control, or premium tires, make sure they arrive on your new vehicle. Require that all warranties and guarantees that the seller represented as part of your deal are specified in writing.

You are the final quality control inspector
Sadly, not all new vehicles arrive in perfect condition. Make sure yours has. Some new vehicles have been damaged in manufacturing or transit. Make sure yours hasn't. Some new vehicles have been used by dealership employees as demonstrators or for personal use. Make sure yours wasn't.
       Inspect your new vehicle's odometer. It may accumulate some legitimate miles at the dealership--during predelivery preparation or from road testing. More than 40 or 50 miles should raise questions that deserve credible answers.
       Inspect every body panel, fascia, and trim item to verify that it's undamaged and unrepaired. Repainted panels almost always show a discernibly different surface texture and color from those with original factory coatings. If you suspect that a panel has been repaired and/or repainted, have an outside expert inspect it. Repainted panels are unacceptable on a new car. They represent damaged goods.
       Inspect upholstery, plastic parts, carpets, and all other interior surfaces--they should be defect-free. It is difficult to resolve issues--stained upholstery, for example--when a dealership first hears about them days or weeks after delivery.
       Before accepting it, road test your new car or truck for at least 15 minutes with a representative of the selling dealership in a passenger seat. Note any unusual or unexpected aspect of its operation and performance, and require a fix for or a reasonable explanation of any concern. Be sure that all gauges and warning lights operate normally and do not indicate problems. Be particularly alert to any strange or unexpected noises, vibrations, or odors. Check the operation of each major system, noting particularly power, shifting, steering, and braking. Check all safety systems, like vision and signaling lights, wipers and washers, and the like. Check out accessory functions, like air conditioning and the audio system.
       When the seller delivers your new vehicle, make sure you understand how to operate every system you will use. Often, a vehicle owner can electronically customize or program features like automatic door locking. Be sure you either know how to program them, or have dealership personnel make these settings for you. Modern automobiles are complicated. If you don't understand something, don't be afraid to ask.
       You are the last and most important inspector to examine your new vehicle. Before accepting it, look at, feel, and listen to as many things as you can. If you spot minor problems, like irregular door gaskets or grease globs in door jambs, have the dealership correct them before you accept your new vehicle.
You are the last and
most important inspector
to examine your new vehicle.

A utomobile owner's manuals used to recommend rigorous break-in regimens for as many as the first 5,000 miles. The complexity of breaking in a car had some similarity to bringing a newborn home from the hospital. That no longer is the case.

In the last decade engines have changed. According to Ed Sventickas, manager of Ford Motor Co.'s large V-configuration engine program, there's been a quiet revolution in engine design and manufacturing. Manufacturers design today's engine parts to distort less in heat and stress. They produce engine parts much more accurately. Engine parts now fit more precisely and require little break-in to achieve final fits.
       General Motors Corp.'s advice on breaking in its '97 Sonoma is typical: "Your modern vehicle doesn't need an elaborate 'break-in.' But it will perform better in the long run if you....keep your speed at 55 miles per hour (mph) or less for the first 500 miles....Don't drive at any one speed--fast or slow--...Don't make full-throttle starts...[and] Don't tow a trailer during break-in." GM also suggests trying to avoid hard stops for the first 200 miles to prevent brake shoe and pad glazing.
       Ford's recommendations for new-car break-in are similar: "Simply avoid driving too fast during the first 1,600 km (1,000 miles). Vary speeds frequently." Ford advises against "hard braking" for the first 1,000 miles.
       Chrysler advises warming up its Grand Cherokee's V-8 engine for 15 seconds before driving off, and limiting speeds to less than 50 mph for the first 100 miles. Chrysler also cautions against using oil additives during break-in.
       Import manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz usually make similar recommendations.
       Our engine break-in recommendation? Specifically follow the guidelines in your new-vehicle owner's manual, and generally follow Ford 's Sventickas's advice: "If it were my new car, I'd drive gently for the first 100 miles or so."

Matt Joseph is an automotive writer and broadcaster who reports about auto industry economics, technical innovation, and new products.
"If it were my new car, I'd drive gently
for the first hundred miles or so."

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