One of the biggest moments in a new car shopper's journey is the all-important test-drive. But before you slide behind the wheel and take a spin in a potential new vehicle, consider these important tips.

Be clear. When you arrive at a dealership and greet a salesperson, make it clear up front that you're there only to inspect and test-drive the car(s) in which you're interested, and that you won't be making any buying decision right away. This will help keep things simple and allow you to concentrate on comparing cars better.

Remain focused. Throughout the visit, resist any attempts by the salesperson to lure you into making a buying decision or talking about a deal. Despite a sense of urgency he or she may try to create ("We have a great deal that's only good for today" or "I've got another customer coming to look at this exact vehicle later today"), simply repeat that you'll make your decision only after test-driving all the cars that you're considering. Being polite—but firm—with this message can help lessen the sales pressure.

Inspect the exterior. Spend some time carefully looking over the vehicle, inside and out. Walk around and check the seams between body panels and doors. Are they evenly spaced, without gaps or irregularities? Does the color look good in different light? Is the paint smooth, with a mirrorlike reflection?

Inspect the interior. A car's exterior styling is designed to grab your attention, evoke emotions, and project an image. But you'll be spending most of your time inside the car, not admiring it from afar. Your long-term satisfaction can be greatly influenced by how the vehicle's interior is designed. This includes how comfortable and quiet the cabin is and how convenient the controls are to operate.

Is the car a good fit? When comparing vehicles, think about how they fit your lifestyle. If a seat is uncomfortable or if the controls are awkward to use, you could become frustrated with the car long before the loan or lease is over.