Before accepting delivery of the vehicle, examine it thoroughly to be certain it has all the features and equipment specified in the sales contract. If you paid for the optional 17-inch wheels, be sure that the vehicle has them - and not the standard 16-inch wheels.
It is also important to check the car out for any physical damage that may have occurred during shipping, such as door dings and stains on the upholstery. If you fail to call attention to such damage before you accept the car and take it home, it will be hard to prove it occurred prior to delivery - and to get the dealer to repair it at no cost to you.
Finally, it's smart policy to check the operation of all the vehicle's features, such as the audio system, air conditioning, power systems such as seat heaters, all button and controls, etc. - to be sure everything's working properly before you drive away. If they're not - don't. Insist the car be fixed before you accept delivery.
* Don't end up upside down - Owing more on the car than it's worth is a fairly common problem, not so much because of rapid depreciation but because of signing up for a sorry deal up front.
One of the most common ways people end up upside down on a car loan is by allowing themselves to be talked into folding the balance of their old car loan into the new loan. This is almost guaranteed to leave you holding the bag, because by adding a large additional principle (the amount you still owe on the old car) to the total loan amount for the new car, it's all-but-certain you will soon owe more than the new car's worth as a result of depreciation losses - the definition of being "upside down."
You're better off waiting until your old car's paid for completely before you even begin to think about shopping for a new one.
* Shop money before you shop for the car - Many buyers make the mistake of going car shopping before they've locked in a favorable loan deal. Keep in mind that the interest rate you end up with can significantly affect the bottom line monthly car payment you end up with. Find the lowest possible interest rate by checking with your bank, credit union and compare what they can offer vs. the factory financing (GMAC, Ford Credit, etc.) available at the dealership. Lock in a deal before you commit to buying the actual car. This will let you focus on one thing - negotiating the best possible price on the car - instead of trying to keep track of two things at the same (high stress) time.
Also be sure the total amount of the monthly payment is something you can comfortably handle, ideally with a cushion of 10-15 percent to allow for unexpected expenses.
* Reliable yesterday may not mean reliable tomorrow - Right now, it's Toyota; three years ago, it was GM. Who knows what it'll be tomorrow?
One thing not often mentioned when the subject of quality/reliability comes up is that, at best, past trends are only generally predictive of future trends. The recent toyota debacle is a case in point. Many people bought Toyotas based on the prior good reputation of Toyota vehicles. But it turns out the recent Toyotas are (apparently) not nearly as well-built as earlier models.
The biggest danger is an all-new model - irrespective of the brand. Who knows what gremlins may crop up? No matter how solid the rep of the company that built it, there is no objective way to know how well a new design or new technology will hold up in the real world until that model has been in circulation for a number of years.
You can hedge your bets somewhat by steering clear of "all new" models and sticking with those that haven't been updated significantly in a few years and which have a solid track record for reliability behind them. It's easy enough to research this by reading new car reviews, which will almost always mention whether the car being discussed is "all new" or merely a slightly updated version of last year's model.
If you must have the latest "all new" model, try to choose one that at least comes with a good factory warranty - and give thought to purchasing an extended warranty for just-in-case.