Get a Head Start at Home
First, you'll want to know how you'll be paying for the car and what you can afford. You also should create a short list of cars you're interested in. Tackle financing questions first and the rest of the process will be much easier. Do this at home and, if possible, well ahead of the weekend.
Choose your purchase method: Ask yourself if you want to lease or buy a new car. Or would you prefer to buy a used car? In either case, it is a good idea to get a copy of your credit report and, if you plan on financing, get preapproved for a car loan.
Set your budget: A good rule of thumb is that your monthly payment (whether buying or leasing) should not be more than 10%-15% of your monthly take-home pay. Keep in mind that you also need to pay for fuel and insurance.
Read reviews: If you already have a car in mind, read Edmunds' expert reviews of the vehicle. Also check consumer reviews of the car you are considering. Then take a moment to see what other cars compete with the one you have selected. If you don't know what you want to buy, build a list of three "target cars" to test drive.
Locate your car and set up a test drive: You'll want to test-drive a car that's configured the way you want it, and ideally in the color you like. That means you'll need to locate that car near you. Use the Edmunds site or app to search for inventory near you. Alternatively, you can check dealership websites to see what cars they have on hand.
Once you've found the car you want to test-drive, either call the internet manager or enter your information on the Edmunds site to receive a dealer price quote. This will not only get you an upfront price on the car, but it will also get you in touch with a dealer representative to schedule a test-drive appointment.
Verify that the car you want is still available. Then try to schedule a test drive before the weekend if at all possible. Here's why you should jump-start the test drive: Because there are so many shoppers during the holidays, you cannot expect to get the same level of assistance from a salesperson, who might be juggling multiple customers at once.
Another thing to consider is a home test drive. These days, home-delivery test drives are far more common, so if you'd like to skip a trip to the dealership, call and ask. You should ideally test-drive the vehicle on your own. In this case, the dealership may require a copy of your driver's license, which is a common practice.
Know your safety options: Speaking of home test drives, many dealerships offer a variety of ways for shoppers to complete the process remotely. Ask the dealer about social distancing options. These may include online loan applications and home delivery of your vehicle.