In a perfect world, everyone would be able to afford to buy their perfect choice of a brand new vehicle whenever their needs for transportation changed. However, we don’t live in a perfect world, but we do live in one that is absolutely stuffed full of used vehicles. A used car may not be quite as appealing as a brand new model, but it is much cheaper, and as long as you’re careful about buying a well-maintained vehicle, a used car can serve your needs for as long as a new one. So, the question is: how to buy a used car? One that suits your needs, will save you money and last as long as you need it to? Break down the complicated process into simpler steps and work the process to its end.

Identify your needs and budget

The first step to buying a used car is to make certain you know what you need. Does your new vehicle need a lot of passenger space? Do you need something able to tow a trailer? Is this vehicle simply meant to get you from point A to point B, or do you have some specific tasks you need to accomplish with it?

Identifying what you need your new car to be able to do is essential to being happy with your purchase. Going into a dealership without a solid idea of what you need may result in you coming home with a used car that you quickly become unhappy with. So before you start shopping around, make sure you know what you need your vehicle to do.

Along with knowing what type of new vehicle you need, and not regretting your purchase, is having a budget set for buying the car. Figure out the maximum amount you can spend on a car and do a little bit of research to find out if that price is reasonable for your area. If it seems like you don’t have enough, you may need to find a way to put off buying the car until you have a bigger budget.

Find a reputable dealer or private seller

After you’ve decided on exactly what you need out of your “new” used car and how much you can spend on it, it’s time to start shopping around for your next vehicle. These days, there are a great many options for places to search for used vehicles. There are numerous websites offering used car listings to browse and multiple used car dealers in most areas, not to mention all the private sellers advertising through physical means.

This is where knowing exactly what you need and what you can afford comes in very handy. With those two pieces of knowledge, you can quickly weed out all the used vehicles not suitable for you. Depending upon your needs and budget, this may eliminate all but a few options, making your search much simpler.

We live in the internet age now and there are a lot of good websites online that list used cars. Some of the best sites to look at are: Craigslist (a place where you can occasionally find very cheap vehicles, but you never know exactly what you’ll find,) AutoTrader (sellers have to pay to list their cars here, weeding out many less-reputable people,) CarMax (this site usually has a great inventory of used cars, but no haggling is allowed on their prices,) and AutoList (this website compiles information from a lot of other sites people list used cars on and puts it all in one place for you.)

Of course, walking into a used car dealership and looking around the lot is still a viable option. However, not all used car dealerships were created equally. Going to a dealership that offers certified-preowned vehicles of a particular brand means that the cars you are looking at have all been inspected and are in good condition, but they are going to be more expensive than going to an independent used car lot. The best way to find out if a dealer is reputable is simply to ask around the town the dealer is in. This will pretty quickly tell you if the dealership has a reputation for selling well-running cars at good prices, or selling vehicles that are falling apart for more than they’re worth.

Question, inspect, and haggle

Once you’ve located a potential used car for yourself, one that meets your needs and is within your budget, you absolutely need to inspect the car and find out about its history. If you are confident in your knowledge of vehicle mechanics and maintenance, you can look over the vehicle yourself and decide if it is in good condition, but if you’re not a car-savvy person, don’t be afraid to bring along a friend who is.

Take a test drive, making sure to drive the vehicle in the environment(s) you plan to use it mostly in: in-town, highway, etc. Make sure you note anything that seems odd while on the test drive and ask about it. It never hurts to ask questions, and if you point out some minor issues (that are easy to fix) the dealer may even give you a better price on the car!

Another thing you should always do when buying a used car is to get a vehicle history report from CarFax or AutoCheck. This will tell you if the vehicle has been deemed a total loss by any insurance companies, has had the odometer rolled back, or other potentially serious issues.

Finally, don’t be afraid to haggle on the price unless you are buying your used car from somewhere that explicitly forbids negotiating. Most people who sell used cars, whether a dealership or a private seller, can be talked down at least a little from their original price.