First, ask yourself: "Why am I buying a used car?" There are a number of reasons why a used car might be preferable to a new one. Once you purchase a new car, its value immediately begins to depreciate, losing perhaps 30 percent of its original value within two years. If you decide to re-sell it within a few years after buying it, you can end up losing a considerable amount of money. And the truth is; there's not much difference between a new car and a two-year-old car, except the price. You might pay only a few hundred dollars for a car at a used car dealerthat would've cost tens of thousands just a couple of years before, which effectively widens the range of cars you have available to choose from. And if you're worried about money, you can save money on car insurance by purchasing a much older used car and only getting the state-mandated minimum insurance coverage. There's no point in getting comprehensive coverage if your car itself is worth less than 10 times your insurance premium.
So what should you look for when you go to a used car dealer? First, do your homework. Never go to the dealer before searching print and online classified ads. Know the model of the cars you want, create a list, and don't allow the dealer to direct you away from the cars on your list. Research those models to know their weak points and typical repair costs. And, prior to making any purchase, investigate the car's history by running a history report. This will tell you whether the car has been wrecked in the past, and whether the car company tried to cover it up with a nice paint job.
Once you've selected a car you think you might like to buy from a used car dealer, test-drive it and have it inspected. Try to simulate the conditions in which you would normally be driving it: if you drive in the mountains a lot, test it on a steep slope. If the car seems to be in good condition, have it inspected before you negotiate with the car dealer. Take the car to a mechanic or request a mobile inspection. Knowing the car's secrets, before buying, could save you thousands of dollars.