Buying a used car is a chance for you to bag a bargain and save money in the process, but making an informed decision is not possible without doing your homework first. The guide below includes a comprehensive list of things to do when embarking on your used car-buying journey.

1. Plan Your Budget

Figuring out how much you are willing to spend on a used car is the first thing you need to do, and for good reason. First of all, buying a used car opens the door to other expenses such as licensing fees, insurance, and taxes. As a rule of thumb, you should not spend more than 20 percent of your salary on a used car, especially if you have other financial responsibilities and bills to pay. You also need to decide between taking out a loan to pay for the car or paying in cash. Some people go for the first option in order to purchase a more luxurious model, others take out a loan so they won’t have to dig into their savings. Keep in mind that a used car is probably going to require maintenance and a change of tires, unlike a brand new vehicle, so be prepared to set some money aside for any hidden costs you may encounter down the road.

2. Do Your Research

It is always a good idea to do your research before making any purchase, and buying a used car is no exception. Dedicate part of your research to finding the cheapest cars on the market and drawing comparisons between them. For example, cars with small engines are fuel efficient and some of them are even cheaper to ensure such as the Nissan Micra. On the other hand, sports cars such as the Audi R8 Spyder are expensive and cost a fortune in terms of insurance. When doing your research, come up with a list of three or four cars that meet your criteria in terms of budget, maintenance costs and anything else that comes to mind.

3. Figure Out What You Want

Do you want a family friendly car or something more sleek and sporty? This question is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to buying a used car, so you need to sit down and compile a detailed list to use during your car hunt. Perhaps you need a spacious boot for your belongings, or maybe your goal is to own a hybrid car if you happen to be eco-conscious.  Narrowing down your options and painting a clearer picture of your dream car will surely stop you from having buyer’s remorse in the near future.

4. Pay Attention to Pricing Guides

Take advantage of online pricing guides and use them to calculate the market value of your prospective car. Arming yourself with knowledge about the model will help you negotiate the right price when the time comes. In addition to the price, the guide must include other features like the engine type, trim level, navigation system and whether the vehicle is a four-wheel drive or not. Keep an eye out for mileage since the average annual mileage on a car is around 12000 miles. The price of any used car varies according to this number. Moreover, check for additional features such as leather seats, backup cameras and forward collision warnings since their presence also directly affects the price.

5. Dealerships vs. Private Sellers

In terms of variety, dealerships have a wide selection of used cars that are usually in mint condition, making them more expensive in comparison to cars sold by private sellers. Dealerships also have certified pre-owned cars that were inspected and given a factory-backed limited warranty, and can provide you with a vehicle history report. This report gives you the full picture in terms of accidents and insurance history as well as registration records. Private sellers, on the other hand, may be cheaper, but there is no telling what you might find under the hood. The risk of getting scammed goes up when you deal with a private seller, unlike dealerships who cannot afford to be dishonest thanks to industry rules and  regulations.

6. Online Shopping

Nowadays, it’s possible to buy everything online and cars are no exception. Websites such as eBay Motors sells cars via online auctions and you can even filter your car search by location. CarMax also has an extensive catalog and their listed cars undergo rigorous inspection. Other websites such as Craigslist also have used cars that are sold by private sellers, but you need to be careful about who you choose to contact. The pros of online car shopping include lower prices and the ability to shop in the comfort of your own home. Some websites also offer car loan applications that allow you to calculate potential loan-amount scenarios.  The downside of online shopping, however,  is that it does not offer any purchase protection, so you need to be wary of scams and dishonest sellers.

7. When to Buy a Used Car

Timing is everything, so make sure you take a look at your calendar before attempting to buy a used car. Why? Because dealerships are more eager to negotiate and offer you attractive packages at the end of March, June, September, and December. The last week of December to be exact is the best time to buy yourself a Christmas present in the shape of a car. If your goal is to buy a used convertible, then winter is the perfect opportunity to haggle for a deal on one. Another great time to buy a used car is when your city is hosting a motor show. During motor show season, you may witness a lot of people purchasing new cars in your area. This, in turn,  will flood the market with used vehicles.

8. Checklists Go a Long Way

If you happen to find a car that ticks all the boxes in terms of model and features, then the next logical step would be to examine it using a checklist. The list will remind you to inspect everything, from the engine to the tires. Look at the overall condition of the vehicle, and keep an eye out for cars that were involved in damaging accidents or collisions. These cars are sometimes hard to ensure and being categorized as such will definitely affect their resale value. Other things to look out for include shattered glass fragments under the seats and dark transmission fluid. Car inspection checklists are available to download online for free and are a practical and inexpensive tool that you can use before hiring a professional for a more thorough inspection.

9. Hire a Technician

Cars that were fixed after an accident can are not always easy to detect and this is when a professional technician will come in handy. Fortunately, there are bespoke garages that specialize in these types of inspections, so you can hire one of their technicians to inspect the used car. A good technician with a keen eye for detail will catch any paint overspray or creases in the unibody and will also uncover any clocking or cloning scams. Clocking is used to hide the true mileage of the vehicle in order to sell it for a higher price, while cloning is done by simply using the same number plate as another car to get you to pay for its speeding fines and parking tickets. You can easily avoid buying a cloned car by making sure that the number plate matches the vehicle identification number. Number plates must also have their supplier name printed on them in small letters.

Get Your Hands on a History Report

The vehicle history report will provide you with vital information that will either encourage or discourage you from buying the car in question. The report will give you an insight into many things, including the car’s previous owners and its inspection and registration history. If the car changed hands more than once and during a short period of time, then this is definitely not a good sign and can only mean that a challenging repair issue was the culprit. A missing emissions record makes the car a liability since it is considered illegal to sell a car without a valid emissions record. A dark history of failed emissions is also undesirable, so make sure you bring up this issue with the dealer. Last but not least, the report should also disclose the type of environment where the car was driven. For instance, was it once a victim of a snowstorm, or did its previous owners frequently use it to tow their boat across the beach?