1. Choose your dealership before you choose your car. We've all heard that advertisement before. In a way, they are right. A reputable dealership is better than purchasing your car from a private seller because with a dealership you should get some sort of warranty. Even if it is just for three months it's some sort of piece of mind.
2. How much can you afford? It may sound like common sense, but when you buy a car you have to know how much you need. Remember to take into account registration and insurance. When you buy a car, usually it doesn't come with much petrol, so you will need to stop off and fill her up on your way home.
3. Know how much the one you want is worth. This is a biggie. Simply because each car yard could sell the same car at different prices. They could be identical but the prices might not be. As most car yards set their own prices make sure to shop around. Check how much the car you want is worth at today's market, either by going online or checking out your local papers. Remember though that with cars, cheaper is not always better - ask them why the car is cheaper, it may have been in an accident or needs a lot of work doing to it. Don't jump at the first one you see or you may regret it.
4. History is also important. A car that has been looked after should have a full service history. This means the car has been serviced by an authorised dealer every six months or every 10,000km. Ask if it has had any accidents too - while this should be a part of its history just make sure they aren't covering up any large crashes. A big crash could have damaged the engine or the structural integrity of the car. Both of these things mean that it may need a lot of work in the future.
5. Check the car over. Check there are no dings in the bodywork. Look out for rust as this means water has been getting in for a while in the same area. Look at the engine - even if you don't know what to look for, if the engine looks oily or dirty then it may have an oil leak. Also check the oil and water - if there isn't much or the oil is black then they haven't been looking after it very well. Make sure the tyres are in good condition. Look at the seatbelts, lights and other little things - all should be in good working order.
Look along the length of the car - the wheels should be directly in front of one another. If they aren't then the car could have a crabbed chassis - basically the body has been bent in an accident and the car is weaker than it should be.
Check the panels of the car have even gaps - uneven gaps mean the panel has been replaced (and not done well).
If you can, take a magnet with you and try and put it onto parts of the car, mainly the bumper. If the magnet does not stick then the bodywork is not metal like it should be and has been replaced by an inferior and more dangerous product.
6. Check the safety of the car. Most cars now come with loads of safety features. If your country has a safety rating, then check to see how it stacks up. There are plenty of cars that are similar in looks and performance, but they differ when it comes to safety measures. Check for airbags, good seatbelts, and even stability control - all are important safety features.
7. Take it for a test drive at least once. When you are driving brake hard and see how the car responds. It shouldn't shudder or twist when you brake and the effects should be instantaneous. Turn the steering wheel hard to see how the car responds to corners - it should turn straight away and the steering should not feel heavy or hard to turn. Make sure the handbrake works too - park on a slight hill, put the handbrake on, and take the foot brake off. The handbrake should be able to hold the car still on its own. Of course do all of these things in an empty carpark or somewhere safe.
8.Negotiate. Prices are not fixed at car yards so you can and should ask them what is the best deal they can do for you. Don't be afraid to walk away if they don't budge on the price. Don't ever buy the car the first time you go to a car yard. It's like playing hard to get. They want your money so make them work for it.
9. Know what you want. The salesmen will try to make you spend more money or buy the car they are having trouble selling. Don't listen. If you know what you want then go for it. You will have to live with it after all.
10. Be happy with your choice. Know absolutelly that the car you are looking for is perfect in every way for you - colour, size, economy, everything. Do your research on your car even if you know very little about cars. Or take a mechanic with you - they will have in-depth knowledge of how the car should look.
If you do your research and know what you want then you should have no problems buying a good second hand car. There are plenty out there for all budgets. Look around, and be ready to walk away. Good Luck and happy motoring.