When you’re in the market to buy a used car, it pays to shop smart. Here’s how to make sure that you get a deal and not a dud.

The vast majority of people who purchase a used vehicle do so from a dealer or a private seller. There are advantages to both. A dealer will often take your old car as a trade-in; however, dealers’ prices are often higher than private dealers’ to begin with, due to the costs of running a business.

A dealer may also offer a warranty, which a private seller will not. However, a private seller will likely be able to tell you much more about the history of a car than a dealer, in addition to offering a lower selling price.

Regardless of where you are buying a used car, don’t shop in a hurry. The process takes time, and a seller is likely to take advantage of the fact that you’re rushed.

Important Steps to Buying a Used Car

1. Do your homework first. Before you set foot in a used car lot, determine the type of car you want and the maximum amount you want to spend. Using a guide such as the Kelley Blue Book, find out the value of several cars like the ones you’re considering to be sure that they’re within your budget, and get an idea of a fair asking price.

2. List your questions. Write down questions about what’s important to you and make sure that all of them are answered to your satisfaction before you make an offer.

3. Test Drive. As you drive, evaluate:
* Ease of steering.
* How quickly the car shifts gears and accelerates.
* How quickly the car comes to a stop.
* The sound of the motor. (Noisy or “clunky”-sounding is generally a bad sign.)
* The functionality of windshield wipers and any options such as power locks, air conditioning and stereo systems. You don’t want to pay for extras that don’t work.

4. Make an offer. Be willing to bargain, or even walk away if you know the asking price is too high.

5. Check the car’s history. Once you have a specific vehicle in mind, get a vehicle history report from a company such as AutoCheck, to make sure that you know about any skeletons in the car’s closet, such as odometer fraud or damage due to an accident or flooding.

6. Take it to a mechanic. Getting a pro to give the car a once-over can provide valuable insight about any problems the car has or may have in the future.

If you’re confident you’ve found the vehicle for you using the above steps, you’re ready to sign a contract of sale.

Take the time to be a smart shopper when you buy a used car. You’ll be much more likely to get a good car at a great price!

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