Set your budget
Work out how much you can afford to spend, and don't forget to include registration, insurance and regular maintenance and running costs. Both for insurance, a loan, shop around to get the best rate.
Do your research
It's important to have a thorough look at what's out there before buying a used car. To get an idea of a model's current market price, spend some time searching our used car ads online or in your local newspaper. Also check out our price guide to help you avoid paying too much.
Be wary if you find a used car where the price is much lower than the market suggests it should be. If you're determined to take it further, have the car checked thoroughly. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Find the right car
Browse cars by body type, make or price to find out which make and model might suit you.
Go window shopping by make and model, age, location and all kinds of other helpful details. Read our expert reviews of the car you're looking for.
Check the latest car news to see if a new model is coming -- which can reduce the price of previous models when it arrives.
Contact the seller
And when you do, don't be afraid to ask lots of questions...
•How long have they had the car?
•Why are they selling it?
•Has it ever been damaged?
•What condition is it in?
•Will it meet a RWC?
•Does it have any 'bad habits'?
Looking at the car
If the seller is a private party rather than a dealer, always go to their home address. Don't arrange to meet them somewhere. Check that the home address is the same as the one on the registration certificate. Take a printout or copy of the seller's advertisement with you to check that details like the odometer numbers are accurate.
Checking the car
Make sure you have a thorough look over the car yourself, and best of all, have an independent mechanic or automotive centre check it out properly on a hoist. It could save you thousands by revealing mechanical problems and previous damage. Always look at the car in full daylight, never in the dark or in rain that could conceal body marks, dents, rust and other defects check under the car, the bonnet and the interior carpet for rust and signs - such as welding marks - which may show the car has been in a crash under the bonnet, look for signs of oil leaks on top of the engine, and underneath.
Use the dipstick to check the amount of oil. If the level is low, the owner hasn't been looking after the car properly. Look around the oil filler cap for a white mayonnaise - like substance - this is an indication of a damaged head gasket which can be very expensive to put right. Take a look at the tyres to make sure they're in good condition with plenty of tread. Get down in front of each front wheel and look along the length of the car. Both front wheels should be directly in front of the rear ones - if they're not, it could mean the car has been in a crash and ended up with a slightly twisted or 'crabbed' chassis.
Check the gaps between the body panels are equal - if they're not, the car could have been refitted badly, or may have been in a crash. Inside the car, make sure the seatbelts work correctly, the steering wheel and dashboard are bolted on correctly, the front seats move properly and all switches work. Start the car with a cold engine, which will make is easier to reveal problems like poor starting or too much smoke.
Test drive the car
Before you set off, turn the steering wheel from one lock to the other to make sure there is no screeching, banging, or knocking.
To test the handbrake, pull it on and then try to drive off very gently. It should hold the car back.
Listen for strange noises from the engine, and don't let the seller distract you by talking or turning up the radio.
Drive on as many different roads surfaces as possible. Use all the gears, and check the gear change is slick and smooth. Make sure the clutch pedal 'bites' between the top and middle of the pedals travel.
Negotiating the price
The price is the price, but there's often leeway for bargaining. Make a list of any faults you found with the car, or any work that might need doing, and calculate how much this could add to the price. From this position, negotiate the price with the seller. Ask the seller what their best price is, make a lower offer and then say nothing. They can only turn you down, accept your offer or name another price closer to yours.
Inside the car, make sure the seatbelts work correctly, the steering wheel and dashboard are bolted on correctly, the front seats move properly and all switches work. Start the car with a cold engine, which will make is easier to reveal problems like poor starting or too much smoke.
Paperwork and payment
Never give or send a seller money without seeing the car, or without getting a receipt with all the details.