As a buyer of used cars, research is paramount. As a first step, you should always check the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) of any used car you are considering buying. The VIN will tell you the service and repair history, flood damage (if any), odometer rollbacks, emissions inspections results, any outstanding liens, and rental history. An Unlimited Reports Plan only costs $34.99 and allows you to check any number of VINs within the next 30 days. A plan for 10 reports will only cost $29.99. Used cars that have been through bush are probably not the best buying option, even if it has a low price tag.
Obviously, a used car that has been serviced and maintained consistently with next to no accidents is ideal. Any car that has experienced flooding before should be scratched off your list immediately; the odds of the car suffering rust and corrosion damage is high. Of course, any car that has a shady legal history, or been under heavy abusive conditions (rental cars) should probably be discarded as well.
Next up is to eliminate any used cars that will potentially have problems in the future. Age of the vehicle is another solid criterion in buying used cars. Any used car over ten years old is probably not worth buying, even if it doesn't have the mileage. A car that old is likely to have upcoming problems regardless of its service history, and may require replacements or repairs at a future date.
Ideally you want to be looking at used cars with three to four years on them. Car value depreciates most heavily during the first three to four years, so any car in that age group will see a 30 to 40 percent reduction in market value.
Mileage is another good indicator. How much mileage is too much? Say a ballpark figure of around 150,000 miles. Of course, having fewer miles doesn't necessarily make a used car a better deal. All the other factors above should be taken into account as well.
Buying a used car is also one of the few times when following your intuition is probably a good idea. Be sure to test drive any used car you are seriously considering purchasing. If, for whatever reason, you feel that there is reason to abstain from a seemingly good deal, then it's probably a good idea to do so.
Since buying a used car is ultimately a decision affected by finances, the depth of your checkbook must be taken into account. With that in mind, recall that there are things like insurance and maintenance beyond the upfront cost of the used car in question. Even a great deal on an incredible car might have further costs down the road beyond your means.
In some states, the buyer of a used car has the option to purchase a 2 day contract cancellation. This may be worthwhile if you are uncertain about your purchase.
Lastly, ask a friend! Whatever decision you make might save, or cost you thousands of dollars in difference. This is no time to be humble. Ask someone who has been through the process multiple times to help you gauge a deal.