1. Do your research
It is important to do proper research on the car you're considering. You'll have tons of options when it comes to buying a car, so arm yourself with as much information as possible before you make a big decision. Websites like
are great repositories of car buying information. When you find a car that piques your interest, determine that there are no major potential problems with it. The
National Highway Traffic safety Administration
maintains a list of recalls and Technical Service Bulletins, which will tell you about issues with the car.
2. You found a car you like—what to do before meeting with the seller
You'll want to know if the car has been in any accidents, has failed smog checks, or had other past issues. Get the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) from the seller, which you can use to learn about the car.
is a good source of car history, taking data from insurance companies, shops, and other providers. Also be sure you know your budget, as well as the fair price and full cost of ownership of the car. Use
as a solid resource for determining the average cost of ownership of a car. We also recommend getting an insurance quote as well as pricing on registration fees and estimated yearly maintenance costs so you don't later discover any surprises.
3. When you meet the seller
test drive the car. Ask a lot of questions about the car including why the owner is selling it, and whether they have any service records showing regular maintenance. Do a visual inspection of the car's exterior and interior to see that it is in an acceptable condition, and check for signs of accidents or damage.
During the test drive, listen for any strange noises coming from the car during acceleration or braking. Be sure to take the car out on a freeway to ensure it operates properly at high speeds. Test the brakes several times during the drive, braking both hard and normally to determine their responsiveness. Check the dashboard for any warning lights and make sure all the various controls (wipers, blinkers, radio, etc.) and the air conditioning system work.
4. The vehicle passed your inspection—now have a professional look it over
If you like the car and it is in good condition, negotiate the price subject to the inspection of a professional mechanic. At this point you can enlist a professional mechanic to give his/her diagnosis of the condition of the car. The mechanic's inspection will cover the fluids, brakes, electrical systems, cooling system, suspension, engine/exhaust, HVAC, tires, and body. The mechanic will scan the car's various computers for trouble codes and test drive the vehicle. Should the mechanic discover any problems, he can estimate repair costs and you can use these for further negotiations with the seller. This way you can have complete peace of mind about the car you are buying.