1) Identify the car you want.
Not every car is the same and the type of car you will need depends on your needs in life right now. Create a list of cars that you would be interested in. What kind of cars do you like? Look at the model, make and year of the cars you like and do not forget about what your family would need. Two, four or maybe even six seats. Check out the cars your friends have and ask them if what they dislike and of course like about their vehicles. Do not forget about the gas mileage of the car you are going to buy, it might be cheap to buy, but if the mileage is bad it will end up costing much more than anticipated.
2) How much money do you want to spend?
Calculate what kind of car you can afford, and when doing these calculations, do not forget about MPG, the average amount of miles you travel in a month and also a budget for fixing the car when it might break down. When financing the car look into payment plans that will fit your budget, and take the back payment also in consideration.
3) Do the Research.
As soon as you have the types of cars you'd like to drive and the price range you are able to afford it for start researching these cars. Check out forums and other known directories about known issues and potential problems your car could have in the future. Older models may be cheaper when buying, but they will need a lot more maintanance in most cases!
4) Check out both private and public sellers.
Many dealerships also sell used cars but there are also enough other resources to put in use when looking for an used car. Private sellers can be found through Craigslist and other second hand websites and known dealerships in your area can be found through Edmunds.com
5) Always Stay Focused.
You can do as much research as you want beforehand but when your at the lot and you get distracted by a nice convertible (that doesn't fit the needs you need to fill) all that research is for nothing. Even if it is an amazing deal stay focused on the car you need and want. Take your time to check the car and make sure not to be pressured into buying a car at your first visit.
6) Always Test Drive.
Make sure to inspect the vehicle you are interested in extensively. Check the interiour and the exterior for any damages and things that might look off. Take the car out for a testdrive, and while driving keep the radio turned off, open the windows and check for strange noises and squeeks. Also do not forget to test every feature the car has, from the interiour light to the gauges on the dashboard if something does not work ask the seller why. Do not forget to ask about the history of the car.
7) Get the History and Safety Report.
After test driving ask the seller (either private or public) for the history and safety rapport, if he/she does not have it or comes up with an excuse do not buy the car. You want to be sure about everything and don't be ending up with other people's problems.
8) Go to a Mechanic.
If the seller refuses to let you check the car by a mechanic (one that you trust!) do not purchase the car. Dealerships often have their own mechanics on staff and they will provide the guarantee that the car works like it is supposed to, but do not forget to get at least a one-year warranty on the car.
9) Always Negotiate about the Price.
When you finally find the car that you want and that is in your price range, that is tested, checked and found OK by the mechanic of your choice start the negotiations. Nearly every used car that is sold in the world has been negotiated about, simply do not agree on the asking price since the negotiation is always calculated within the sticker price. Also, if you are financing the car get it sorted before negotiating the price so you won't end up with unexpected interest rates.
10) Have fun with your new used car!
When both parties have agreed on the price and all the papers have been filled in it is time to enjoy your car! Always double check the registration on the car, you will want it to transfer succesfully ;).