Buying a car is a major investment no matter how you slice it but springing for a brand-new vehicle comes with an even bigger hit to your finances. You’ll end up paying more up-front, but you’ll also be hit with a huge depreciation of 20 to 30 percent within the first year of driving your new car off the lot.

Unless you simply must buy new, it’s much wiser to shop around for a used car and let someone else absorb that initial depreciation. If you’re in the market for a used vehicle, here are the key steps you should follow to ensure a smooth transaction.

Searching for a Car

Just because you’re shopping for a used car doesn’t mean you have to buy the first vehicle you come across. Your success in this venture will depend heavily on choosing a quality car that fits your needs and your budget, so be sure to spend some time shopping around and exploring your options. There are many online platforms that allow you to browse your local area for used vehicles, but don’t forget that not everyone lists their vehicles online. It takes greater effort to comb through local classifieds and walk through your neighborhood used car lots in person, but it often pays off by helping you identify options you may not have seen online.

Contacting the Seller

After you’ve narrowed down your list and identified a vehicle that fits your needs, it’s time to contact the seller. During this initial contact, you should make a point to verify the basic details of the car and ask any important questions you have. Ask the seller to verify the mileage and condition of the vehicle, detail any history of accidents, and name any major repairs that have been done.

Next, set a date and time so that you can view the car and take it for a test drive. Make sure that you have enough time to properly inspect the vehicle during your meeting. You should also ask the owner for the car’s vehicle identification number (VIN), which you’ll need to do further research in the next step. Be wary of any seller who declines to provide this information.

Doing Your Research on the Car

Is the vehicle you’re looking at really worth the price the seller is asking? Is it a model that’s known for its reliability? How expensive are parts in the event that you need to make repairs down the road? If you can’t answer these questions, you’re leaving yourself vulnerable to making a bad decision.

With that in mind, take some time to research the car you’re considering before you commit to a purchase. You can start by using the car’s VIN to run a vehicle history report. This can tell you the car’s accident and maintenance history, the status of the title, any liens against it, the ownership history, and all sorts of other useful information.

Next, check a few pricing guides to establish a price range for the model, year, and condition of the vehicle you’re considering. This will help ensure that you’re getting a fair price, and it’ll give you more leverage when it comes time to negotiate the final sale. You should also check Consumer Reports and other resources to better understand the model of car you’re buying. This is a good way to determine whether the model is considered reliable, how well its value typically holds up, how expensive it is to maintain, and other useful information that can help to guide your decision.

Inspecting the Car

If you’ve completed the previous steps and you still feel good about your chosen vehicle, it’s time to put it through its final tests. Start by conducting a basic inspection to verify that the car is as the owner described it. Check the exterior for any rust spots, scratches, or visible signs of damage. Inspect the interior to determine the condition of the upholstery and to verify that the door locks, windows, and all electronic components work properly. Check under the vehicle for any signs of fluid leaks, rust, or other potential issues.

Next up is the all-important test drive. During a test drive, you should try to test the vehicle under a wide range of conditions. Drive, corner, and brake at a variety of different speeds. If possible, try to drive on several different road surfaces. Listen attentively for any noises while turning or braking. Try to move through as many of the car’s gears as you can in order to test the integrity of the transmission. After you’ve completed the test drive, the final step is to have the vehicle inspected by a trusted mechanic. Some sellers may balk at this, but it’s the only way to truly assess the condition of the car you’re purchasing. Unless you’re a professional mechanic who can evaluate the car yourself, insisting on an independent inspection is an important step and a small investment that will more than pay for itself over time.

Closing the Deal

Now that you’ve chosen a vehicle and you’ve done the work to ensure that you know just what you’re buying, the only step left is to close the deal with a purchase. However, there’s no reason to simply accept the asking price and call it a day. Unless the seller has explicitly stated that their price is firm, it never hurts to try your hand at a little haggling. Start by making an offer that’s lower than the asking price, but don’t try to lowball the seller. Use your research and the condition of the car to come up with a price that you consider fair to both parties.

If the seller refuses your initial price, it’s up to you to decide whether you want to raise your offer. Feel free to negotiate as you see fit, but don’t go over the maximum price that you feel comfortable paying. If necessary, you should be willing to walk away. If it comes to that point, simply inform the seller of your best price and request that they contact you if they can’t find a buyer who is willing to make a better offer.

Buying a used car can be a stressful experience, but there’s no reason you can’t enjoy it. The key to a successful transaction is to prepare yourself well and arm yourself with all the knowledge you need. With the simple tips above, you’ll be ready to get out there and get a great used car at a great price!

Metro Creative Graphics, Inc.

This article was worked on by a variety of people from the Autoversed team, including freelancers, editors, and/or other full-time employees.