Buying a used car often represents a greater value for your dollar. However, despite the positives associated with it, you need to be extra careful when purchasing a used vehicle. Consider these used car buying tips to make sure the process goes as smoothly as possible.

1. Set Your Budget

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You need to decide what you can spend on your car. A good rule of thumb: Your car and insurance payment shouldn't exceed 15-20% of your take home pay. If your budget is especially tight, you may want to aim even lower.

Remember that the cost of the vehicle only begins with the sticker price. You also need to consider taxes and fees, as well as ongoing expenses like insurance, fuel, and maintenance and repairs. Make sure that your budget accounts for these types of things too.

Whatever budget you establish, the most important thing is that you make a commitment to stick to it.

2. Consider Your Needs

Figuring out what you can/want to spend on your car is the easy part. The more difficult task will be determining the vehicle that's right for you that falls within that limit.

You can start this process by evaluating what you need you in a car. Do you have a larger family to haul around? Need something with good gas mileage for your commute? Do you need something with towing capacity? These are the kinds of questions you need to be asking.

It helps to make a list of all the things you are going to ask your vehicle to do on a regular basis. This list of required characteristics should help you be able to better identify vehicles that may work for you.

3. Research and Build a Target List

This next step is perhaps the most extensive of the bunch. This is because the amount of things you can research about vehicles online is seemingly endless. But all authorities on the subject agree that online research has become a necessary part of the car buying process in this day and age.

You can research manufacturers and read expert and consumer reviews on specific vehicles. You can also consult pricing guides like Kelley Blue Book to get more information on vehicle prices. Or, you can research safety and crash test ratings from the NHTSA and IIHS.

You should also look at the inventories of dealerships in your area. You can identify some models you may be interested in and read up on those.

Some of the best sources for information when it comes to car buying are: Kelley Blue Book, J.D. Power Automotive, Edmunds, U.S. News Cars, Consumer Reports, and, of course, Drivers Lane.

You can use your research to build a target list of used cars.

4. Always Check Car History

It can be said that no two cars are the same, even if they are of the same make and model. This can make buying a used car a trickier process, but there is something you can do to minimize risk. You just need to get a vehicle history report for any car you are seriously considering.

A vehicle history report contains ownership information, salvage and insurance loss records, accident records, odometer history and more. CARFAX and Auto Check are the two most well respected vehicle history report providers in the industry.

Many people also recommend that you take any car you intend to buy in for a pre-purchase inspection. This should be performed by a certified mechanic, preferably one that you already have a relationship with. Paying for a mechanic's inspection now is better than potentially spending thousands on repairs later on.

5. Condition Check and Test Drive

With the more serious candidates, you'll want to carefully examine them inside and out and take them for a test drive.

Start with a condition check. Walk around and look for scratches. Open and close all doors, the hood and the trunk. Check all of the lights and push every button, switch and control on the instrument panel.

Once you have done all that and more, you can take it for a test drive if you are still interested. Consider the conditions you drive in every day and take it for a drive that mimics those circumstances. For example, take it out to the highway if you commute on the interstate for work.

A test drive will help you get a feel for how the car drives and handles and whether or not you like driving it. It doesn't hurt to bring a friend or family member along for the ride so they can try to pick up on things you may have missed.

Getting Financed

Following these used car buying tips will help you along the purchase journey. But if you are dealing with imperfect credit and are struggling to find financing, it may be time to try Drivers Lane.

We help people dealing with credit issues find financing using our nationwide network of special finance car dealerships. You may even be able to purchase your car with little or no money down.

Get the process started today by filling out our free and easy online auto loan request. It only takes a few minutes of your time and it doesn't put you under any obligation, so you have nothing to lose.