Buying a used car has an element of risk, its offset by substantial savings. In an age of powerful internet tools here are some practical tools to make your buying experience positive:

Choose a reputable dealer – look for a dealership who has been in business a number of years (5 or more) at the same location.

Ask your neighbors – car dealers put those dreaded birth marks on the rear trunk lid – ask your friends and neighbors with nice cars about their buying experience.

Understand the Warranty – may new car manufacturers allow transfer of unexpired warranty to a subsequent owner, some for a fee, some not at all. Ask, research understand – any manufacturer will call this out on their website.

A manufacturer’s extended warranty is always a good step – it gives often gives near-new car coverage for up to 100,000 miles – and national coverage.  In an age of sophisticated mechanical and electronic controls, remember that a used car “100 point inspection” reflects condition at that point, and is not predictive.

Budget the warranty as rigorously as you budget the purchase of the car. If buying more warranty means buying less car give that serious consideration, especially if you’re you are keeping the car for four or more years.

Understand your risk – buying a used car will never be a risk-free process, so be realistic. A 30,000 mile two year old car brings a higher price and less risk than a 80,000 mile five year old, and far less risk than a 120,000 mile nine year old car  -- of course the selling price goes down in a proportional way.

Do your independent research – CarFax, Kelley Blue Book, and other internet tools give you a lot of information that was not available to buyers fifteen years ago. Use it independently at your desk at home. Any reputable dealer will not be offended by your questions from independent research, and you’ll become a more knowledgeable buyer.

Read Consumer Reviews – the internet has enabled consumer reviews – read them.

Ask the dealer how they handle a dissatisfied buyer – they happen, cars are complex, how do they escalate a problem?

Use your common sense – While the days of fast-talking-high-pressure sales are rapidly ending, if you are unable to have a civil conversation prior to sale – it’s unlikely you’ll ever have one after, your wisest step is the leave that store – there is nothing unique about that car.