The first rule when buying a used car: Do your homework. Find out what kind of options you have in selecting a car. Don’t select a car based on looks, or family tradition (my daddy drives a Ford, his daddy drives a Ford, so I have to drive a Ford). Take the time to find out which cars have what options. Should you get a sedan with a four cylinder engine or a sedan with a V6? What in the world is a V6? Figure these things out before you go looking. With the amount of information we have available to us online it is just plain silly to begin searching without checking out some great websites that have great information for used car buyers. Check out www.Edmunds.com
If you are going to buy the car with cash, then congratulations on being so abnormal. If you are a normal person and you will be financing the car, get your finances in order and get you approval upfront. This will help you to determine how much you can spend. Remember that the amount that the bank approves should never be the amount that you spend. You should always spend less. In the long run you will be much happier when trying to make the payments. Usually it's best to get a bank loan rather then arranging the financing through the dealership but this is not always true. The thing is, if you arrange through a bank or something like that you have more latitude in your shopping. Once again, do your homework, it's not all about monthly payment. Interest rates mean things.
So is it better to go to a dealership or to buy the car from a private individual? This really is not that important. The important thing is the vehicle itself. Many people have been taken advantage of by both private sellers and used car dealers. Private individuals are more likely to rip you off by selling you something that has had the odometer tampered with or the emissions control equipment messed up, but the used car lot is more likely to sell you something that has been cleaned up on the surface but underneath its got problems. Used car lots are also more likely to sell you something for way too much money.
All of the above rules and tips could be followed perfectly and it’s possible that the buyer might still end up with a piece of junk, but that’s life. Nothing every works out perfectly. However, when a person is confident going into a situation it makes the situation mush less uncomfortable and not so scary. Be confident with the purchase of your next car, and not scared. You can find a good car, and ignore all of the junk.