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Before the internet was imagined and even before specialist car sales papers came into print, buying your first car usually involved your dad or a mate taking you across town to test drive a second-hand rust bucket which you inevitably bought in good faith, but was just as likely to be a lemon as a peach.

Thankfully, times have changed and acquiring a used car or even a brand new one for that matter now involves a lot more choice and a lot more certainty. Buying a lemon – the colloquial term for an inferior quality car – or paying over the odds for one should be a much less frequent experience these days, especially if you undertake a little research and make sure you thoroughly examine the car before you buy it.

The internet is a great source of information and therefore a great place to start on your research. You can get an idea of the value of a whole range of makes and models by looking at the online classifieds, or if you want a professional opinion subscribe to resources such as Glass’s guide. They list the prices you would expect to pay for vehicles at trade or retail value, with allowances for condition and mileage. Leafing through a car trader magazine will also give you an idea of the market values of vehicles.

Once you’ve established your budget get out there and see some cars. Give any vehicle you are thinking of buying a thorough examination. Make sure you check the bodywork thoroughly and have a look under the bonnet. Look for obvious things like oil leaks; you may notice drops of oil on the tarmac or drive on which the car is standing. Better still, if you know a mechanic then take them with you and ask them to give you an honest opinion on the mechanical condition of the car.

Ask to take a little spin in the motor you intend to drive before even starting negotiations to buy it. By sitting behind the wheel you’ll get an idea of how it feels to drive the car and also some idea of the performance of the vehicle. However, if you intend doing that on a public road make sure that either your current car insurance policy or the seller’s covers you to drive the vehicle before slipping into the driver’s seat.

If you like the way it drives and you are sure it is mechanically sound then make an offer and don’t be afraid to walk away from the deal if you don’t get the price you want. There are plenty of cars out there and you’ll soon find another one.

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