Buying a car is generally for most people a fact of life, and will need to be done at least 3 to 6 times in our lifetime. But buying a used car can be dangerous, as generally most cars will be sold in AS IS conditon, where it's up to the buyer (you) to make sure the car is in good condition. For alot of people, spending $200 to $300 on a local "drive to your home type mechanic" isn't always avaliable, and for them, they need to do they're research.
When I go to inspect cars, i always keep several things in mind and lookout for the obivious no no's.
1. Don't seem overly excited to view the car, if you can, act like your on a trip and your viewing several car's on the same day, ask for directions to help get this through to the seller. At the same time, don't seem too distant when inspecting the car, as a bit of chatting can smooth the process.
2. Get a copy of a rwc inspection sheet from your local mechanic, or look on your local Government website for details on what is required to get the car on the road, generally it needs to pass some tests. If you have a good idea of whats involved, go through each of these aspects.
3. Going through a RWC inspection form will only get you so far, you will need to pay attention to the stiffness of the clutch, the interior, body, engine noises, any strange noises while driving and the driving history of the car. If a car recently has had a huge amount spent for an unknown reason, i'd say be wary.
4. Check for reciepts of general maintenance and the servicing thats been done, while doing your research beforehand on how much these major services can cost, and if possible use this as a leverage tool during negotiation.
5. Get a history and finance check on the car, to see if it's been badly damaged or has money owning on to it.
6. Negotiate. Negotiate, Negotiate. Generally private sellers know they will get less then what they ask. Don't see the selling price and assume you have to go for only 20% less, you may need to ask for 25% or 30%. Try to explain your reasoning, and discuss how long it's been for sale, and how long it may continue to be for sale.
7. Make sure your reciept is ironclass. In other words, make sure it states the car with all it's relevant details, the buyer and seller, the condition/AS IS if necessary, as well as extra's that may have been discussed earlier to be included at a later date or promise of actions. And finally, both of you sign and date it.
CARS CARS CARS, they can be awful things, and i'm sure over time they will change greatly from what they run on, but they, in my opinion, will always be around.