Buying a used car doesn’t have to be an intimidating experience. These tips can help you find a good used car at a first-rate price.

Do your research

Consumer Reports publishes an annual auto issue that has excellent general information about the quality, reliability, safety ratings, ballpark insurance rates, and recalls for many cars. You can also access these articles online for a monthly subscription fee.

(Go to our Links and Resources page for a list of some other online resources you might find helpful.)

Determining a fair price

Resources like the Canadian Black Book can be helpful to determine the general value of a specific car in your geographic area. Autotrader.ca has a “Value Finder” section on their web site that offers the high, low and median prices of car models in their inventory. You can also look through your local paper to get a sense of price points for comparable cars.

Where to look

Once you’ve done a little research on the make and model you’d like, and you’ve identified the price you’d be willing to pay, there are several places you can look for a used car:

* New and Used car dealerships

* Local newspapers

* Resale car magazines, such as AutoTrader

* Car rental agencies and corporate fleet sell-offs

* Private sales

Title checks and inspections

With a little knowledge, a lot of common sense, and maybe some professional help, you can competently size up the quality and mechanical health of a used car. But before you take the time to test drive the car you think may be one for you, check the title of the car. Next to an independent professional assessment of your prospective car, a title check is the most important exercise you can do. By checking the title, you can learn if the car:

* Has ever been written off due to an accident or natural disaster

* Was returned as a “lemon”

* Was ever repossessed

* Had its odometer rolled back

* Has other liens registered against it

These are all good reasons to walk away from a car before even taking it for a test drive. To check the title, go to Carfax.com to access their database of more than 750 million vehicle records in the US and Canada. Alternatively, take the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to your local provincial Ministry of Transportation office, pay a small fee, and run a check.

Finally, after you’ve checked out the title, inspected the car yourself and taken it for a proper test drive, invest the minor amount of money it will cost to take it to an independent, trusted mechanic for a thorough check over. A mechanic has the tools to be able to perform a more thorough diagnostic; they can spot problems that could cost you a lot of money down the road.