1. Makes and models. The make (Toyota) and model (Celica) of a used car will greatly affect your happiness ratio. Some cars are obviously better built than others. So in choosing a make and model, you should first look around you on the highways and parking lots. What kind of cars do you see most often? If you see a certain vehicle in abundance on the roads, it usually means that the car has a good track record and that it stays on the road longer. Also read Consumer Reports, a guide that studies the most (and least) reliable cars.

2. Mileage. Set a reasonable goal for yourself regarding mileage and wear-n-tear on your prospective vehicle. Consider things like a factory warranty. A vehicle that is only a couple of years old and has 20,000 miles on it is likely to have a good bit of a factory warranty left on it. Also consider how many miles you're planning to stack on the car. If you're using the car as a back-up, then you don't need to be quite so concerned about mileage. One important note: be wary of vehicles with frighteningly low mileage numbers. A trick as old as "pull my finger," used car salesmen have been known to turn back the mileage on vehicles to make them appear more attractive.

3. Purpose. Finally, why do you need this car? If it's reliability that you need, your decision is easy. If you need a reliable family car with dual airbags, seven cupholders, and a four-speed automatic, with maroon shag interior, then it makes your search all the easier. Take into account your needs when you research models so that you know what is standard fare on the vehicle in question. Unlike new cars, used cars cannot usually be ordered to your preference. In some ways, you have to "luck out" to get the ideal vehicle. But keeping your eyes and ears open sure helps. For this reason, you should start your used-car search months before the vehicle need is critical. That way, you can keep your options open (and possibly stumble upon a sweet deal).

SoYouWanna know more? Check out our full-length article SYW buy a used car?