Used car shoppers don’t have it easy. While new car buyers are in a world of gleaming dealerships, long warranties and that fragrant new car smell, used car buyers are stuck kicking tires, coordinating inspections and dealing with whatever the car's previous owners left in the trunk.
But when you shop used, you can save so much over a new car that you’ll have the last laugh. And, if you focus your used car search on the most reliable models and brands, you may be able to save yourself some headaches. To help, we’ve assembled a list of seven of the best used car bets out there. While the quality of individual used cars varies, use this list to narrow your search and get behind the wheel of a great new (to you) car.
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Hyundai has really been on a roll lately. While most automakers struggled to make ends meet during the past year, Hyundai actually saw its sales increase. The public has finally caught up with the fact that Hyundai has been building some very high-quality cars for quite a while. The Hyundai Elantra was one of Edmunds’ Best Used Car Bets and was the winner of the 2009 U.S. News Best Car for the Money Award in the compact car class. While the U.S. News award applies to the 2009 model, the Elantra was last redesigned in 2007. That means if you buy a used 2007 model, you’re essentially getting the same car that won the 2009 award.
Compact SUVs and crossovers are popular new cars, but that doesn’t mean that used car buyers are left out. Small families looking to save some cash on a reliable and practical car don’t have to look much further than the Toyota RAV4. The RAV4 lives up to Toyota’s reputation for quality and made Consumer Reports’ list of the best used cars. The RAV4 is also one of the only small SUVs to offer an optional third-row seat. To get that feature, used car shoppers will need to buy a 2006 or newer model.
A lot of new car buyers have been trading in large SUVs for something smaller. That’s good news for used car shoppers who want a large SUV because it increases the supply and drives down prices. The Chevrolet Tahoe is a perennial class leader in the U.S. News Affordable Large SUV rankings, and it’s not hard to see why. Strong engines and plenty of passenger room make the Tahoe extremely versatile. The best news for used car shoppers is that in 2007 Chevrolet introduced a five-year/100,000-mile transferable powertrain warranty, so when you buy a 2007 or newer Tahoe, you’re likely to be covered.
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Of course, large SUVs aren’t the only option for shoppers who need a lot of passenger room. Minivans like the Honda Odyssey are easier to drive and easier on gas than most large SUVs. The Honda Odyssey is on both Edmunds’ and Consumer Reports’ list of best used cars, thanks to nearly bulletproof Honda reliability and the big dose of practicality minivan shoppers are looking for. Find a good deal on a used Odyssey and you’ll save enough over a new model to make a big deposit in your kid’s college fund.
Used car shoppers are looking for value, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want luxury. The BMW 3-Series is one of the best upscale midsize cars around, and if you find the right one, it can make for a great used car too. A major plus is that many BMW dealerships have certified pre-owned inventories. Buying certified pre-owned means extra peace of mind since the car has been inspected and may even come with warranty coverage.
[Check out this month's Best Used Car Deals for the best discounts and incentives on a used car.]
The MX-5 Miata holds the world record for roadster sales, and once you drive one you’ll see why. This simple little car is all about sports performance, from its light weight to its go-kart handling. Mazda found a winning formula with the MX-5 and hasn’t messed with it much since the first models hit the road. That means that it’s tough to tell older year MX-5s from new ones, so you can save buy buying a used MX-5 -- and still look like you bought new. Consumer Reports even recommends used MX-5s for their reliability, but most owners probably recommend them for their fun factor.
Even used car shoppers need to get stuff done, and that means they need a truck. The Ford F-150 is consistently one of the best-selling vehicles in America, which means there are plenty of them to choose from on the used car market. Edmunds recommends the F-150 as a used car, and it makes a great choice not only for its capability but also for its ability to help you express yourself. There are tons of aftermarket parts available for the F-150, and buying used means you’ll have more money left over for lift kits, wenches and other accessories to help you get the job done. Plus, with a used model, you won’t have to worry about voiding the warranty with your handiwork.