What are the best used cars? This is a “loaded” question because what’s best for one person is not necessarily the best for someone else. A person on a very limited budget may only afford a $2000 car as compared to someone who has $2000 to put down as a down payment. For purposes of this article, I am referring to the “best” used cars as those that are considered the most reliable by Consumer Reports and have purchase prices of $10,000 (retail price) or more.
Since 2003, I have purchased only used Japanese cars. I am a firm believer that the most reliable cars present the best overall “value” to the consumer. What do I mean by “value?” It equates to those cars that offer the most quality and product for the money. I admit to having a bias for Japanese car brands, but that bias is based upon research and many years of experience buying and selling cars.
Consumer Reports, which is my “bible” for rating the reliability of automobiles, has consistently rated Honda, Subaru, Mazda, Toyota, Hyundai, and Kia as the top rated new and used cars. For luxury brands, they rate Infiniti, Lexus and Acura as the most reliable, although it varies by each model year. Toyota has a popular advertising slogan: “The best new cars make the best used cars” which directly reflects the findings of Consumer Reports.
So, reliability is the most important factor in selecting the brand and model of a used car. Once you have chosen a brand, here are the most important things to look for when purchasing a used car:
1. Electronic Stability Control (ESC)
ESC is computerized technology that improves a car’s stability by detecting and reducing loss of traction. In essence, ESC regulates the degree of traction and helps prevent skidding in inclement weather. I recommend that the used car that you purchase have ESC. (most cars after 2012 have ESC standard.
2. Anti-Lock Braking Systems (ABS)
ABS is a safety anti-skid system that operates to prevent wheels to lock up during braking. This is a “must-have” feature and is standard in many used cars from 2012 on.
3. Thorough Examination
Have a “trusted” mechanic, or technician, check out the used car before you buy it. The mechanic will check all operating systems to make sure that they are in good running order. The most important things are: to check the engine and transmission for cracks and leaks; check transmission to make sure it is not slipping; check brake pads and rotors for wear; check axle and suspension for wear – look for cracked ball joints and leaking wheel bearings; check all belts and hoses for wear; check to make sure heating and air conditioning are in proper working order; check tires for wear; check flasher and lights; and, check exterior and interior for wear. This is a vitally important check on the overall condition of the car to make sure it was well maintained by the previous owner(s).
4. Certified Cars
Certified cars are the most recent model year offerings that have had 120 to 160 point dealer mechanical inspections. They have the best exterior and interior condition and offer certified limited power train warranties that extend the standard manufacturer’s power train warranty to 7 years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first (from date of original ownership when new). There is, in addition, a 12 month or 12,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty with most certified warranties. I recommend certified cars because they offer security to the buyer in that the car has been thoroughly inspected and serviced, and, as such, protects the buyer from mechanical problems for a specified time and mileage.
5. Reliable Dealer
Buy from a reliable dealer rather than a private owner. Why? Because when buying the car from a dealer you are protected by the manufacturer’s, dealer’s and state’s warranty. You get no warranty when purchasing a used vehicle from a private party. You buy the car “as is.”
A good tip is to always purchase a used car with low mileage. 12,000 to 15,000 miles per year is the normally accepted benchmark for a used car.
7. Ask for a Car Fax
A Car Fax gives the service history, lists the owner(s) and any recorded accidents. All Certified Cars come with Car Faxes.
In conclusion, I thoroughly agree with the year-by-year findings of Consumer Reports that the best used cars are those manufactured by Toyota, Honda, Mazda, Subaru, Hyundai, Kia, Lexus, Infiniti and Acura. The “best” means the best value and the most reliable. After you have decided on make and model, make sure the used car you are purchasing has: ESC, ABS, a thorough mechanical inspection by a trusted technician, a manufacturer’s certification and, has low, or normal mileage. It is also very important to buy from a reliable dealer rather than from a private party. The above facts are based on my many years of car ownership and over 17 years of experience as an automobile salesman. If you utilize the information above to serve as a guide to purchase a used car, you are insuring yourself a quality car and trouble free driving for many years to come.
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