Used-car prices have surged over 10% in the past year due to the pandemic-driven used-car bubble and the exodus to the suburbs. But used cars remain the smartest way to buy a car. These makes and models have excellent track records for durability and reliability, plus relatively low repair costs when problems do arise…
For the best possible deal on a great used vehicle in 2021, buy a car rather than an SUV. With most drivers opting for SUVs these days, demand for used cars is comparatively low, keeping prices in check.
Best used compact: Honda Civic is a small car that’s a big value used. It is versatile, fuel-efficient—models with the 1.5-liter four-cylinder can deliver 32 mpg city/42 highway—and extremely dependable. No compact is more likely to reach 200,000 miles, and when repairs are needed, parts usually are affordable. If you buy a used Civic from the 2016 model year or later, it also will be more fun to drive and more upscale inside than you would expect from an economy car. Most Civics of this era have impressive safety technology by economy car standards as well, with features like automatic emergency braking, though this varies depending on the options that the original buyer selected. Typical price: Around $15,000 for a 2018 model.*
Best used mid-sized sedan: Toyota Avalon is among the most luxurious cars offered by a nonluxury brand, spacious enough to fit five adults comfortably. All things considered, this might be the very best used vehicle to buy if you want dependability, utility and luxury at a reasonable price. Toyota significantly upgraded the Avalon’s styling and driving dynamics for its most recent generation, which debuted with the 2019 model year. Typical price: Around $19,000 for a 2018…around $23,000 for a 2019.
Best used sports car: Ford Mustang is the fun sports car that’s also comfortable and practical enough to be driven daily. Precisely how practical depends on which used Mustang you pick—this iconic car has been offered with a wide range of engine options over the years. In 2018, for example, the base engine was a 310-horsepower (hp), 2.3-liter four-cylinder that can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in under five seconds but still delivers 21 mpg city/30 highway. The 526-hp 5.2-liter V8 in the 2020 Shelby GT350 Mustang shaved that 0-to-60 time down to four seconds but also reduced fuel economy to 14 city/21 highway. Any Mustang from the most recent generation, which began with the 2015 model year, will provide a smooth ride, agile handling and striking exterior styling. Unlike many sports cars, the Mustang is reliable and relatively inexpensive to maintain. They are rear-wheel drive, so not the best choice for snowy climes. Exterior styling has not been significantly changed since that 2015 redesign, so even a six-year-old Mustang will look new as long as it has been well-maintained. Typical price: Around $21,000 for a 2018 Mustang.
Best used hybrid: Toyota Prius isn’t just the best-known hybrid, it’s the best one to buy used. Despite early concerns about how long its hybrid battery would last, the Prius is among the longest-lasting cars on the road—if you set aside SUVs, pickups and one minivan, the Avalon is the only car that is more likely to reach 200,000 miles. Plus there are so many Priuses on the road that there are always plenty of used ones to choose from. An average Prius will deliver around 54 mpg city/50 highway. Typical price: Around $15,000 for a 2018.
Best used EV: Fiat 500e is a tremendous bargain if you’re looking for a little plug-in electric car to drive around town. Unlike the other cars on this list, the 500e is not among the most dependable vehicles on the road…and with its tiny cabin and limited range—just 87 miles per charge—it’s not the most versatile vehicle, either. But this cute, fun little city runabout can be a wonderful bargain used. Typical price: Around $10,000 for a 2018—even for one with less than 30,000 miles on its odometer.
The popularity of SUVs can make it difficult to find a low price on a used one—but the best SUVs last long enough, while offering greater utility, that they more than justify their cost.
Best used compact SUV: Honda CR-V is the longest-lasting vehicle in its class, with more CR-Vs hitting 200,000 miles than any other compact SUV. It’s also among the best-selling vehicles in recent decades, meaning that there are inevitably plenty of them available used. The excellent fifth generation of the CR-V has been in production since the 2017 model year, so a well-maintained four-year-old CR-V still looks and drives much like a brand new 2021 model. Every generation of the CR-V has been roomy, comfortable and versatile—but CR-Vs from this fifth generation are especially feature-laden and fuel-efficient. Most CR-Vs from 2017 and later offer fuel economy of around 27 city/33 highway and advanced safety features such as adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking. Typical price: Around $20,000 for a 2018.
Warning: Avoid 2017 CR-Vs equipped with the optional turbocharged 1.5-liter engine. CR-Vs are among the most trouble-free SUVs on the road, but this engine was prone to expensive-
to-repair fuel-injector problems.
Best used midsize SUV: Toyota Highlander is a tremendously reliable and versatile three-row SUV—most Highlanders can seat up to eight. Highlanders from the 2014 model year or later are larger, more fuel-efficient and more aggressively styled than those that came before. The Highlander’s safety scores also are among the best in its class, and its fuel economy is impressive for a midsize SUV—a 2018 with Toyota’s six-cylinder 3.5-liter engine produces 20 mpg city/27 highway. Typical price: Around $24,000 for a 2018.
Also: The hybrid version of the Highlander is the hybrid vehicle most likely to reach 200,000 miles. It’s a great choice if you want a used vehicle that’s big but fuel-efficient for local driving—expect fuel economy of around 29 mpg city/27 highway. Typical price: $25,000.
Best used full-size SUV: Chevrolet Tahoe is built tough like a pickup truck, which, of course, Chevy is famous for. But while pickup trucks often live difficult lives hauling heavy loads, SUVs like the Tahoe tend to be treated almost as gently as cars. As a result, Tahoes often last a very long time—they’re one of just four vehicles not made by Toyota to land in the top 10 on the list of vehicles most likely to reach 200,000 miles. This eight-seater is spacious and comfortable inside and has excellent safety scores. Models equipped with Chevrolet’s 5.3-liter V8 deliver around 16 mpg city/23 highway. Typical price: Around $31,000 for a 2018.
Warning: Test drive Tahoes at highway speed before buying. Some Tahoe owners have complained of excessive vibration, typically above 60 mph. Dubbed the “Chevy shake,” this problem has proven difficult to diagnose and resolve, but it’s relatively rare and can be addressed with some straightforward diagnostic work to confirm the cause.
Best used luxury SUV: Acura MDX combines the upscale interior, comfortable seats and soft, quiet ride of a European luxury SUV with the famed reliability and low repair prices of a Honda, Acura’s parent company. Like many luxury vehicles, the MDX can be surprisingly affordable used—five-year-old MDXs sell for less than 40% of their original price, on average. Styling is attractive inside and out, and fuel economy is strong for its class—around 19 city/26 highway for a model equipped with the 3.5-liter, six-cylinder engine. Typical price: Around $25,000 for a 2018.