Best Used Cars for You
With our buying advice and recommendations, you'll be ready to buy a pre-owned car when the time is right
Used cars have traditionally offered significant savings compared with buying a new vehicle. Four years ago it was not uncommon to save 30 percent or more off the price of a new car by buying a 3-year-old model instead. While pandemic-related supply chain disruptions have caused those savings to plummet, experts say prices are poised to drop to pre-pandemic levels over the next year. With the average purchase price of a new car now more than $48,000, that could bring welcome relief to car buyers.
But buying a used car also typically comes with repair risks. You don’t know how it was driven or maintained by its previous owner (vehicle history reports aren’t always accurate) and it might no longer be covered by a manufacturer’s warranty.
CR’s long-standing advice to minimize those risks has been to buy a used vehicle that has an above-average reliability score in our ratings and has been thoroughly inspected by a trusted mechanic. But after analyzing recent survey data from CR members on more than 350,000 vehicles in 2022, we have new advice to add: Consider buying a certified pre-owned (CPO) car.
Review the Vehicle History
Why it’s important: Vehicle history reports from providers like AutoCheck and Carfax can alert you to signs of trouble, such as a poor maintenance history or a car that has been in an accident or a flood.
What to remember: These reports might not include problems that occurred too recently to be recorded or repair work that wasn’t submitted to a shared database. The National Insurance Crime Bureau offers a free vehicle identification number (VIN) check tool that can flag cars that have been stolen or salvaged.
Take a Test Drive
Why it’s important: Only with a test drive can you experience how a car handles, identify potential problems, and ensure it’s a good fit for you.
What to remember: “Make sure you can adjust the seat and steering wheel for the comfort and visibility you need,” says Gabe Shenhar, who manages CR’s car purchasing and testing. And he says to make sure that the infotainment system isn’t difficult to use and that it pairs with your phone. He advises that you avoid playing the radio while driving, so you can listen for telltale sounds of trouble, like rough engine rumblings or any ticking or clattering. “Any play in the steering or pulsation from the brakes can indicate the car needs an expensive repair.”
Get an Inspection
Why it’s important: An inspection can reveal problems that the seller, dealer, and history report won’t.
What to remember: Use an independent mechanic who won’t profit from the sale. If you don’t have one, search online for a local mobile mechanic who can come to inspect the car. For example, Lemon Squad, a nationwide network of mobile technicians, charges $199 for a prepurchase inspection including a complete report for most cars.
Check for Recalls
Why it’s important: All car recalls involve safety issues.
What to remember: Open recalls are common and shouldn’t be considered a deal-breaker. Still, you should have any recall work, especially involving vehicle safety, done promptly by a dealership that sells the brand you’re buying. Check recalls by year, make, and model with CR’s Car Recall Tracker or on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Recalls & Investigations, using the VIN located at the base of the windshield. Sign up for recall notices at either website.
Prepare to Negotiate
Why it’s important: Having a basic negotiation strategy can save you money up front and over time if you’re financing. This is particularly important now because interest rates on auto loans have crept upward.
What to remember: You can get a good idea of a fair used-car price by finding the private party sale price with CR’s Car Value Estimator. “Ultimately, the private party price is your negotiation target,” says Mike Quincy, who has bought 165 new cars for CR’s test track over the years. “Negotiate up from this figure when buying from a dealership, rather than down from their listed price. Be respectful, honest, and prepared to walk away.”
Best Used Cars
We show a variety of reliable models, representing a range of car types and organized by price. These cars performed well in CR’s rigorous testing when new and have stood the test of time with above-average reliability scores, based on our extensive surveys of thousands of owners. We list alternative choices when other vehicles meet the qualifications. Click on the model names to access the model pages, with detailed reliability data, road-test results, and more.