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Consumer Reports on How to Buy a Used Car Includes these Recommended Models

Here’s how you can find a reliable pre-owned vehicle at a price you can afford with these tips from Consumer Reports analysts along with those makes and models they highly recommend.


The State of Buying a Vehicle Today

According to a recent Consumer Reports analysis of the state of buying a new and used vehicle the picture is still pretty grim for the budget-conscious car buyer, it turns out that the average new-car transaction is above $48,000 and that rising used-car prices are still rising---nearly 8 percent over last year. Which may not sound so bad…until you consider that, “…used cars have risen in value by 50 percent since February 2020,” say CR analysts who point out the cause being due to pandemic shutdowns that threw the global economy into turmoil.

What this means for the budget-conscious car buyer is that in order to stay on budget, you may need to be focused on finding older used cars that are reliable.

To help used car shoppers hedge their bets on finding a used car that is reliable rather than a lemon, the good folks at Consumer Reports recently provided a sound list of tips related to “knowing what you are buying” when considering a used vehicle that has been oft repeated in this column.

Tips such as:

Check the Car’s History
CR analysts recommend that all used car shoppers should make an effort to uncover a car’s history by seeking out a reputable agency such as Carfax.

Carfax is well-known for providing used car shoppers with important and updated information and warnings about vehicles involved in flood damage, reports of odometer fraud, and how buyers can avoid overpaying for a vehicle.

However, a Carfax Report is not the end-all toward making a good used car buying decision. In fact, the Carfax website tells users of their services that, “Not all information is reported to Carfax.” And that, “The Carfax Vehicle History Report should be used along with a pre-purchase vehicle inspection and thorough test drive.”

For more about the pros and cons of depending on a Carfax report, check out this article about a Carfax Caveat All Car Shoppers Should Know.

Walk Around the Car
The importance of performing a walk-around inspection cannot be overstated. You should have an eye for signs of underside and frame rusting problems, fluid leaks that may or may not be a problem or unusual for a used car, and especially for indications that the vehicle may have been the result of a flipped car with water damage.

As an example of a walk-around inspection, be sure to check out this article that showcases a 1986 Toyota 4Runner walk-around inspection that is an instructive demonstration on how to give a used vehicle a good once-over before buying and/or beginning repairs.

Take a Test Drive
It goes without saying, but it does bear repeating per this CR analyst advice: “Before you even start driving, make sure the car is sized appropriately to meet your needs, that the seats are comfortable, and that its controls won’t drive you crazy.” If you are not satisfied with the ride, you are not going to be satisfied with the purchase---regardless of how good a deal it may have been.

But comfort aside, a test drive is the very least precaution you should take. And not just before purchasing a used vehicle to find some hidden faults, but whenever repairs are done and before the mechanic returns your car keys to you.

Get a Mechanical Inspection
CR analysts also point to a truism of used car shopping: “Unless the car is covered by a warranty or service contract, any problems it has are yours once you drive it home.” Therefore, it is imperative to hire a trusted mechanic and pay him for an inspection and his or her opinion on the true value of a used car before deciding on buying one.


That all said and done, here is a listing of Consumer Reports recommendations of used cars under budget-conscious categories important for used car shoppers that include smart choice models that are consistent consumer favorites; and, under the radar models, while not as popular but do possess a strong reliability record and had a good overall road-test score when CR tested them as new. The models are listed in descending order of cost to the shopper.

Used Cars Over $40,000

2019 Lexus RX
Price Range: $37,625 - $47,425
Owner Reported MPG: 21 mpg

2019 Audi Q7
Price Range: $33,500 - $43,775
Owner Reported MPG: 22 mpg

Used Cars for $30,000 to $40,000

2019 Toyota Highlander
Price Range: $28,475 - $41,050
Owner Reported MPG: 22 mpg

2019 Buick Enclave
Price Range: $27,100 - $37,000
Owner Reported MPG: 21 mpg

Used Cars for $20,000 to $30,000

2019 Mazda CX-5
Price Range: $21,625 - $28,900
Owner Reported MPG: 25 mpg

2018 Ford Edge
Price Range: $17,750 - $27,275
Owner Reported MPG: 22 mpg

Used Cars for $10,000 to $20,000

2015 Honda CR-V
Price Range: $16,250 - $19,975
Owner Reported MPG: 27 mpg

2017 Chevrolet Equinox
Price Range: $15,700 - $18,425
Owner Reported Mpg: 24 mpg

Used Cars for Under $10,000

2009-2011 Honda Accord
Price range: $7,825-$10,825

2008-2010 Honda CR-V
Price range: $7,575-$10,850

2010-2012 Honda Fit
Price range: $7,950-$11,200

2010-2012 Toyota Prius
Price range: $10,775-$14,600

2010-2012 Toyota Corolla
Price range: $8,350-$11,300

2009-2011 Toyota Camry
Price range: $7,575-$10,550

2011-2012 Infiniti G
Price range: $8,650-$10,125

For a more detailed breakdown of each vehicle’s features, please visit the Consumer Reports website. Note that while access to some information requires a CR membership, the potential savings make it negligible in comparison when looking for the latest information to aid your car buying research

And finally…

For additional articles about shopping for a used car, be sure to check out these favorites:

Chevy Trucks to Buy and Not Buy Explained by a Chevrolet Mechanic

The Answer to Whether You Should Buy a New or Used Car Today

Learn to Inspect That Used Car Like a Car Care Nut

COMING UP NEXT: Worst Deals on New Cars Dominated by Two Popular Makes

Timothy Boyer is a Torque News automotive reporter based in Cincinnati. Experienced with early car restorations, he regularly restores older vehicles with engine modifications for improved performance. Follow Tim on Twitter at @TimBoyerWrites for daily new and used vehicle news.

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