Shopping for a used car is expected to get better soon. According to a recent Consumer Reports newsletter by subscription, “…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.”
That is the long-awaited news used car shoppers have been looking for, especially since the average new car price today is over $48,000. Crazy…right?!
Expected price lowering is great news, but does that mean used car shoppers should shop like they did during pre-pandemic times…or have things changed?
The short answer is both yes and no.
Used Car Shopping Recommendations
The primary fact of buying a used car today is the same as yesteryear---it’s a risky proposition because you can never really be sure how the vehicle was driven or how well it was maintained by its previous owner without some hard evidence supplied by the seller. And even then, that piece of paper citing a maintenance history trail or CarFax report could be bogus with a little Photoshop magic or incomplete data reporting.
But what about Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) vehicles as recently recommended by CR analysts? Are those certifications really any better?
Again, the short answer is both yes and no.
Problems in the Past with CPO Used Car Deals
Previous Consumer Reports newsletters have warned about the risks of buying a used CPO vehicle primarily due to CPO car scams.
To find out what goes on during a CPO, follow this link titled “What Really Happens When Previously Owned Cars Are Inspected and Certified” that covers:
- The first thing that happens to a used car during a CPO vehicle inspection
- What disqualifies a used car from being a CPO candidate
- Tricks that are giveaway’s that a used car had some previous body repairs done to it
- What is and is not a deal breaker for a used car
- How fluid leaks are handled
- How modified vehicles are assessed
- What level of wear and tear are acceptable and normal
- How many inspection points checked and who is liable
- What warranty and guarantees are made with a CPO vehicle
- CPO red flags
The Caveats of Buying a CPO Vehicle
However, there are caveats to buying a CPO vehicle. Previously, CR analysts have warned that “…not all certified pre-owned programs are the same. A used car may be advertised as certified, but it might not have the backing of an automaker’s official certification program. Some dealers "certify" cars themselves or sell third-party certifications. These types of certified pre-owned programs bring risks,” warns Consumer Reports.
• A garage might not honor the CPO warranty.
• Not all certifications may be transferable from one owner to the next.
• Differences in warranty programs might not cover a CPO vehicle---especially when buying a used car from a private individual.
CR’s Latest Recommendation
Times change and as usual so does the data and their interpretation(s). More recently CR analysts lean toward a more favorable view of CPO vehicles with the advice that they find, “The data clearly shows that owners of CPO cars have fewer problems with them and are more satisfied than owners of traditional used cars,” states Steve Elek, an automotive data analyst at Consumer Reports.
Moreover, it might be a smarter choice from an economic standpoint due to that recent Kelley Blue Book estimates the price of a CPO vehicle in only about 1.8 percent ($360 on a $20,000 car) higher than a non-CPO vehicle in 2022. Of which CR points out that the slightly higher price could be well spent per their better reliability and satisfaction analysis findings when it comes to CPO cars.
One Thing That Never Changes for Used Car Shoppers
However, despite the seemingly mixed messaging about the reliability of getting a better car with certified pre-owned vehicles is the importance of always having an independent car inspection whether it is done by yourself or a mechanic you trust. And that is one message the good folks at Consumer Reports have always warned used car shoppers as your best protection toward finding a good used car deal.
If You Have Doubts About CPO Vehicles
If you still have some doubts about buying a certified pre-owned vehicle, here is an informative Edmunds-sponsored YouTube video by The Car Mom channel that explains what you need to know when it comes to going the CPO route with your used car shopping:
The Best Used Cars Below $20,000 and Those Above $25,000
That said, here is a summary of their recommendations of used vehicles noted for their overall reliability under the categories of below $20,000 and above $25,000.
$10,000 to $15,000
- 2014-2016 Ford C-Max
- Alternatives: 2014-2016 Mazda3, 2016 Nissan Leaf.
- 2013-2014 Honda Accord
- Alternative: 2013-2014 Toyota Camry Hybrid.
- 2014-2015 Lincoln MKZ
- 2013-2014 Toyota Venza
- 2014-2016 Mazda CX- 5
- Alternative: 2013 Toyota RAV4.
$15,000 to $20,000
- 2017-2019 Honda Fit
- Alternative: 2017-2019 Toyota Corolla.
- 2017-2018 Mazda6
- Alternative: 2015-2017 Honda Accord.
- 2015-2016 Acura TLX
- Alternative: 2013-2015 Lexus ES Hybrid
- 2017-2018 Honda HR-V
- Alternative: 2016 Audi Q3
- 2013-2015 Toyota Highlander
$20,000 to $25,000
- 2019 Subaru Legacy
- 2020 Mazda3
- Alternative: 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid
- 2019-2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata
- 2018-2020 Subaru Crosstrek
- 2013-2015 Toyota 4Runner
- Alternative: 2018-2019 Nissan Murano
$25,000 to $30,000
- 2020 Toyota Camry
- Alternatives: 2020-2021 Honda Accord, 2017-2018 Lexus ES
- 2020-2021 Honda CR-V
- Alternatives: 2017-2018 Lexus NX, 2017-2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid.
- 2017-2018 Mercedes-Benz E-Class
- 2021 Nissan Murano
- 2017-2018 Toyota Tundra
$30,000 to $40,000
- 2020-2022 Toyota Prius Prime
- 2019, 2021 Audi A5
- 2020-2021 BMW 3 Series
- Alternative: 2020-2021 Toyota Avalon
- 2020-2022 Lincoln Corsair
- 2020-2022 Honda Passport
- Alternative: 2020-2022 Toyota Highlander
For a more detailed breakdown of the data, please visit the CR 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.
For additional articles related to Consumer Reports recommendations, here are a few for your consideration:
- Toyota Dominates Consumer Reports’ Best Hybrid SUVs That Cost $35,000 to $45,000
- Consumer Reports Top Choices for Best SUVs Under $40,000
- Best Cars for Teens Recommended by Consumer Reports
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 news and topics related to new and used cars and trucks.
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