What is a good used car?

How to choose the best used car for you and your budget

how to find best used carWhat car is best?

What car is most reliable?

Which car should I buy?

We see these questions frequently, usually from first-time buyers who have no experience in buying cars. They want to know which cars they should be considering, and which they should be avoiding, and why.

Of course, as might be expected, there is no single answer because different buyers have different needs and tastes, and there are many different cars that might work for them.  However, we’ll try to provide some important suggestions that will make the decision much easier and less stressful.

So what is the best car to buy?

A short answer to this question is: Honda Civic.

Now, we recognize that the Honda Civic is not the right car for everyone but it has most of the characteristics that most people are looking for. It is super reliable, relatively inexpensive to buy, costs less to insure, looks good, has good performance, is safe, has great gas mileage, and is cheap to maintain and repair.

Of course there are many other cars that have those same, or nearly the same, characteristics.

One of the most useful resources for used car buyers is Consumer Reports magazine’s Annual Auto Issue, that comes out in March every year. It’s the April issue but comes out at least a month early.

In the magazine (and on the Consumer Reports web site) there’s an entire section dedicated to used car recommendations — and used cars to avoid. They provide information that shows actual customer survey results on the reliability of various vehicle makes and models.

Following are some examples of used vehicles recommended in this year’s Auto Issue:

  • Mazda3 (2008)
  • Pontiac Vibe (2005-2008)
  • Acura TL (2005)
  • Acura TSX (2005)
  • Honda CR-V (2005)
  • Honda Pilot (2005)
  • Kia Soul (2010-2012)
  • Infiniti G35 (2006-2007)
  • Toyota Highlander (2005-2007)
  • Honda Civic (2013-2014)
  • Hyundai Elantra (2013-2014) Honda Accord (2008-2012)
  • Toyota Camry (2010-2012)
  • Lexus ES (2007-2008)
  • Toyota RAV4 (2009-2011)
  • Infiniti M (2009)
  • Toyota Highlander Hybrid (2009)

Also included in the magazine is a list of “The Worst of the Worst Used Cars.” Here are some examples:

  • Buick Enclave
  • Buick Terraza
  • Chevrolet Cruze
  • Chrysler PT Cruiser
  • Chrysler Town and Country
  • Dodge Journey
  • Ford Fiesta
  • Jeep Wrangler (4-door)
  • Mini Cooper S
  • Nissan Pathfinder
  • Saturn Outlook
  • Volkswagen CC
  • Volkswagen GTI


It pays to do a bit of research before going shopping for a used car. Since most used cars are sold “as-is”, the dealer or seller is not obligated to fix or take a vehicle back if the buyer finds problems or is unhappy after the sale — even if the seller lied about the condition of the vehicle.

Therefore, it’s always a good idea to have any used car inspected by a professional mechanic before the purchase, regardless of the vehicle’s  reliability reputation, regardless of how it looks and drives, regardless of what the seller says about its condition.