Five ways you can get into a great used car without paying a premium.
If you have the right strategy and an open mind, there are plenty of ways to save money when you’re shopping for a used car. Here are five ways to make a smarter used car purchase, stretch your dollars even further, and potentially get a newer or more fully-loaded vehicle.
1. Avoid the “go-to” picks. Think about any car category for a moment. There are always a couple of "go-to" picks that come to mind. Looking for a truck? Get a Ford F-150 or Chevrolet Silverado. Want a sedan? Try Toyota Camry or Honda Accord. Thinking compact SUV? The Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4 will do. These are vehicles that have consistently performed well over the years and are often in high demand as used vehicles.
Unfortunately, this demand keeps the prices high and you'll often pay more for these vehicles. The solution is to shop for a similar vehicle from a brand you initially might have overlooked. With this option, you could save money or buy a newer or more loaded vehicle. For example, if you want a Toyota Corolla, you should also consider the Chevrolet Cruze or a Hyundai Elantra. If you have been looking at a Honda CR-V, give the Kia Sportage or the Ford Escape a look-see.
This isn't to suggest these brands aren’t solid makes. The reality is that modern cars are hardier than they've ever been, but sometimes perception and old myths are slow to change.
If you're not sure where to begin, take a look at the Edmunds review of any vehicle you're considering. There is always a list of similar vehicles in the "vehicle overview" section. And, if you're on the CarMax website and are looking at a particular vehicle, look for the "similar cars" section there for a number of comparable vehicles. If you're still on the fence about going with a brand you're not sure about, know that CarMax offers both a 5-day money-back guarantee and a limited warranty (see your store for details).
If you still want one of the better-known favorites, that's OK. You can always go back a model year or two until you're in a price range you feel comfortable with.
2. For luxury, go back a few years. One of the best things about buying a used car is that it allows you access to more vehicles than you could normally afford if you were shopping for new vehicles. If you want more luxury, you can find it in a higher trim level in a car you're already researching. Or, by buying used, you have the chance to drive a premium vehicle from an established brand.
For instance, if you were originally in the market for a two-year-old Toyota Avalon, there's a good chance you could find a Mercedes-Benz E-Class if you were to go back two or three more years further. You’d want to be OK with the vehicle having more miles on the odometer, but this is a great opportunity to enjoy a luxury vehicle.
Alternatively, if you wanted the top-of-the-line Honda Accord, you'd only need to go back a couple model years to find one for the base price of a new one.
3. Want a hybrid? Look beyond a Prius. The Toyota Prius has become synonymous with "hybrid" and for good reason; if you're looking for the most fuel-efficient vehicle out there, the Prius is at the top of this list. But if you're willing to sacrifice a few mpg to save money, look at some alternatives. The Ford Fusion Hybrid, Kia Optima Hybrid, and even the Toyota Camry Hybrid may be less expensive than a Prius from the same model year.
4. Go electric. This last tip may not be for everyone, but it's still worth mentioning. Plug-in vehicles are pricier when new since they often showcase the automaker's latest technology (and not just in the powertrain). But when EVs hit the used market the prices drop considerably. If you're interested in an all-electric or plug-in hybrid, vehicles like the Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Spark, or Chevrolet Volt can be a bargain.
5. The big strategy: play the field. The strategy that links all these tips is simple: keep your options open. Don't pin yourself down to just one vehicle. Take the time to see what else is out there. You might find a car with more options — or one that’s in newer condition — than the one you set out to buy in the first place.