Used Cars That Are Better Than New?

Buying a used car versus new is definitely a money-saver, but there's a trade-off: Used cars aren't as reliable. Or are they? Here's a list of used cars that Consumer Reports claims aren't just cheaper than new, they're better.

Used Cars That Are Better Than New? Photo (cc) by Bo47

When it comes to cars, some argue that new is the way to go. After all, that’s the way to get the latest safety features, technological advances, and mileage improvements. Then there’s the main problem with used cars: They’re not as reliable.

Others, including Money Talks founder Stacy Johnson, have never bought a new car because they say the added features and reliability aren’t worth the huge added cost. New cars shed a chunk of value instantly – Kelley Blue Book estimates the average new car drops 20 percent in value the first year and 65 percent over five years.

And are newer cars really that much more reliable? Consider all the headline-grabbing auto recalls in the past couple years. Toyota recalled over 4 million cars in 2010 for acceleration problems, and that included 2010 models: essentially, new cars.

If you’re in the new-is-always-better-than-used camp, here’s some news you might find shocking: Consumer reports Recently put out a press release saying some used cars are more reliable than their much newer cousins. Money Talks News reporter Jim Robinson headed off to the local CarMax to check it out. Watch the video below, then read on for more advice and numbers…

As Jim explained in his story, Consumer Reports recently found that many 2008 models had the same or fewer problems as 2010 models.

Of course, there will always be those who will still insist that new is better. This article from our friends at Money Crashers, for example, suggests buying new is a good idea for the latest safety tech, as well as fuel efficiency. But does that extra 20 to 40 percent upfront hit really pay off when it comes to either mileage or reliability?

Here’s a comparison of the models Consumer Reports lists as better in 2008 than 2010, along with their price tags and fuel efficiencies:

make/model 2010 national dealer 2008 private seller
Honda Fit $15,151. 31 mpg. $10,650. 31 mpg.
Toyota Prius $21,408. 49 mpg. $17,330. 47 mpg.
Lexus ES $33,242. 23 mpg. $22,335. 23 mpg.
Acura RL $44,235. 19 mpg. $24,735. 20 mpg.
Mazda MX-5 Miata $21,858. 24 mpg. $14,770. 23 mpg.
Toyota Sienna $23,633. 20 mpg. $16,030. 20 mpg.
Honda CR-V $21,015. 24 mpg. $18,870. 23 mpg.
Toyota Highlander $24,851. 21 mpg. $23,670. 21 mpg.
Honda Ridgeline $26,075. 17 mpg. $18,195. 17 mpg.

2010 prices were pulled from TrueCar.com, while 2008 prices are based on Kelley Blue Book values for private sellers with cars in fair condition, standard features, and 41,500 miles. Mileage averages come from FuelEconomy.gov.

What we see is very small changes in fuel efficiency, mostly from rounding off the highway and city mileage average – except with the Prius, which improved a whopping 2 miles per gallon. The Acura RL actually got slightly worse mileage, which is interesting given the sharp drop in value over two years: 44 percent.

None of the others dropped that much in price, but it’s clear that buying these 2008 models – which Consumer Reports says have fewer defects on average than the newer versions – will save thousands.

As Jim mentioned in the video, though, every car is different. These are just averages, and you’ll want to have the specific condition of any vehicle you consider buying professionally evaluated for both reliability and value.

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