While many of the best things in life are free, the best and safest vehicles usually aren’t. And that means you need to invest a bit of time and effort into looking for the right car or truck for your family.
If you need something budget-friendly, you definitely should consider buying a previously owned vehicle. You’ll find some amazing options, sometimes with very low mileage, in a variety of places that may or may not be expected.
If you’re not sure where to look, or which cars are the best options, you should do some specific research that involves using tools like the Kelley Blue Book, the knowledge of friends who love cars, and some websites like Yelp and the Better Business Bureau.
That might seem a bit overwhelming, though, so we’ve got some tips for getting you started, as well as a list of some of the absolute best used cars that you should look for in 2019.
How to Find a Used Car
There are a number of places where you can find decent used cars. You’ll need to have some strong ideas in mind for what you’re looking for, including your budget, and some thoughtful questions in mind as you shop.
We don’t really think that salvage and junk yards are the way to go for purchasing a used car that you’ll drive around, but treasures can occasionally be found in these places.
Mostly, cars in junk yards are vehicles that are too old to trade in or are in too poor of shape to be sold in traditional ways. That means that the cars are usually cannibalized for repairs on other vehicles, if they don’t get crushed first.
If you decide you really want the lowest cost car, you’ll maybe find something at a junk yard. Just be aware that you’ll sink a lot of time and effort into repairing the car, including looking elsewhere for parts.
Be sure to call ahead to salvage yards to find out if they sell their junkers to the public. If they do, ask if you could come look at them, and figure out when your schedule works with their hours.
If you happen to find one of those rare gems in the junk yard and actually want to buy it, be sure to negotiate the price before putting in your money.
Look Around on Your Daily Routine
You probably remember being parked in a grocery store lot somewhere that another car was parked bearing a “for sale” sign in the window. When you’re not shopping for a used car, you may not notice how many of them are around.
But if you look for those “for sale” signs when you’re in need of a new-to-you car, you might discover a lot of options all around you.
If you happen to find your ideal car wearing a sign, be sure to think through the various risks you might face if you purchase it from an individual.
- No warranty is available for the majority of cars sold by individuals.
- Possible dishonesty from owner on the car’s history and potential issues can be a serious problem.
- It’s difficult to hold an individual seller responsible if the car turns out to be a lemon.
If you happen to find your dream car and feel up for the risk, you can and should still ask a lot of questions and feel out the personality of the seller. You can often tell if there’s something shady going on based upon the person’s tone of voice, inability to make direct eye contact, or body language.
Ask People You Know
Let your friends, family members, co-workers, fellow church attendees, neighbors, and even Facebook acquaintances know that you’re looking for a used car. Give the basic information on what you’re looking for to them and ask if they know of anyone selling a used car that matches. You can also ask them to be on the lookout, since they will traverse places you won’t, and might see a “for sale” sign somewhere.
Be sure to let people know your basic budget, the make and model, if you’ve got specifics in mind, and any other pertinent information that would help them not waste their time in telling you about every single used car they notice by the roadside.
Some of your friends and family might make some calls for you on cars they see, and acquaintances might snap some photos of signs with phone numbers for you to call.
Go to a Used Car Dealership
Of course, the most obvious option for buying a used car is going to a used car lot. Here you’ll find a pretty hefty number of options. Most of the cars at a used lot will have decent prices.
Before shopping at a used car dealership, though, go check out the company at the Better Business Bureau to make sure they’re reputable. You can also read reviews on various websites including:
You can also contact the State Attorney General’s office to see if there are complaints against a dealership.
Just remember, no matter how great the ratings for a dealership, there’s no guarantee you won’t have some issues. Always make sure you review contracts before purchasing, and make sure you know how long you’re protected against lemons, faulty parts, or other issues that may arise in the first bit after making that purchase.
Check the Newspaper or Other Ads
Craigslist is notorious for shady dealings, so you may not want to look there, but there are a number of other sites where used car ads might yield your perfect results. Check out the various classifieds sections on Facebook Marketplace, in the local newspaper, and sites like CarFax.com and Autotrader.
Look for the ads with photographs and direct language descriptions. Newspaper ads will have few words, but online sites usually have nearly unlimited word counts, so stay away from anything seems too good to be true, or too weird.
Many of these listings will be from dealerships, but many will also be from individuals. Use common sense and never go alone to someone’s home to check out a possible car. Ask those questions, read the body language of the seller, and give yourself a little time to think.
Never purchase a used car on a whim, or in a rush. You may discover you’ve made a huge mistake if you do.
Try an Auto Auction Site
If you’re interested in a specific make and model of car, you can shop on auto auction websites for the specific car you want. You should be able to specific your price range as well, which can make a huge time difference by knocking out options that aren’t reasonable for you.
Make sure that the cars you’re looking at are from your own country, though, as some of the websites have international sellers on them. Getting a car shipped to you from Texas is significantly easier than getting one shipped from China.
Go for Used Car Websites
Similar to classifieds, there are websites that specialize in selling used cars. Just search for “used cars” in the Bing search engine, and you’ll bring up tons of results. Make sure the websites are working for you from your own area, though, unless you’re interested in having a car shipped to you from across the country.
Some of these websites allow the owners to sell directly, but a few sell cars they have purchased themselves for resale. Be sure to understand which way the site works and determine if you’re willing to work with individuals or a company.
Also, always use the same precautions with online shopping for cars as you would in person. Ask questions of the seller, look closely at images, request photos if none are available or inferior, and review the vehicle history reports.
Before using this kind of website, you should also make sure you know what kinds of policies the site offers to protect purchasers. Also look for those third-party reviews on the reliability and integrity of the site and avoid any that aren’t acknowledged by the Better Business Bureau.
Additional Tips for Shopping for Your Used Car
Before you go shopping, whether online or in person, keep these tips in mind.
- Have your list of questions ready to ask sellers and dealers. Make sure you at least ask about the history of the car regarding accidents and repairs made.
- Look up the history report of the vehicles you’re looking at. These histories will reveal past accidents, major repairs done, and other major issues in the past. You can do this search by going to a vehicle reporting site – like CarFax – and entering the VIN number of the car.
- Check out reviews on the models you like before setting your sights on one. Real reviews may reveal constant issues and weak points that could be problematic.
- When you shop in person, bring along a friend who knows something about cars. They’ll notice things like repairs, defects, and other red flags that owners might not mention. They can also estimate how much you’re likely to spend on repairs to both get the car running, and to keep it running over the next few years.
- Some models and makes have low resale value, hard to find parts, or expensive maintenance. Be sure to look into these possible issues before making a purchase and decide if they should affect your purchasing decision or not.
- If you don’t mind older model cars, keep in mind that retirees often sell their cars with lower mileage, once they can no longer drive. These cars are usually well-kept, clean, and have low mileage because the elderly drive less and less as they age. The cars are usually reasonably low-priced as well. You are also less likely to haggle the price lower, though, so keep that in mind.
- Bring a small magnet along to find plastic plaster repairs that might also reveal undisclosed accidents or damage from the past.
The Best Used Cars to Buy in 2019
Our list of the best used cars includes cars that are affordable used, don’t have significant known defects, are reasonably affordable to repair, and have reasonably easy to find replacement parts. All of these aspects are important in a car, so that’s what we think you should be looking for.
Japanese engineering has made more than one company reliable, and Toyota is especially so. If you’ve got a daughter who goes on road trips with her friends, or you drive a long way to work each day, you want a reliable car that is easy to repair.
Toyota Corollas are known for their reliability, their ease-of-repair, and how easy the parts are to find.
If possible, look for models between 2012 and 2018 for your purchase. These will be the latest, obviously, which means that they’ll have lower mileage, and have updates parts and maintenance schemes that will help with any issues that may arise.
The Dodge Charger has been around for a long time. Over the years, the model has been upgraded, of course, but the upgrades have improved a ton of things on the already celebrated car. Some of those upgrades include interior quality, styling quality, driving involvement, and overall performance.
The cabin is bigger and the ride is more comfortable in models dating after 2010, so shoot for those for the best value.
If you’re looking for more of a small SUV cross-over, you’ll want to consider the Honda CR-V from 2012 to 2016. These amazing small SUV cars have tons of room, higher seating without being too high for shorter folks to easily access, and drives smoothly through most any standard terrain, including dirt and gravel roads.
You can easily fit two bicycles into the back, if need be, or load up the whole thing for a canoeing trek.
This car has high fuel-economy, user-friendly controls, nimble handling, and tons of tech and family-friendly features that make road-tripping and carpooling so much better.
The Kia Soul has tons to offer in its uniquely styled package. There’s tons of room, some of the most comfortable seating you can find in a car, and great giant windows that provide fewer blind spots than many other models.
The Kia Soul is technically a hatchback, but it crosses over nicely to a small SUV style vehicle, meaning it’s so much easier to haul everything around.
The driving experience in the Kia Soul admittedly isn’t the most amazing thing you’ll ever feel – in fact it’s considered “adequate” by most. But you can get a higher-powered model, or a fully electric model.
Some great features in the Soul include possibilities like heated seats, lane-departure warning, and touch-screen navigation. If any of these is really important to you, be sure to make sure the used model you’re purchasing has that specific feature, instead of just assuming.
Another long-familiar, and equally reliable model from Toyota is the Camry.
In recent years, Toyota has redesigned the models to look a bit snazzier, and have more adept handling, but it remains comfortable, with the quiet-interior we all can love.
The Camry has ample power and has fantastic mileage at 32 miles per gallon overall.
If you’re looking for a solid model, with great fuel-efficiency, ease-of-repair, and easy to locate replacement parts, the Camry is a great mid-sized Sedan option.
If you’re more into sports cars, then the Subaru BRZ is a good one to consider used. The 2014 model in particular ranks highly on the used cars to purchase list so you’ll want to look for that model.
The BRZ is perfect for driving enthusiasts who find a sports coupe thrilling but need it to be affordable. This model also happens to be fuel economical, which makes it all the more affordable.
This beauty is a co-developed by two Japanese automakers known for skill, quality, and precision: Toyota and Subaru. Its nearly identical twin is the Scion FR-S, with only minor differences between the two in suspension tuning, exhaust notes, and minor design nuances.
When You Need a Car, Think Used
When you’re in need of a budget-friendly car, you should consider the possibility of purchasing a used car. Old junkers may have the earned reputation of having more rust than working parts, but a huge number of decent, well-priced, and well-maintained used cars are out there.
You can find these quality vehicles in a number of places, ranging from dealerships to retirement communities. Just be sure to exercise some caution and spend a bit of time researching your options before you purchase.