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The Best Used Cars to Buy, Experts Say

Dependable and high value for your money, these are the vehicles to consider.

Classic car lovers may wax nostalgic about the quality manufacturing of older vehicles, but according to a 2021 study conducted by J.D. Power, an independent source of car reviews and ratings, today's cars are built with record-breaking dependability. That's great news for anyone looking to buy a pre-owned car: Pick the right make and model with the right vehicle history, and chances are it'll have plenty of life left—which is why we asked auto experts to share the best used cars to buy.

"Cars these days, if treated well, can go much farther than they used to," says Chris Pyle, an auto expert for JustAnswer. "The 100k mile scare is not there like it used to be. Cars now can easily get to 200k and even higher," he explains.

Pyle says there are many different factors to consider before buying a used car. First, you should assess your budget, basic needs, and lifestyle. Once you've limited your search to a vehicle type that meets your requirements, you can begin researching and comparing car values, both current and projected.

"You need to factor in that some cars are more expensive to do regular maintenance on, and some are very expensive to repair once parts fail," he notes.

Then, once you've found a used car you're considering, "thoroughly check out the vehicle top to bottom, get some prior owner history if you can, and do not settle on something that does not check most of your boxes," Pyle advises.

Wondering which cars are best to buy used? These are experts' top picks, ranging from small sedans to full-sized SUVs.

RELATED: 8 Worst Cars to Buy Used, Experts Say.

Best Small Sedans to Buy Used

Toyota Corolla closeup with car keys

Mark Beneke, co-owner of Westland Auto Sales, says his favorite small sedans to buy used are the Toyota Corolla, the Honda Civic, and the Mazda 3.

"Corollas are one of the only vehicles that we are willing to buy and resell beyond the year and mileage restriction for our business model," Beneke tells Best Life. "This is because these vehicles have such a great track record with us that they fall into their own category. They are low maintenance, safe, fuel-efficient, and most of all, reliable."

However, if you appreciate form in addition to function, Beneke says a Civic mixes style with performance. "Honda has also taken a more comfort-driven approach and begun including entertainment packages and higher-end tech in their recent vehicles without sacrificing the overall build quality of the Civics," he notes.

As for the virtues of the Mazda 3, Beneke says they're built to last: "Their mechanical components are high-quality and durable. They are easy and inexpensive to maintain, have great fuel economy, tons of room, and have more than enough power to make driving them very comfortable."

"We've had such a great experience with these vehicles over the years that my wife and I purchased one for her," he shares of the Mazda 3. "Ten years and over 150,000 miles later, and we have yet to experience any issues with it."

Best Mid- to Full-Size Sedans to Buy Used

Mazda 6 closeup

When it comes to midsize sedans, Pyle and Beneke are in agreement: the Honda Accord, Honda Civic, Toyota Camry, and Mazda 6 are all among the best cars to buy used.

"There is no need to look for an old one to be affordable. You can get one of these cars for a good price in the three- to five-year-old range," Pyle says.

According to Beneke, the Accord is a great car to buy used because Honda makes cosmetically appealing vehicles without sacrificing reliability. "They offer lots of room, great fuel economy, a sleek and sporty style, and dependable quality," he says.

Beneke also explains that the Mazda 6 is a great car to buy used, despite being a lesser known brand among American consumers.

"We have found that these are one of the full-sized sedans that offer the biggest value," he says. "It carries the price tag of an American-made vehicle while boasting the well-known reliability of foreign vehicles."

"Our customers have had a great experience with Mazda 6s over the years: Great fuel efficiency, low maintenance, big cabin space, and powerful," he adds.

Finally, Beneke calls the Camry an "extremely dependable vehicle that has earned and maintained its reputation over the years."

He notes that it's one of the vehicles that seems to be the least affected by depreciation: "This may give the appearance that you're paying more; however, this is only the upfront cost as the overall reliability, low maintenance costs, and future resale value flip all of that and make this a very cost-effective option."

RELATED: Expert Shares 5 Cars That Won't Make It 100,000 Miles: "Extremely Unreliable."

Best Minivans or Multi-Purpose Vehicles (MPVs) to Buy Used

Kia Carnival
Mike Mareen / Shutterstock

If you're looking for a secondhand minivan, Pyle recommends the Kia Carnival or Kia Sedona.

"The downfall to these is they drop value fast, but it then settles off, so you can get them pretty cheap," he tells Best Life. "They get good fuel mileage. They also do not require repairs that often."

Best All-Terrain Vehicle to Buy Used

Blue Subaru Crosstrek off road car on mountain trail. Traveling by auto, adventure in wildlife, expedition or extreme travel on SUV automobile

Depending on the landscape of where you live, getting an all-terrain vehicle might be a no-brainer. Beneke recommends buying a used Subaru over other brands.

"If you live in an area that you have rough terrains, any of the Subaru lineup is a perfect choice," Beneke says. "They have a long-lasting reputation for being sturdy and built with high quality in mind. Not to mention that the all-wheel-drive that comes standard is hard to beat."

"While we have found that they tend to be more expensive and difficult to work on when they have issues, the emergency repairs needed on these vehicles are a fraction of what you'll find in most other brands," he explains.

Best Pickup Trucks to Buy Used

Gray Toyota Tacoma

Pyle would recommend two Toyota pickup truck models to anyone in the used-car market: the Tacoma and the Tundra.

"If you want a vehicle that maintains value, this is it. They are a little bit on the lighter duty for trucks, but they can get the job done if you are not needing to move a lot of weight. Quite often, these can get to about the 180k mark before any sort of major repairs are needed," he says.

The Ford F150 is another pickup truck that Pyle conditionally recommends, depending on the year.

"There were a few years that were not great—those being the ones where a new engine was introduced," he explains. "If you stay away from a first production year, overall, the rest of them are pretty good. They can drive the family around or tow your camper. The fuel mileage is not bad for what the truck's capabilities are," he says.

RELATED: 5 Popular Cars That "Will Bankrupt You," Expert Says in New Video.

Best Small to Midsize SUVs to Buy Used

Hyundai Santa Fe

If you're looking for a used compact SUV, Beneke sings the praises of the Hyndai Santa Fe and Hyundai Tucson.

"The Santa Fe and Tucson have proven to be extremely reliable and sturdy vehicles. They have great safety ratings, offer plenty of room, are easy and affordable to maintain, and provide great fuel efficiency. Over the years, we've seen these vehicles perform well above other comparable SUVs for our clientele," he tells Best Life.

He also says the Ford Explorer has made major strides over the years.

"Older Explorers were a solid option, but when Ford expanded them in 2011, they became a whole new playing field," Beneke explains. "They now provided an SUV that could accommodate the needs of the average American family without needing to waste tons of gas. It is a very comfortable, versatile, and budget-friendly used SUV."

Best Full-Sized SUVs to Buy Used

GMC Yukon in black

Finally, if it's a used, full-sized SUV you're after, Beneke says you won't be disappointed with a Chevy Tahoe or GMC Yukon.

"If you need extra room and third-row seating, a Tahoe or Yukon is your best choice," he says. "The motors and transmissions on these are built to last and provide plenty of power to make the drive smooth and comfortable, even with a full cabin. They have strong resale values, safety ratings, and are easy to work on, making them a high-value option. Even at higher mileage, we've found that these SUVs are a safer bet than most of their competitors."

We offer the most up-to-date financial information from top experts and the latest news and research, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the money you're spending, saving, or investing, always consult your financial advisor directly.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more