There comes a time when every car must meet the great junkyard in the sky. It’s a sad moment because your car has taken you on adventures, brought home your first child, and shuttled you to work every single day.
The prospect of a new car, even one that comes pre-owned, is one of potential joy and terror. You’re ready to find your next whip but worried you’ll be taken to the cleaners. Don’t be, Car Bibles’ editors have your back.
Finding the perfect used car, and avoiding the imperfect ones, comes down to a pretty simple formula: Do your research, keep strong in haggling, and purchase with confidence.
To better explain the formula, Car Bibles put together the guide below to steer you away from bad used cars and toward ones worth your hard-earned money. Check it!
What Are the Most Reliable Used Cars?
We’d love to tell you Toyota or Honda is the most reliable car brand, but the truth is that reliability depends a great deal on how the owner treats the car. Most modern cars will be very reliable right off the factory floor, but that doesn’t mean they don’t require care and attention in the form of preventative maintenance.
Keeping to a car’s maintenance schedule, curbing your speed-demon driving, and reducing the vehicle’s exposure to your locale’s severe weather will keep it purring for longer. So if you want to find who’s responsible for your mirrors, doors, and exhaust falling off, check your rearview mirror.
That’s not to say certain manufacturers don’t have reputations for their reliability. Honda and Toyota both prioritize durability and easy and cheap maintenance by spending millions of dollars on research, development, and manufacturing practices. Through the years, consumers got wise and told everyone and their mother’s about the impressive reliability.
What Car Brand Has the Most Problems?
There’s no easy answer here. Forum-based brand loyalists will tell you Fiat stands for “Fix It Again, Tony,” and Ford stands for “Found On Road Dead,” but those are biased opinions and lack the credibility of sources like Car Bibles, Kelly Blue Book, or Consumer Reports maintains. The jokes are absolutely funny, but they shouldn’t be the basis for your car-buying decisions.
As for recalls, every single automotive manufacturer issues dozens for millions of cars each year. There are zero brands that don’t. Reliability primarily depends on the brand’s research, development, and the quality of its manufacturing, plus your caretaking abilities.
How Not To Get Ripped Off When Buying a Used Car
Because so many of us have an uncle Chad, someone who will steer us down the path of a race school’s clapped-out V10 BMW M5 with 10 million miles, here are Car Bible’s best practices for not getting ripped off when viewing used cars.
- Buy What You Can Afford
One of the biggest pitfalls consumers make when purchasing a new-to-them used car is buying more car than they can afford, including maintenance. Used luxury cars with steep depreciation attract buyers with cheap power, performance, and bougie-extravagance, but hold your horses. Those same cars often will cost two arms and a leg to maintain or fix.
Do your research ahead of time and investigate common issues, maintenance, and everyday fixes, as well as how much everything costs. You’ll quickly find that the out-of-warranty $45,869 2013 Bentley Continental GT might not be the bargain you thought it was.
- Make a List of Cars That Serve Your Purpose
We know the allure of used sports cars. Heck, we have a least three Craigslist tabs open right now, but understand that what you want might not be what you need. Make a list of cars that suit your purpose, whether that means a truck, sedan, hatchback, sports car, or SUV. Once that’s narrowed down, list all the options in the category, as well as their prices.
By going through a list, you’re more likely to find how they all compare, what options you need, what luxuries you want and can afford, and what you’re attracted to. Because once you slap down your hard-earned dollars, you’re stuck with it, ugly or not.
- Don’t Be Afraid To Walk Away
One of the easiest ways to avoid getting hoodwinked by your local used car dealer is by walking away from a potential deal. You’re not beholden to them, and they aren’t the CIA, so they won’t be able to find you once you leave the lot. Don’t be afraid to walk away if the deal isn’t right for you.
- Is the Car Certified Pre-Owned (CPO)?
A certified pre-owned or CPO car is a used car returned to a manufacturer-backed dealership and gone over, usually involving a wildly long checklist, by the dealership’s trained mechanics. After it’s been inspected and certified in good working condition, it’s given a factory-backed warranty, just like a new car would receive.
Certified pre-owned cars are, however, more expensive than regular non-certified cars as they’re known to be reliable, as well as offer the manufacturer’s warranty. All of which goes into the purchase price.
- Have the Car Inspected By a Third Party (Not By the Seller)
The biggest and most meaningful way to protect yourself from predatory car salespeople is an independent inspection by a trusted professional mechanic. You’re absolutely within your rights as a consumer to ask the dealership if you can take your car to a mechanic you trust to have it looked over. If they say yes, you’ll get a full appraisal of what’s good and bad with your potential new ride. If they say no, you know it was a lemon and they were trying to hustle you. Win, win.
- Check For Recalls
Once you whittle down your prospective rides to one make or model, check the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) website for safety and repair recalls and bulletins. It could save you time in repairs if you know what’s likely to break and might just give you leverage when it comes down to haggling on price.
What To Look For With a Used Car
To complement our lovely list of things to steer you away from “Dear God! Run, run for your lives!” used car purchases, Car Bibles has put together a handy checklist for buying with confidence. Let’s do this.
- Service Records
Service records are the car’s history and deliver everything from when it received fluid flushes and changes, what sort of maintenance has been done, the repairs it’s undergone, and generally how it’s been treated over its lifetime.
If your car comes with detailed records that show it’s been properly maintained, you can safely assume it won’t be a lemon. If there’s a single receipt from a Pep Boys knockoff that’s half-smudged with what appears to be leftover McDonald’s Sweet & Sour sauce, well, you get the idea.
- CarFax or Evidence of an Accident
Ask whoever is selling the car to produce a CarFax or accident report. This will tell you whether the car has had any major surgery caused by accidents, fender-benders, or is a complete salvage due to Hurricane Sandy.
If you’re buying in a cold-weather locale where the city liberally salts its roads like french fries, you’re going to want to inspect the car for rust. Rust normally occurs under the car, in the wheel wells, or wherever there’s a crease in the car’s metal. If there are any scratches or dents, there could also be rust forming on or near those sites due to metal exposure.
You may also like our review of the best scratch removers.
- Extreme Wear
Speed demons, racers, wannabe Fast and the Furious stunt professionals, and soccer moms late for Timmy’s practice can all be extremely hard on their Honda Odysseys. Tires go bad, transmissions start slipping, and oil changes are forgotten. Check the car’s suspension by going over speed bumps slowly, shift it through each gear, check the tire’s life with a handy dandy penny, and do a real inspection on your test drive. Take your time, and never let the salesperson rush you.
What’s the World’s Most Reliable Car?
The one you keep maintained, clean, and in good condition. Or, you know, Toyota Land Cruiser. They don’t die. Trust your crazy uncles at Car Bibles.
What’s the World’s Least Reliable Car?
The one your crazy uncles at Car Bibles maintain. Just kidding! All of our rides are spotless. The real answer is the one you don’t maintain. Improper maintenance, and generally treating your car like yesterday’s garbage, is going to make for a wholly unreliable car. Pay attention to a used car’s service history, give it a caring home, and you’ll enjoy many miles of blissful reliability.