It’s never been more difficult for buyers to find a bargain in the used car market. Fortunately we’ve dug deep into the data to identify ten worthy late-model cars and SUVs that are truly great deals.
According to the used-car valuation experts at Kelley Blue Book, the average value of a one- to three-year-old used vehicle has increased from $15,000 in 2008 to more than $23,000 in 2011, which amounts to an average boost of nearly 16 percent per year. This is causing an affordability problem among cash-strapped buyers who can’t otherwise afford a new car, which on average costs nearly $30,000 according to the industry research and forecasting company TrueCar.com.
Analysts predict used car prices will finally begin tapering off, perhaps as early as year’s end, with healthier new-car sales — including those from Japanese automakers recovering from production disruptions because of the earthquake and tsunami in March — helping to refill the supply chain via trade-ins. “Used car prices at the end of the year will still be higher than last year, but not at the levels during the peak in May and June when prices jumped 25-30 percent higher,” says Jonathan Banks, a senior analyst with the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) Used Car Guide
But that doesn’t mean there still aren’t some advantageous deals to be found in the used-car market. The key here is to find the “best” late-model pre-owned vehicles that, for one reason or another, have lower-than-average resale prices.
Age, condition and mileage largely determine a car’s value in the resale market, but comparable models can still cost more or less than each other because of various market forces. According to Automotive Lease Guide, a vehicle’s value down the road can be affected by something as superficial as a particular make or model’s market perception. Cars initially sold with big cash rebates tend to take a greater hit in terms of depreciation, as do vehicles that have significant fleet sales, which ensures a steady flow of models into the resale market each year.
Our list of Best Used Cars for the Money consists of vehicles from the 2008 model year that received average or above-average scores from the most recent J.D. Power & Associates U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study and boast average or below-average long-term ownership costs as reported by Intellichoice.com. Even so, they all suffer below-average resale values as estimated by Kelley Blue Book, which makes them outstanding deals. Used-car values cited for comparison are based on dealers’ estimated retail prices for three-year-old models in excellent condition, equipped with a typical assortment of features and driven an average 46,500 miles. Actual transaction prices will vary according to a vehicle’s precise condition, exact mileage and a buyer’s negotiating skills.
One caveat: Even the sweetest used car deal can ultimately go sour if the vehicle’s been abused, has hidden damage or was improperly maintained. That’s why it’s always prudent to have a trusted mechanic carefully inspect any used car or truck under your consideration to get an impartial evaluation of its operating condition, especially if you’re buying it from a private party. Particularly in the wake of this year’s devastating floods, be sure to run a model’s vehicle identification number (VIN) through a title-search service like carfax.com to make sure it hasn’t been previously flood-damaged or salvaged and subsequently rebuilt.
2008 Cadillac SRX
While the current generation of Cadillac’s luxury crossover SUV is smaller and more stylish, the 2008 version holds its own with solid performance from a choice of V-6 and V-8 engines at 255 and 320 horsepower, and sportier-than-average handling. Its roomy interior can seat up to seven passengers when found with the available third-row seat.
With a projected retail price of $26,300-$28,035 you’ll keep a couple thousand dollars in your pocket by choosing a 2008 SRX instead of the Lexus RX 350 at $28,500-$30,000.
2008 Hyundai Sonata
While Hyundai is at the top of its game right now with the current-generation Sonata, there’s still a lot to like about the previous-generation of this midsize sedan, particularly if you find one with the smooth and powerful 234-horsepower 3.3-lityer V-6 engine. A 2.4-liter four-cylinder with a sufficient 162 horses was otherwise standard with the 2008 model.
You’ll find it packed with features at an affordable price, which is pegged at about $13,115-$16,635 at retail in excellent condition. By contrast, dealers will ask a steeper $17,975-$19,635 for a 2008 Nissan Altima.
2008 Cadillac DTS
They don’t make luxury cars like this any more (literally, as the DTS was discontinued at the end of the 2011 model year). The old-school DTS is big as a boat and emphasizes comfort above all else. A choice of 4.6-liter V8 engines delivers 275 or 292 horsepower, with the car receiving top reliability scores.
Look for models equipped with what are still among the latest safety features, including lane-departure and blind-spot warning systems. At an estimated retail price of $22,300 it’s a classy ride at a bargain price.