Rateworks auto loan refinance
July 21, 2023

Best Used Car Brands: Quality, Reliability, and Value for Smart Buyers

So you’re in the market to buy a car. Will you buy new or used?

Cartoon of a used car being purchased
Written by

Sarah T.

Will you buy new or used? That can be a perplexing question for many consumers, especially when there are so many options. Not only that, but you need to consider whether you’ll pay cash, finance, or lease the vehicle. But considering new cars depreciate by as much as 20% in the first year alone, buying a used car can seem smarter. This begs the question—what are the best-used car brands to buy?

In the market for a new-to-you car? Here are the best used car brands to buy 

When it comes to purchasing a used car, choosing the right brand can make all the difference in quality, reliability, and value. With so many options available in the used car market, buyers need insights into the most reliable and value-driven brands. 

In this article, we will guide you through the best-used car brands, providing you with the knowledge to make smart and informed buying decisions. Whether you're seeking a practical commuter car or a versatile family vehicle, understanding the importance of selecting the right used car brand is paramount.

Reliability and value: The top 10 best used car brands to buy

When it comes to American car brands, such as General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler, they are well-known to most buyers in the U.S. However, it's important to note that globally, there are approximately 3,260 car brands, each with its own unique characteristics. To make an informed decision, it's crucial to consider factors like reputation, long-term performance, and customer satisfaction when evaluating the best-used car brands. By focusing on these aspects, you can narrow down your options and find a reliable and value-driven used car brand that aligns with your needs and preferences.

Affordable and reliable: Best used car brands for budget buyers

Last year alone, 38.6 million used cars were sold in the U.S.; chances are, many of those cars belonged to the top brands known for offering affordability without compromising reliability. From their reputation for long-lasting performance to their value-driven pricing, these brands offer a range of models and features that cater to budget buyers' needs.

Based on Autobytel's article "10 Best Brands to Buy Used," the top 10 used car brands for budget buyers include Toyota, Honda, Chevrolet, Ford, Nissan, Subaru, Hyundai, Kia, Volkswagen, and Mazda. These brands have earned their reputation by consistently delivering reliable vehicles at affordable prices, making them popular choices among budget-conscious buyers.

When considering models and features within these brands, specific options stand out. For example, Toyota is renowned for its fuel-efficient models like the Camry and Corolla, while Honda offers reliability and practicality with vehicles such as the Civic and Accord. Chevrolet provides many options, including the versatile and affordable Cruze and the dependable Silverado pickup truck. Nissan offers the popular and affordable Sentra and Altima sedans, while Subaru is known for its reliable and capable lineup of vehicles, such as the Outback and Forester.

Cartoon of a used car with a rising graph

Used car prices are still high

Buying a new or used car can often feel overwhelming. And it isn’t an inexpensive endeavor. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with disruptions in the supply chain, resulted in sporadic halts in the production of new vehicles. As a consequence, the availability of new vehicles diminished while demand remained strong, driving up prices. This scarcity and increased costs pushed consumers towards the used car market, causing a surge in prices for pre-owned vehicles.

However, a potential silver lining for consumers is the possibility of declining prices in the used vehicle market, as changes in wholesale prices influence retail prices. According to an article by CNBC, the average listed price of a used vehicle in February 2023, the most recent data available, stood at $26,086, showing a slight decrease from January.

So, if you're not ready to part with your car and want to wait for those used car prices to come down, consider refinancing it with Rateworks. This can improve your financial situation by lowering monthly payments and providing more favorable loan terms.

Quality matters: Top-rated used car brands for smart shoppers

When purchasing a used car, quality is paramount for smart shoppers who prioritize reliability and longevity. Fortunately, several top-rated used car brands consistently earn accolades for their performance and dependability. 

In this section, we will explore some of the top-rated used car brands based on U.S. News & World Report research, providing valuable insights to help smart shoppers make informed decisions.

  • Toyota—Known for its exceptional reliability and long-term performance, Toyota offers many models, such as the Camry, Corolla, and RAV4, which consistently receive high marks for their quality.
  • Honda—With a reputation for longevity and fuel efficiency, Honda models like the Civic, Accord, and CR-V are highly regarded among used car buyers seeking reliability and value.
  • Lexus—As Toyota's luxury division, Lexus delivers a blend of upscale features and renowned reliability. Models such as the RX, ES, and IS offer a combination of comfort, performance, and longevity.
  • Mazda—Mazda vehicles are praised for their engaging driving dynamics and stylish design. Models like the Mazda3, Mazda6, and CX-5 stand out for their quality craftsmanship and reliability.
  • Subaru—Known for its all-wheel drive capability and durability, Subaru has gained a loyal following. Models like the Outback, Forester, and Impreza are lauded for their versatility and long-lasting performance.
  • Porsche—For those seeking a luxury sports car, Porsche is a brand synonymous with performance and quality. Used models like the Boxster, Cayman, and 911 offer thrilling driving experiences with exceptional build quality.

Luxury on a budget: Best used luxury car brands for discerning buyers

Perhaps you want to up the ante a bit, pursuing a used luxury vehicle for your next new-to-you car. After all, you may be able to afford a nicer car when someone else has already taken the depreciation on it.

Most people think of luxury car brands such as Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari, Cadillac, Aston Martin, BMW, Bentley Motors Limited, Maserati, and even the coveted Lamborghini. The average transaction price of one of these luxury vehicles in the U.S., when purchased new varied by vehicle type between 2022 and 2023. In January 2023, the average price for luxury cars sold in the U.S. stood at around $75,000, indicating an increase from the previous year's figure of under $73,200.

So, you can potentially get quite the deal when purchasing one of these used vehicles. According to the article "Best Used Luxury Cars" by U.S. News & World Report, here are a few standout brands known for their models, features, and depreciation rates:

  • Lexus—Known for its exceptional reliability and long-term durability, Lexus offers a range of models such as the ES, GS, and RX. These vehicles often retain their value well and provide a luxurious driving experience.
  • BMW—With its sporty performance and advanced technology, BMW is a popular choice among luxury car enthusiasts. Models like the 3 Series, 5 Series, and X5 blend luxury, performance, and comfort.
  • Mercedes-Benz—Renowned for its refined interiors and sophisticated styling, Mercedes-Benz offers a lineup that includes the C-Class, E-Class, and GLC. These vehicles often feature cutting-edge technology and deliver a smooth and luxurious ride.
  • Audi—Audi cars are known for their elegant designs, advanced safety features, and strong performance. Models like the A4, A6, and Q5 combine luxury and versatility.

When considering luxury cars in the used car market, consider depreciation rates. Luxury vehicles tend to experience higher initial depreciation. In fact, according to HotCars, luxury cars typically experience a depreciation of approximately 40-50% of their original value within the initial five years of ownership.

This makes them more affordable in the used car market and allows buyers to enjoy these brands' luxury and features at a more accessible price point.

Dependable performers: Most reliable used car brands on the market

Owning a dependable vehicle can provide peace of mind and save you from unexpected repair costs down the road. Used car brands consistently recognized for their reliability and durability include:

  • Toyota—Known for its exceptional long-term performance, Toyota models such as the Camry, Corolla, and RAV4 have consistently been praised for their reliability and low cost of ownership.
  • Honda—Honda vehicles like the Civic, Accord, and CR-V have a reputation for reliability, fuel efficiency, and solid build quality, making them popular choices among used car buyers.
  • Subaru—Subaru has built a strong reputation for producing reliable and durable vehicles. Models like the Outback, Forester, and Impreza offer all-wheel drive capability and have a track record of excellent reliability.
  • Lexus—As the luxury division of Toyota, Lexus combines luxurious features with exceptional reliability. Models like the ES, RX, and GX provide a smooth, comfortable ride and long-lasting performance.
  • Mazda—Mazda vehicles are known for their engaging driving dynamics and reliable performance. Models like the Mazda3, Mazda6, and CX-5 offer a balance of reliability, style, and enjoyable driving experience.

Considering factors like the vehicle's maintenance history, including regular servicing and proper upkeep, is essential. Additionally, specific models within a brand may have certain considerations, such as known issues or recommended maintenance intervals, which can impact their reliability. 

Even though these brands tend to be reliable, you never know how well the vehicle was cared for during its previous ownership. Further, by conducting thorough research and obtaining vehicle history reports, you can make more informed decisions and select a used car that is dependable and reliable for years to come. 

A vehicle history report compiles a comprehensive set of records that can greatly impact your buying decision and the value you place on a used car. These records, gathered from numerous sources, provide valuable insights to help answer crucial questions regarding ownership, accident history, mileage accuracy, inspection records, and whether the car has been branded as a lemon. By reviewing these details, you can make a more informed decision when considering a used car purchase.

Value retention: Used car brands with the best resale value

Resale value plays a significant role when it comes to the buying and selling of cars. Opting for a vehicle that retains its value better than competitors can safeguard against financial losses, whether in terms of lower trade-in value or potential negative equity in a long-term loan. 

Selecting a vehicle with a strong resale value can result in substantial long-term savings. To help identify vehicles with lasting value, we reviewed the Kelley Blue Book Best Resale Value Awards, which are valuable for finding vehicles that provide true long-term worth.

Outperforming 95% of other models, these vehicles excel in retaining their value over time. While the average new vehicle's worth diminishes to around 45% of its original sticker price after 60 months, these 10 exceptional vehicles return an average of approximately 65% to their owners' pockets. This significant disparity translates to a meaningful difference of approximately $7,000 over a 5-year ownership cycle for a $35,000 vehicle.

  • 2023 Toyota Tundra
  • 2023 Toyota Tacoma 
  • 2023 Tesla Model X 
  • 2023 Ford Bronco
  • 2023 Chevrolet Corvette
  • 2023 Toyota 4Runner
  • 2023 Honda Civic 
  • 2023 Ford Maverick
  • 2023 Subaru Crosstrek 
  • 2023 Jeep Wrangler 

Fuel efficiency champions: Best used car brands for eco-conscious drivers

The global shift towards sustainable transportation is gaining momentum, as reflected in the new edition of the International Energy Agency's annual Global Electric Vehicle Outlook. The report reveals that over 10 million electric cars were sold worldwide in 2022, with sales projected to increase by another 35% this year, reaching 14 million. 

For eco-conscious drivers searching for used cars with a smaller environmental footprint, several brands stand out for their commitment to fuel efficiency and sustainability. Used car brands known for their fuel-efficient models and environmental consciousness include:

  • Toyota—Renowned for its hybrid lineup, Toyota offers options like the Prius and Camry Hybrid. These models combine gasoline and electric power to maximize fuel efficiency.
  • Nissan—With the Nissan Leaf, one of the best electric cars on the market, Nissan demonstrates its dedication to sustainable mobility and zero-emission driving.
  • Chevrolet—The Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid, provides an electric driving range alongside a gasoline engine for longer trips, offering flexibility and environmental benefits.
  • Tesla—Tesla's range of electric vehicles, including the Model S, Model 3, and Model X, offers impressive electric driving ranges, innovative features, and a commitment to sustainable transportation.

These brands offer eco-conscious drivers a range of options, including hybrid, electric, and efficient gasoline-powered vehicles. Whether seeking the best electric cars, hybrids, or fuel-efficient models, these brands prioritize sustainability and provide environmentally friendly transportation choices. 

Couple getting keys after buying a used car

Family-friendly favorites: Top used car brands for safety and practicality

With car accidents being a leading cause of injury and death in the U.S., it's no wonder that drivers are keen to find vehicles that prioritize safety on the road. Recent data and authoritative findings reveal that the nation experiences a staggering 7.3 million motor vehicle accidents annually, equating to approximately 19,937 crashes each day. In light of these sobering statistics, it's essential for families to seek out the best cars that can offer both safety and practicality for their loved ones.

Based on research conducted by U.S. News & World Report, here are some of the best-used car brands known for their emphasis on safety and practicality:

  • Honda—Models like the Honda Accord and Honda CR-V have consistently earned high safety ratings and offer ample space for families and their belongings.
  • Toyota—Known for its reliability and safety features, Toyota models such as the Toyota Camry and Toyota RAV4 combine practicality and advanced safety technology.
  • Subaru—Subaru vehicles, including the Subaru Outback and Subaru Forester, are lauded for their safety features and all-wheel-drive capability, making them suitable for various road conditions.
  • Ford—With a range of models like the Ford Fusion and Ford Escape, Ford offers safety and family-friendly features like spacious interiors and user-friendly technology.

Conduct thorough research and consider factors such as crash test ratings, safety features, and overall reliability. Remember, investing in a safe and practical vehicle can help provide peace of mind and protection in the event of a fender bender or more serious accidents.

Consider your needs, budget, and interest rates when buying a used car

When choosing the best-used car brand, considering your needs, budget, and the current interest rate, is paramount. Whether you prioritize reliability, fuel efficiency, sustainability, or safety, some brands excel in each category. By conducting thorough research, exploring reputable sources, and understanding your own preferences, you can make an informed decision that aligns with your needs and budget.

If you're not quite ready to part with your current car, refinancing your loan with Rateworks can be beneficial. Refinancing can help you save money by potentially lowering your monthly payments and securing more favorable loan terms. It's a smart way to maximize your financial situation while keeping your current vehicle.