Buying a used car has typically been considered a smart way to save by avoiding the steep depreciation costs that go hand in hand with new cars.
However, a limited supply of new cars and trucks due to the ongoing chip shortage caused demand for used cars to skyrocket, pushing prices much higher and reducing the value of buying pre-owned.
Now, although costs have cooled slightly, older cars are still sought after and priced accordingly.
To get the best bang for your buck, a recent iSeeCars study analyzed more than 2 million cars to see which used models are priced the lowest and offer the longest remaining lifespan. The report then ranked those models based on the cost per remaining mile calculation to determine which used cars are the best deal.
In the No. 1 spot, a 10-year-old Chevrolet Impala costs about $9,700 with an average remaining lifespan of almost 120,000 miles.
The Toyota Prius is the next best deal, with up to 130,000 miles of drivability left to go for less than $14,000 — in addition to substantially lower fuel costs.
Other top contenders — such as the Kia Sedona, Dodge Grand Caravan, Honda Ridgeline and Ford Fusion — included a range of sedans, SUVs, minivans and a pickup truck.
The average price of the 10-year-old cars and trucks in the top 10 is just $11,819, with over 105,000 miles remaining, the report found — or more than 47% left of their lifespan.
"Shoppers can buy a 10-year-old car that costs substantially less than 1- to 5-year-old used models, yet these vehicles still have 80,000 or more miles of life left in them," said Karl Brauer, executive analyst for iSeeCars.com.
"Some, like the Toyota Prius, Toyota Avalon and Honda Ridgeline, have more than 125,000 miles to go."
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Among 5-year-old cars and trucks, the Honda Fit topped the list, costing $18,486, on average, with a remaining lifespan of over 150,000 miles — or almost 75% of its total life, followed by the Civic and Prius.
Overall, five Toyotas made the top 10 list of best 5-year-old used cars for the money, also including the Camry, Corolla and Avalon.
The report looked at 10-year-old models priced between $9,000 and $19,000, with an average remaining lifespan of more than 100,000 miles, as well as 5-year-old models priced between $18,000 and $26,000 with an average remaining lifespan of more than 150,000 miles.
Beyond the standard advice to check for excess wear and tear, request a vehicle history report and bring the car to a repair shop for an inspection, according to Ivan Drury, director of insights at car-shopping comparison website Edmunds. He offered these five tips for anyone in the market for a used car.
1. Mileage is a myth: "Don't be afraid of the 100,000 mileage marker on your odometer," Drury said. Because durability has improved significantly over the last decade, "100,000 is not the mileage threshold it used to be."
"Used car values do not fall off a cliff at 100,000 miles," he said. "Instead, they continue to follow a very linear reduction in value up to and past 100,000, almost all the way to 150,000."
2. Being "basic" has its benefits: Going with widely popular models has an added advantage when it comes to buying a used car, Drury said.
"Buying mainstream, high-volume models almost ensures you'll be near a dealership or repair shop that is familiar with your model and has replacement parts readily available for repairs, translating to easier and more affordable maintenance," he advised.
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3. Stick with what you know: Similarly, buying from a brand you have had a positive experience with could give you added reassurance compared to purchasing something else that might save you money upfront "but stresses you out each time you start your car," Drury said.
4. Check the comps: Check out comparables — or older model years of the same vehicle — on marketplaces like Edmunds, CarMax, Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist to see which models are really capable of going the distance, he said.
"Even if you're looking at something like a 2015 model year, research even older model years of that vehicle to see how many miles others have racked up and their prices for future predictions of value retention," Drury advised.
5. Be ready to jump on a good deal: With demand still elevated, lower-priced used vehicles will not make it more than a few weekends before selling, so be prepared to act quickly, he said.
A five-year-old, $25,000 car will only last 39 days on the lot, on average, according to data from Edmunds. For a 10-year-old, $12,000 car that number falls to just 27 days.