Car Buyer Labs

Car Buying Advice, Tips, and Reviews

Used cars are in a showroom, similar to local used car dealerships near you.

Changing the Way We Buy a Used Car

Used car dealerships offer a very different shopping experience today than they did twenty, or even just ten, years ago. While prospective shoppers in the past had to base their evaluation on the dealer’s reputation or their trusty mechanic who they paid to come along, it wasn’t easy. Today, information on used vehicles is much more readily accessible to the average consumer now than ever before. Thanks to the internet, and more widespread tracking systems, you can learn quite a bit about the story behind a specific car from the convenience of your home. Before you choose to buy, it’s always essential to run reports and find out everything you can to ensure that you are paying a fair price.

CarFax reports will give you details on maintenance records based on the Vehicle Identification Number. The amount of times that the vehicle has switched owners, along with any pertinent information related to accidents, floods and wear and tear, are all clearly laid out for you. While researching an individual car is very important, it’s one of the most critical steps in the used car buying process.

First Things First

Before you’re ready to run any reports, you need to figure out what type of vehicle you’re looking for. Most people begin their car search by browsing reviews online and narrowing down to a few top brands. Perhaps, you already have a couple of favorites in mind based on your friends and family’s views. Cars you’ve owned in the past may seem like a reliable option. Maybe an ad from the local dealership or car manufacturer has swayed your preference towards a particular direction. Whatever is prompting you to make an emotional buy should definitely be backed up with reliable facts and stats.

Luckily, there are loads of research studies performed on vehicles each year. Checking the dependability and typical lifespan of the specific make and model can give you some peace of mind on a car with a few years under its belt. Certain brands and models are well-known as trustworthy used car options. Before you venture into the Wild West of used car shopping, pay attention to what’s happening at the award shows and in the reviews.

Your Best Bets Under 15K

The main reason for buying used versus new is the initial savings on depreciation. Most modern cars depreciate in value by about 50% within the first five years! Buying used is a smart decision across the board, as long as you opt for a quality vehicle. The last thing you want to do is buy a used car that wasn’t built to last. It’s easy to find new cars that are great right off the lot. But the long-term maintenance requirements, and tendency to break down, separates a good buy from a bust in the used car market. For maximum longevity, start with trusted brands.

A red 2014 Nissan Altima is driving on a curved road.

According to Carmax, the top five best options for used cars under $15,000 are the Nissan Altima, Chevrolet Cruze, Honda Civic, Hyundai Sonata, and Nissan Sentra, all as 2014 models. It seems like 2014 was a good year for cars that perform well on the resale market, or perhaps that’s just the sweet spot of used vehicles. Maybe its because they are not too new or too old, but right in the middle for reliability and price.

The Nissan Altima and Nissan Sentra have been popular among Nissan fans for several years. They are good bargain buys, with simple designs and decent reliability ratings. Kelley Blue Book gives most Nissan models over 4 stars for reliability out of 5, which makes it no surprise to see these two on the list. Honda and Hyundai have also gained a solid reputation over the years. With the Civic and Sonata being relatively small vehicles, they fit well into this price point category. If you prefer to buy American, the Chevy Cruze is a great choice. It offers roomy passenger seating and ample trunk space.

Compact SUVs

If you’re looking specifically for a compact SUV, as so many people are, start your search with the following models in mind: Nissan Rogue, Jeep Cherokee, Ford Escape, Chevrolet Equinox, and Honda CR-V. All of these options are reliable choices and can vary widely in price depending on the year and model.

The 2010 Nissan Rogue won Consumers Digest’s Automotive Best Buy Award and the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) ‘s Highest Side-Impact Safety Rating. The Chevy Equinox from 2015, 2016 and 2018 are all award-winning vehicles as well. The 2015 and 2016 Chevy Equinoxes were awarded Most Dependable Compact SUVs by J.D. Power and Associates in 2018 and 2019, respectively. When it was new, the 2018 Equinox won Most Dependable Compact SUV and Best Performance Compact SUV.


Based on CarMax sales from June 1, 2018, through November 30, 2018, the top used hybrids include the Toyota Prius, Ford Fusion Hybrid, Chevrolet Volt, Toyota Prius C and the Kia Optima Hybrid. The Toyota Prius, being almost synonymous with the term “hybrid,” is an obvious choice with a strong following. The Kia Optima Hybrid is a twist on the award-winning Optima, for those hoping to save money on fuel.

The Chevy Volt stands out as having been awarded numerous times. Even before it was introduced, starting in 2009, the Volt was recognized with a Green Car Vision Award by the Green Car Journal at the Washington Auto Show. By the time it was on the market in 2011, multiple awards for the Chevy Volt were awarded. These were the Car and Driver 10 Best Cars Award, Motor Trend Car of the Year Award, Green Car of the Year (again by Green Car Journal), Automobile of the Year by Automobile Magazine, North American Car of the Year (at the International Auto Show).

A blue 2018 Chevy Volt, a popular used car found at used car dealerships, is parked in front of a business building.

In Consumer Reports’ list of owner-satisfaction based on its 2011 Annual Auto Survey, 93% of respondents who owned the Volt said they definitely would purchase that same vehicle again. The next year, the results on the Volt were almost identical, at 92%. If you’re looking for a used hybrid that won’t become a money pit, the Volt is your car. It got the 2012 Best Resale Value Award in the category of electric cars by Kelley Blue Book and the 2012 Total Cost of Ownership Award in the electric car category, for the lowest projected costs during initial five-year ownership period in its category.

More recently in 2016, the Chevy Volt won Green Car of the Year by Green Car Journal, which was awarded to the second-generation Volt. The Chevrolet Volt is the first model to receive this award more than once. When it comes to a used Hybrid, the awards speak for themselves.


No matter what price range, size or fuel economy you opt for, make sure you choose a used vehicle that’s going to be worth your money for the long haul. The best thing about used vehicles is that there have been plenty of other owners who can share their stories to help you make the right decision. Take the time to do your research, find a dealership that you trust and pick from the best auto brands.