Scotty Reiss, founder of A Girls Guide to Cars, is in the used car market. “I have to buy something for my second year daughter,” she says. “She lives off campus and needs a car.”

There is a large selection, she says, but her budget is not as high as she had imagined. “We’re looking for something under $ 20,000,” she says. “What we’re trying to achieve for our budget is probably that we’re a model year older than we’d like.”

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The average price of a used car has skyrocketed since the pandemic began, according to data from Edmunds’ automotive location. In May 2020, the average price consumers paid for a used car was $ 20,923. A year later, it was $ 25,091 – an increase of about 20%. “‘Up’ is not the right word to describe the month-to-month change,” said Ivan Drury, Edmunds senior manager of insights. “Maybe ‘unheard of’.”

Production stoppages due to the pandemic have resulted in a car shortage. As a result, consumers who have bought a new car are now looking for the next best thing, and demand is driving prices up: “Unfortunately, everyone is looking for used cars because there are no replacements for new cars except used ones.”

If, like Reiss, you are having trouble finding the vehicle you want for your budget, then go for a used vehicle that is a few years older. That’s how old you should be, according to auto experts.

Unfortunately, everyone is looking for used cars because there are no replacements for new cars other than used ones.

Ivan Drury

Senior Manager Insights at Edmunds

Buy a used car in the “sweet spot”

“I think the sweet spot [for used cars] is 3 to 4 years old and has 30,000 to 40,000 miles on it, “says Reiss.

The average price of a three-year-old car is $ 28,289, according to Edmunds. The average price for a 5-year-old car is $ 23,110, which saves you a little over $ 5,000.

Buying a car that is only a few years old has advantages over one that is ten years old, says Reiss. “The engine and interior weren’t worn out,” she says. “It probably has newer technology too. Things like Apple CarPlay and a rear-view camera. It can have parking sensors. You may not find some of these premium features on a 10-year-old car.”

Really old cars may not have the safety features they need either, says Emilie Voss, spokeswoman for CARFAX. “Airbags or anti-lock brakes, some of these things didn’t become standard until the late 1990s or early 2000s,” she says.

Older cars can also be bought well

This does not mean that a car older than the 3 to 4 year old sweetspot is always a bad buy. If an older car has been well looked after, it might be a good buy for you.

“If you’re looking for something to be a stopgap solution between now and a year from now, if you’re planning on buying a new car, it might not be bad to buy a $ 3,000 or $ 4,000 car with 100,000 miles,” Reiss says .

Just make sure there aren’t thousands and thousands of dollars in necessary repairs. You should see which parts have been replaced and which have not, and how much it will cost to make any repairs that you might expect. In the car manuals it is noted what needs to be replaced and the number of kilometers driven.

“If you’re spending more than $ 4,000 a year on maintenance, you should probably take a closer look and find something that doesn’t need $ 4,000 a year on maintenance,” Reiss says.

3 tips to avoid “surprises” when buying a used car

Regardless of how many years old your car is or how many miles it is, you should do some research before buying it. There are three things everyone should do before buying a used car, says Voss:

  • Check the vehicle history. This will tell you how many people have owned the car before, how many accidents it has had, or if there are pending recalls. When a car has an open recall, it means it has a problem that has not been fixed. When buying an open recall car, you need to address the problem yourself.
  • Take it for an independent inspection. Choose a mechanic that you trust. An inspection costs anywhere from $ 50 to $ 100, but it can tell you whether recent repairs were made correctly, along with any new work that should be done.
  • Test drive with it. In this way you can identify any errors in the functioning of the vehicle, e.g. B. whether the windshield wipers and air conditioning are working or whether strange noises occur when accelerating or braking. You can also see how comfortable you are driving.

“A lot of people do one or two of these things, but you want to do all three,” says Voss. “Your best bet is not to get any surprises on the road.”

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