Knowing whether or not you’re getting a good car for your money is difficult because “good” is open to interpretation. You and a friend can have the same new car, yet have widely differing views of its value and capabilities.
How can two people reach different conclusions while driving the same car? Well, we prioritize a car’s attributes differently: how we feel when we’re behind the wheel, how the car fits with your lifestyle, how much it costs per month, and the options you can add on to really customize your ride are all attributes that will mean more or less to different people.
If you’re buying a used vehicle, it gets even more complicated to determine if you’re buying a good car. Fortunately, there are a number of online resources you can use to find the right price and information about the car’s history - so when you’re ready to write the check, you can be reasonably certain that you made a good purchase.
The top car resources
When considering the purchase of a vehicle, new or used, the first and most important step is to determine the car’s fair market price, complete with the features you want. The commonly used guides are:
These resources will help you to efficiently generate price configurations for your new car, and will provide you with reviews of the car(s) you’re considering.
US News & World Report’s 2016 best cars for the money
Everyone wants to drive a good car at a bargain price. The following are five of the best new car bargains as identified by US News & World Report. The cars were evaluated based on price, options, energy efficiency, and annual maintenance.
1. Honda Fit
For those who are fuel conscious, the Honda Fit is, well, a good fit. The car gets an impressive 33 mpg around town and 41 on the highway. It has five doors, which makes it a good choice for those with active lifestyles: it can store skis, bikes, and surfboards easily.
The Fit is a little short on extras, but it does offer wheel-mounted audio, phone, and a satellite navigation system. It’s also Sirius XM Radio-ready. If you’re the type who likes to drive fast, consider yourself warned - the Fit won’t win you many drag races with its modest 130 horsepower, four-cylinder engine.
2. Chevy Impala
You might ask, “Didn’t Dad drive an Impala?” He probably did, but his was old-school. The 2016 version has some “giddy-up” under the hood with 305 horsepower. With this generation of Impala, you won’t feel like your aging father behind the wheel.
The Impala comes with an eight-speaker Bose sound system, remote start, WiFi from Onstar, a good size trunk for carrying luggage and sporting equipment, and - best of all - sporty styling. In other words, it doesn’t look like your dad’s Impala.
For a larger size car, it gets surprisingly good mileage - 22 mpg in the city, and 31 mpg highway.
A 10,000-mile maintenance service runs about $100 with YourMechanic, which includes parts and labor
3. Toyota Prius
The Prius is the gold standard of hybrid cars. The Prius’s best selling point? It’s energy efficient - 58 mpg around town and 53 mpg highway. That’s right, it’s better cruising around the streets close to home than it is on the open highway.
The Prius’s coolest feature is the remote air conditioning system that kicks in when the interior of the car reaches a preset temperature. No more scorching hot seats, especially in notoriously hot cities like Phoenix or Las Vegas. The 2016 Prius comes with a seven-inch touch screen display with customizable screens and wireless smartphone charging.
A 10,000-mile maintenance runs about $110 with YourMechanic, which includes parts and labor.
4. Acura MDX
The Acura MDX is among the most popular SUVs on the market. It’s so popular, Acura is already taking reservations just to test drive the 2017 model. The 2017 version will feature a three-motor powertrain that will put the MDX right next to the Acura NSX sports car when it comes to power and control. The redesigned front will feature Jewel Eye headlights and LED fog lights.
Heated front seats, a Bluetooth hands free phone, and a rearview camera also come standard.
A 15,000-mile maintenance (Acura recommends service every 7500 miles) will run you about $200 based on the 2016 modelwith YourMechanic, which includes parts and labor.
5. Hyundai Tucson
Like many vehicles on the market, the Hyundai Tucson places a premium on safety. The top-of-the line Tucson Ultimate package comes with dynamic bending headlights, lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and rear parking sensors.
While driving in the city, the Tucson will get up to 26 mpg; highway mileage is about 29 mpg.
A 10,000-mile maintenance maintenance service with YourMechanic will run about $100, which includes parts and labor.
New vs. used
Maybe a new car doesn’t fit into your budget or lifestyle. There are plenty of previously owned vehicles for sale at dealers or through private parties. A car that is three or four years old will certainly cost less up front than a new car - but depending on what you end up with, it could cost more on the maintenance side. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a relatively late model car with a clean VIN and low mileage.
The price of a used car
The price of a used car depends on a number of factors. Higher end cars, such as a Mercedes, tend to hold their value longer. If you’re in the market for a mid-price car (when new) that’s about three-to-four years old and has low-to-medium mileage (about 50,000 miles), paying between 40 and 60 percent of original retail should be considered a good deal.
Five used vehicles that hold their value
Kiplinger Magazine - Personal Finance & Investing News publishes an annual guide featuring the best used cars for the money. These are five of their top ten used cars that retain their value, and are considered good buys:
1. Toyota Camry 2013
If it seems as though there’s a Camry lurking around every corner, that’s because there is. The Camry is the best selling car in the country. They’re reliable, very affordable, and easy on gas with 25 mpg city and 35 mpg highway. There’s also a hybrid model that is a bit more expensive; but as long as gas prices stay low, you may choose to stay with the standard gas model. In addition to the entertainment that you can sync via your smartphone to the car, the Camry’s Entune multimedia system allows drivers to download additional apps for in-car entertainment.
The cost for a 50,000-mile scheduled maintenance service with YourMechanic runs about $110, including parts and labor.
2. Chevy Tahoe 2013
You might be surprised to see a big truck on the list, but the Tahoe isn’t just an ordinary truck. It’s plush, roomy, and has plenty of storage space. Surprisingly, it’s not bad on mileage - 15 mpg city, 21 mpg highway - and can tow up to 8,500 pounds if you need it to. Passengers get power seats, drivers get parking assist and rearview cameras, and it’s Bluetooth-enabled.
The cost for a 50,000- mile scheduled maintenance service with YourMechanic is about $100, including parts and labor.
3. Mercedes E-Class Sedan 2011
You can’t honestly say you’re surprised to see a Mercedes on a list of cars that maintain their value. The E-Class fleet comes loaded with safety features, including: attention assist alerts if the car senses that you need a break from driving, lane departure warning, blind-spot assist, collision warning system, and nine airbags. Gas mileage is only so-so at 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway.
The cost for a 50,000-mile scheduled maintenance service for the E-Series with YourMechanic runs between $150-270, including parts and labor.
4. Kia Soul 2013
The Kia Soul is known in the marketplace as the “hamster car” because of its TV commercials. Rumors of the Soul’s demise have been greatly exaggerated: sales remain strong, particularly among young drivers and seniors. The Soul is economical, making it a good choice for new drivers, and the seats are more upright, making the car good for seniors.
The features are modest. The Kia comes Sirius XM Radio-ready and has USB input jacks - so if you’re looking for a ton of gadgets, the Soul might not be the car for you.
The cost for a 50,000-mile scheduled maintenance service for the Kia with YourMechanic is about $100, including parts and labor.
5. Lexus RX 350 2011
The Lexus RX 350 is where luxury meets technology. The mid-size SUV comes loaded with ten airbags, Bluetooth, smart headlights, automatic high beams, accident warning systems, head up display, GPS, and more. Mileage is so-so at only 20 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. A new RX 350 can be a bit pricey; if you’re willing to consider a two- to four-year-old model, they’re available for about half the price of a new vehicle.
The cost of a 50,000-mile scheduled maintenance service for the Lexus 350 with YourMechanic will run about $100.
For many of us, our knowledge of cars begins and ends at pumping gas. If you decide that buying a used car meets your needs, and you want to make sure that you are getting a good value for your money, a certified mechanic from Your Mechanic can conduct a 150-point pre-purchase vehicle inspection. The mechanic will inspect the car and provide you with a thorough report. If the mechanic determines that repairs are needed, they can be performed after the car is purchased.
Unless you buy a super high-end luxury or sports car, a vehicle will never appreciate in value. But if you can buy your vehicle at a low price and hang on to it for a few years, it’s a good bet that you got a great deal.