Finding Good Value in a Used Car

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Great deals await savvy buyers

If you appreciate quality and dependability in a car but don’t want the stress of a huge car payment every month for years on end, a used car may be the answer. New cars are fun and exciting to own and drive, but plenty of people have other priorities and don’t want to make such a huge financial commitment. With so many late-model, certified pre-owned cars on the market today, and with used auto loans so easy to get at Car Deal Expert, it makes good sense to buy a used car.

Top ten choices according to Cars.com

The following list of used cars compiled by Cars.com may help you in your search for a late- model used car. Cars.com reviewed the retail values, reliability ratings, safety features, and crash-test scores of 215 used-car models. Narrowing a list of 40 finalists, Cars.com then selected these top 10 vehicles based on gas mileage ratings and expert opinions on such features as cabin comfort and driving refinement.

  1. 2005 Ford Focus. The restyled 2005 Focus offers precision handling and decent highway gas mileage (in the 30s for manual transmission and in the 20s for automatic). In terms of crash-worthiness, Cars.com recommended only the sedan, not the ZXW wagon (which hadn’t been tested) or the ZX3 hatchback (with questionable side-impact scores). Prices for manual-transmission, entry-level ZX4 sedans with 40,000 are in the $10,000 to $11,000 range.
  2. 2003 Ford Taurus. The Taurus may not be a terribly stylish choice, but Cars.com rates it a sound and sensible one. The wagon and sedan are both roomy and have top-notch reliability and crash-test ratings. A sedan with 60,000 miles is in the $8,000 to $12,000 range, and wagons range from $10,500 to $12,000.
  3. 2003 Mazda Protegé. Cars.com recommended the Protegé for its superior handling performance and driver-friendly styling, and found that it also offers plenty of zip, highway gas-mileage in the high 20s, and “respectable” safety and reliability scores, (except the Protegé5 hatchback, which hadn’t been crash-tested). A trimmed-down, manual transmission version with 60,000 miles should be priced in the range of $8,500. Feature-packed LX and ES models run $1,000 to $2,000 more and the turbocharged Mazdaspeed is close to $15,000.
  4. 2003 Mercury Sable. The Sable offers the solid crash-worthiness ratings of its lower-class relative, the Taurus, plus slightly better reliability ratings. Cars.com recommended this model as a sold commuter vehicle, and added that the more powerful Duratec V-6 is a worthwhile upgrade in both the Sable and the Taurus. At 60,000 miles, prices for used 2003 Sables range from in the $9,000 to $11,500 for the sedan and $10,000 to $13,000 for the wagon.
  5. 2002 Buick LeSabre. The comfortable 2002 LeSabre offers impeccable reliability and crash-test scores. Safety features include antilock brakes, side air bags, active head restraints, and an optional electronic stability system, (a rare safety feature five years ago). Models with a front bench seats fit six persons. At 70,000 miles, a used LeSabre Custom runs around $9,000, with optional feature-packed models priced around $12,000.
  6. 2002 Chevrolet Impala. The Impala is Chevy’s workaday sedan, and the 2000-05 iteration arguably boasted sharper styling than its anonymous successor. There’s no four-cylinder, so overall gas mileage maxes out in the low-20s. The roomy cabin, good reliability ratings and even better crash-test scores make the Impala a sound choice for budget-minded families. Expect to pay around $9,000 for a base Impala with 70,000 miles, antilock brakes and the driver’s side air bag. A fully loaded Impala LS is about $11,500.
  7. 2002 Ford Windstar. The Windstar seats seven, and has plenty of perks — power-sliding doors, parking sensors, power front seats, and even heated leather upholstery. A basic Windstar LX with 70,000 miles sells for around $7,500. Fully equipped SE and SEL models cost anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000.
  8. 2002 Honda Accord. The sixth generation Accord, manufactured from 1998 through 2002, delivered excellent reliability and respectable crash-test ratings. Combine the stick shift and four-cylinder for highway gas mileage in the high 20s; it drops to the mid-20s with the V-6 and automatic. A base DX sedan with 70,000 miles, a manual transmission, ABS, and side air bags should run just under $10,000; better-equipped LX and EX models will cost between $11,500 and $13,000. Cars with an automatic go for an extra $700 or so, and the V-6 can add $850 to $1,500.
  9. 2002 Honda Civic. The four-cylinder Civic gets highway gas mileage in the mid-30s and has good crash test scores, although its reliability rating is not as impressive was the Accord’s. A basic, used 2002 Civic with a standard transmissions and 70,000 miles sells for around $10,000, with more fully equipped models ranging from $11,000 to $12,000.
  10. 2002 Oldsmobile Aurora. This restyled luxury car scores high on the crash-worthiness and reliability charts. Luxury features include leather upholstery and a power driver’s seat. Standard features include automatic climate control, antilock brakes, and side airbags. Well-equipped V-6 models with 70,000 miles sell for under $11,000.
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