Many auto shoppers in the early stages of their searches likely surrender to a few dreamy thoughts, whether ogling ultra-luxury sedans with pop up wine trays and bullet proof glass or drooling over late model sports cars capable of 0-60 mph in three seconds.
But when they eventually get serious about choices that fit their budget, potential buyers more often than not go for lower priced slightly used vehicles and consider safety a key factor in their purchase.
That's when they realize super-strong frames to withstand crashes and high-tech warnings to prevent accidents can add thousands of dollars to the sticker price. But they can also discover that dozens of value-priced car brands a year to a decade old offer top safety ratings from insurance and consumer groups and at least in the past few years such hazard reducing features as blind spot assistance and adaptive cruise control, according to a host of online car sites and safety experts.
"There are plenty of safe, high quality, money saving used cars out there — if you know what to look for,” said Jack Gillis, consumer advocate, auto safety specialist and author of the Car Book auto guide. The 38-year-old car-buying booklet, researched in conjunction with the Center for Auto Safety, for the first time in 2018 added five years of used car ratings to complement new vehicle information.
According to the used car "best bets," vehicles landing on the list most or all years 2013-17 include the Audi A6, BMW 3 series, Cadillac XTS, Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Civic, Honda CR-V, Lexus ES, Lexus IS, Mazda 3, Subaru Crosstrek, Subaru Outback, Subaru Forester, Toyota Avalon, Toyota Camry, Toyota Prius V and Volvo S60. Go to www.TheCarBook.com.
A number of sources provide information on safe used cars.
Instamotor.com highlights used vehicles with certain specific safety features: heads-up display can be found on Chevrolet Corvettes as early as 1999, for instance. Lane-keeping assist is available from 2013 on the Ford Explorer and Fusion, Lincoln MKS and MKZ and the Toyota Prius. Blind spot monitoring dates to 2008 on the Mazda CX-9, and adaptive cruise control appears 2004 forward on the Toyota Sienna, Avalon and Sequoia.
Often, cost is a consideration along with the car's ability to avoid or withstand accidents. U.S. News & World Report last year named its nine safest used cars priced at $20,000 or less: 2011 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, 2012 Buick Verano, 2011 Chrysler 200, 2009 (Hyundai) Genesis, 2011 Lexus CT Hybrid, 2010 Saab 9-5, 2007 Subaru Outback, 2012 Toyota Prius and 2008 Volvo S80.
Even more frugal buyers might want to check out Motor1.com's list of the dozen safest cars under $10,000. They are the 2010 Volvo XC90, 2010-11 Volvo S80, 2011 Volvo S60; 2013-14 Volkswagen Passat, 2015 Volkswagen Jetta; 2013 Nissan Altima; 2011-13 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport; 2011-13 Kia Optima; 2013 Ford Fusion, 2010-12 Ford Flex; 2011-14 Dodge Avenger; and 2011-14 Chrysler 200.
According to The Car Book, 75 percent of car shoppers buy used vehicles and typically save half on their ownership and operating costs. TheCarBook.com includes its own crash test, comparative complaint and comparative safety ratings.
The guide offers "shopping strategies," too, including:
- Knowing the vehicle's value. Cars have a wholesale and a retail value; the range between the two is the bargaining range.
- Use a notebook. Keep notes when the seller is describing the car under consideration, which can help refresh your memory and indicate you have other options.
- Touch and comment. Use the same technique that new car dealers do when they inspect your trade-in. While reviewing the car, visibly point out any problems.
- Start low. Your first offer should be 20 percent below your top price. Expect a counteroffer, then split the difference between the first and highest acceptable prices.
- Be ready to walk. If your final offer is not accepted, walk away. You'll be surprised how many times you are called back. Plus, you can probably find a better deal.