We’ve come a long way!

Let’s imagine you’re about to catch a flight, but a winter storm halts your travels. You’re not too tired, but you’re bored of looking at your phone, so you go grab a cup of coffee and while doing so, you begin to make small talk with someone else in line. They turn out to be very friendly and interesting and, like you, they’re just trying to help kill time. So you stand around to chat a bit, and eventually, after some banter, the question comes up: so what do you do for a living? That’s when they tell you that they sell used cars, and you get an uneasy feeling deep in your stomach. Almost immediately you feel a sense of distrust, and you perhaps may even want to end the conversation. But the truth is: they’re people like everyone else, and the car business has changed — drastically.

Now we can’t speak for every single case out there, but these days, the internet gives you a good ballpark of a car’s value, and dealers know that. There are also VIN history reporting firms like CarFax which can tell you whether or not a car has been serviced or involved in an accident, flood, or fire, or — worse — used as a rental car.

A lot of independent shops also perform inspections, so in other words, if you do your homework, you’re not going to get hosed. That means dealers need to move a lot of volume for less profit, and the used car salesperson is tasked simply with connecting you with the right car at the right time. Sure, there’s got to be some profit in it for them, and they need to move inventory, but after all, they’ve got to eat. More often than not, they’re not rolling in the dough. There’s a reason BMW, Audi, and Mercedes sales staff very rarely drive the product they sell.

So now that we’ve got that out of the way, the next question becomes new or used, and used is undoubtedly the way to go. That’s because cars depreciate as soon as you sign the papers and drive it off the lot. In fact, cars depreciate on average 50 percent after three years of ownership, and a three-year-old car might have anywhere from 30–50,000 miles which by today’s standards is hardly anything. We all have a friend whose car is well above 200,000 miles — a realm that used to be reserved predominately for Hondas and Toyotas. Which leads me to my next point: Manufacturing technology has drastically improved, meaning parts are machined with greater precision, fit together better, and last longer — even for domestic brands. In other words, a car at 30,000 miles might as well be close to new, and it’s half the price.

Now let’s imagine we’re looking at used cars. What kinds of cars should we look for? Well, as you’ve probably noticed, not all cars depreciate the same. Jeep Wranglers and trucks hold their value very well, and the same goes for Toyotas and Subarus. Meanwhile, others like Volvos just plummet. Part of that stems from the fact that when a manufacturer has a reputation of reliability, the vehicle has an element of purpose or sheer brand power. But the truth is, there are a lot of good cars out there that go overlooked.

Used Cadillacs and Buicks, for instance, offer a lot of bang for the buck. In fact, Buick was ranked as the third most reliable brand (only behind Toyota and Lexus) according to consumer reports, and they offer all of the same features as the others. Yet, you can get a nice, lightly used Buick for half the price of a new one. Cadillacs, on the other hand — more specifically the ATS — have been praised for their handling and chassis feel. Some auto publications even go so far as to say that it feels better than the BMW 3 series, and they’re a steal. A used Chevrolet Impala (2014 and up) can also be a good value. They’re comfortable, powerful, have good road manners, and have drastically improved in build quality.

In other words, if you want a steal on a used car in Colorado, avoid Subarus, Toyotas, and Jeeps. For some reason, people are under the impression that they need one of the aforementioned. However, the truth is, you don’t even need all-wheel-drive. Just get a good set of snow tires, be amazed, and save your money. If you’re looking for a truck, well, you may have to bite the bullet and otherwise opt for Nissans, Mazdas, and Hondas instead. Or if you want to add some luxury to your life, go Infinity, Acura, Cadillac, Buick, Lincoln, or others (just remember European brands are expensive to repair), and you’ll be happy you did.

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