When in the market for your next SUV, the first consideration is whether to buy new or used. Buying a brand-new vehicle brings the very latest safety gear and engineering improvements. And with a new SUV, you know what you're getting, and it is backed by a comprehensive factory warranty. You don't have to worry about potential service problems or concealed collision damage. Further, you can have your choice of color, trim line, and option level. And financing rates are typically lower than for a used vehicle.
The key drawback with buying new is rapid depreciation. A new SUV can shed half of its value in its first two or three years on the road. If you have only made a low down payment, you can easily find yourself "upside down" on the loan, where you owe more than the SUV is worth.
Used SUVs can be a welcome alternative. The used-car market is about three times the size of the new-car market, so there's certainly plenty of choice out there. One of the best strategies is to find an SUV you like that's only two to three years old. Such an SUV has already taken its biggest depreciation hit, which works to your advantage, but it should still have most of its useful life ahead of it. Modern SUVs, if soundly maintained, can stay on the road for 200,000 miles or longer. Rust, for example, isn't nearly the problem it was years ago. Solid-state electronics have eliminated the need for a lot of the regular servicing necessary in the past.
The key to selecting a good used SUV is to focus on reliability, even when a prospect is still covered by its original factory warranty. Look for an SUV that has done well in our Reliability judgments. For many years, the reliability stars in our records have mostly been Japanese-nameplate models, especially those from Honda, Subaru, and Toyota. But a handful of domestic models have been standouts, too. (See our guide to car reliability.)
CR's reliability scores are no guarantee, of course, but they do carry the weight of probability. If you shop for SUVs with top-notch reliability scores, the odds are on your side. At the same time, every used vehicle is unique. A careful pre-purchase inspection remains a vital part of the process. If you do your homework and take care in the selection, a used SUV can save you significant money in the long run.
Whether buying new or used, it is important to do research if you are to choose a good model, and follow that up with effective negotiation.
Learn more in our new or used car buying guides.
Check our Car Brand Report Cards to learn more about each automaker.