How to Find the Best Used Car at the Right Price

We highlight the most reliable brands and top 5-year-old cars and SUVs

Illustration of a car with a couple walking to it from their house Illustration: MCKIBILLO

Shopping the used-car market can be tricky right now. Global supply chain issues affecting the pricing and availability of new cars have also made it harder to find good used models at affordable prices. But with a little patience and research, you can find a safe and reliable vehicle that fits your needs and priorities. Our used-car recommendations are based on testing from our experts, along with reliability survey results that will help you find models from the brands least likely to let you down.

more on used cars

We focused on 5-year-old vehicles because depreciation makes them more affordable than newer used cars, but they’re new enough to have important active safety features, such as forward collision warning (FCW), automatic emergency braking (AEB), and blind spot warning (BSW).

We assessed the reliability of brands for used vehicles knowing that you can feel more confident about your purchase if it comes from a dependable brand you can trust. Then we highlighted a model recommended by CR from each of the top brands listed, and did some checking around to make sure those models were available. We also pointed out other reliable years to consider.

“The good news is that there are a variety of safe and reliable used-car choices out there,” says Jake Fisher, CR’s senior director of auto testing. “We picked an assortment of car types from the most reliable brands, including a few that just might be off your radar.”

Factors to Consider When Buying a Used Car

Fuel economy: Check our ratings at CR.org/carsatoz to see if the used model you like fares well against others in its class.

Reliability score: This indicates how a vehicle’s overall problem rate compares with other models from the same year, based on survey responses from CR members about their cars. (Learn more about car reliability.)

Satisfaction score: CR members tell us each year whether they’d buy their same car again if given the chance. We calculate a score for each model based on those survey responses.

Safety systems: FCW and AEB were available on older models but were not often standard. So before you buy, make sure your used-car choice has these lifesaving safety features.

Most Reliable Brands for 5-Year-Old Vehicles

Our brand ratings chart shows that it’s hard to go wrong with any Lexus or Toyota; all of their 5-year-old models have above-average reliability. The average reliability score includes all models for which we had sufficient survey data for the brand. With variety in mind, we’ve highlighted eight models from our list of the top reliable brands for the 2017 model year.

2017 Brand Reliability*
Number
of 2017
Models
2017
Average
Reliability
1
LEXUS
5
91
2
TOYOTA
12
84
3
ACURA
2
81
4
INFINITI
3
77
5
MERCEDES-BENZ
3
66
6
NISSAN
9
65
7
BUICK
4
61
8
MAZDA
4
61
9
LINCOLN
4
59
10
VOLKSWAGEN
7
59
11
HONDA
8
58
12
SUBARU
5
55
13
TESLA
2
52
14
KIA
7
51
15
BMW
5
49
16
AUDI
5
49
17
VOLVO
3
49
18
FORD
11
41
19
HYUNDAI
7
38
20
JEEP
4
32
21
CHEVROLET
12
32
22
RAM
2
26
23
GMC
7
26
*Models included in this analysis have sufficient reliability data from CR member surveys. Listed brands also must have at least two qualifying models.

Luxury Midsized SUV: 2017 Lexus RX

Midsized 3-row SUV: 2017 Toyota Highlander

Compact SUV: 2017 Honda CR-V

Midsized 2-row SUV: 2017 Nissan Murano

Midsized Sedan: 2017 Subaru Legacy

Large Sedan: 2017 Buick LaCrosse

Luxury Sedan: 2017 Infiniti Q50

Compact Car: 2017 Mazda 3

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the June 2022 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.


Mike Monticello

After my dad gave me a ride on his Yamaha two-stroke motorcycle when I was 3, I was hooked on anything with an engine. I got a master’s in journalism as a means to an end: To drive cars and get paid for it, which led me to jobs at Road & Track and Edmunds.com. My most thrilling moment so far has been hurtling down the autobahn at a GPS-timed 217.1 mph in a Ruf Rt12. On weekends you can find me churning dirt on my mountain bike or doing car or motorcycle track days. Follow me on Twitter. (@MikeMonticello)