That new-car smell doesn't come cheap: The average new vehicle transacts for about $32,000, per J.D. Power and Associates. That's about half the median U.S. household income these days, so it's no surprise a lot more shoppers buy used instead. Auto auction company Manheim notes that some 40 million used cars are sold each year — well over double the number of new cars that change hands.
Related: Is a Used Car a Good Idea?
If the 1.8 million used vehicles on Cars.com didn't tip you off, that's quite the haystack. Which needles should you look for? Cars.com reviewers, a crew well-versed in used-car purchases, name their favorites from the past dozen years.
1. 2014-Present Chevrolet Impala
Shortly after the redesigned Chevrolet Impala hit the scene in early 2013, it smoked its rivals in Cars.com's $38,000 Full-Size Sedan Challenge, going on to win our highest honor for the model year, Cars.com's Best of 2014 award. The Impala's strengths endure, with generous ride comfort but nimbler handling than you might expect for a big cruiser. Amid stalling sales for sedans industrywide, GM hasn't redesigned its full-size Chevy since then.
- What to look for: Automatic emergency braking was optional from the get-go, but lower trim levels may lack a backup camera until later years. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay became available from 2016 onward. A four-cylinder was standard, but most used examples employ GM's lusty 3.6-liter V-6, an option during all model years. It's worth the upgrade.
- Pricing: As of this writing, used 2014 Impala sedans on Cars.com list at about $16,000 on average, while 2015-17 models average closer to $20,000.
- Used Chevrolet Impalas for Sale
2. 2017-Present Chrysler Pacifica
A replacement for the Town & Country, the Pacifica combines strong drivability with a smorgasbord of practical features, from Chrysler's Stow 'n Go seats to a dual-screen entertainment system that lets the kids play games with each other. It thumped two other minivans in a Cars.com comparison shortly after hitting the scene, then won our Best of 2017 award a few months later. The Pacifica might seem nearly new, but the 2017 model first hit dealerships in the spring of 2016. Early examples are more than 2 years old — and they're a used-car steal today.
- What to look for: Inspect the driver's doorjamb for a sticker that shows which month the car was built, as examples assembled after August 2016 have a reinforced hinge nearby to improve crash performance. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto didn't arrive until 2018, nor did a bigger touchscreen in base models. A backup camera is standard, but lower-end 2017 examples display it on a puny 5-inch screen.
- Pricing: Used 2017 Pacificas on Cars.com average $25,778 as of this writing, a steal for a minivan that ran from about $30,000 to well into the mid-$40,000s when it was new. Even used 2018 models, at this point mere months old, average $28,922 — big savings versus buying new.
- Used Chrysler Pacificas for Sale
3. 2010-12 Ford Fusion
The Fusion underwent a sort of gut rehab for the 2010 model year — a significant overhaul on the 2006-09 Fusion but short of the full platform redesign that came in 2013. The updates for 2010 augmented the sedan's excellent ride quality and above-average handling with more safety and convenience features, including a standard electronic stability system. Ford also offered a Fusion Hybrid, which garnered combined EPA ratings of nearly 40 mpg. That remains efficient even by today's standards.
- What to look for: The optional navigation and multimedia system was an excellent unit for its day, arriving before Ford bungled all things multimedia with MyFord Touch. Few used examples have it, but it doubles as a big display (8 inches, gigantic in 2010 and still good today) for the optional backup camera. As a lesser option, the Fusion also offered a camera that displayed in the rearview mirror — a tiny-but-workable solution.
- Pricing: As of this writing, average used prices on Cars.com for non-hybrid examples range from $7,686 for 2010 models to $9,280 for 2012 models.
- Used Ford Fusions for Sale
4. 2013-17 Honda Accord
Easier on the eyes than its robotic-looking predecessor, the 2013-17 Accord faced a smorgasbord of just-redesigned competition. Five years later, Honda's entrant stands tall among its used peers. A high-quality interior sports comfortable seats and good sight lines, while crashworthiness proved ahead of its time. The 2013 Accord sedan fared well in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's small overlap frontal test for the passenger side, which wasn't introduced until 2017.
- What to look for: An 8-inch dashboard screen and backup camera are standard. A refresh on the 2016-17 Accord added advanced safety options but unintuitive, touch-sensitive stereo controls for upper trim levels. Higher trims also got 19-inch wheels and low-profile tires, which made for a brittle ride. Avoid both if you can. The 2013-17 Accord is the last generation to come as a sedan or coupe; Honda dropped the coupe for the Accord's 2018 model-year redesign.
- Pricing: As of this writing, average used prices on Cars.com range from about $14,500 on the 2013 Accord sedan to $22,000 for the 2017 sedan. Coupes from the 2015-17 model year average slightly more than their respective sedan counterparts.
- Used Honda Accords for Sale
5. 2013-15 Honda Civic
Technically redesigned for 2012, the Civic got a slew of updates for 2013 amid disappointing reviews of the new generation. Among them are substantially upgraded cabin materials, a standard backup camera and crash-structure improvements. Cars.com owned a 2013 Civic LX sedan for a year and found it a solid, low-drama experience. For those who need an affordable commuter car, Honda's bread-and-butter compact is a capable choice. It's also available as a coupe, and both body styles offered spunky Si variants, too.
- What to look for: Examples from the 2014-15 model years added Honda's LaneWatch blind spot camera, a feature we've found helpful overall, but also touch-sensitive stereo controls that are anything but. To get the one, you have to endure the other.
- Pricing: As of this writing, average used prices on Cars.com for the Civic sedan range around $12,500 for the 2013 model to nearly $15,000 for the 2015 model. Civic coupes average about the same for 2013s but a bit more for 2014s and 2015s.
- Used Honda Civics for Sale
6. 2010-13 Mazda3
Redesigned for 2010, the second-generation Mazda3 reprised its predecessor's role as a fun-to-drive compact that played up peppiness and premium features over practicality. The nameplate came as a sedan or four-door hatchback, and either one remains a strong choice for driving fun — particularly if you find one with Mazda's well-executed manual transmission. Those who want a large backseat or forgiving ride quality need not apply; both aspects are historical drawbacks for the Mazda3, second gen included. Performance enthusiasts, by contrast, might consider splurging on the MazdaSpeed3, a turbocharged variant that's still mighty quick by today's standards.
- What to look for: Avoid the base trim on the 2010 Mazda3, which lacked an electronic stability system; all other trims had it, and Mazda made the feature standard from 2011 onward. Starting in 2012, the automaker added a direct-injected four-cylinder, dubbed SkyActiv, with more torque and far better gas mileage. It's more fun than the equation suggests, but you can still find the big four-cylinder across all model years of this generation.
- Pricing: Average used prices on Cars.com range from around $7,000 for a 2010 Mazda3 sedan to nearly $12,000 for a 2013 Mazda3 hatchback. Hatchbacks average a little extra in part because Mazda didn't offer the body style on base trims.
- Used Mazda3s for Sale
7. 2014-Present Mazda3
Yes, two Mazda3 generations made our list. The third-generation car remains fun, but bolstered interior quality and technology give it contemporary sophistication even for its first model year — a car that hit dealerships five years ago at this point. A cramped backseat and noisy ride remain drawbacks, which hurt the sedan's showing in a comparison test of its era, but its credentials stand out as a used choice. Alas, enthusiasts: Mazda did not reprise a MazdaSpeed3 with this generation.
- What to look for: Look for examples with a system called Mazda Connect, which comprises a 7-inch touchscreen with HD radio, certain streaming-music apps and — most importantly — a backup camera. Available only on upper trims in 2014, Mazda Connect spread to mainstream variants in 2015 and became standard from 2016 onward. Automatic emergency braking saw a slower spread, with a low-speed system optional on early model years but not standard until 2018.
- Pricing: As of this writing, average used prices on Cars.com range from around $12,500 for a 2014 Mazda3 sedan to nearly $21,000 for a 2018 Mazda3 hatchback.
- Used Mazda3s for Sale
8. 2010-14 Subaru Outback
The family hauler of choice for multiple Cars.com editors, the fourth-generation Outback topped two would-be wagons — the Toyota Venza and Honda Crosstour — when we tested all three in 2010. Both rivals have since bit the dust, while the Outback, now in its fifth generation, is Subaru's best-selling nameplate since 2015. Its predecessor is a very good car, combining good ride quality with competent handling and, in later model years, well-rated safety technology. As with the vast majority of Subaru models, all-wheel drive is standard. Only about 12 percent of available inventory has the Outback's optional 3.6-liter six-cylinder and five-speed automatic — a responsive, if fuel-inefficient, combination.
- What to look for: Subaru updated styling and added optional safety technology, dubbed EyeSight, beginning with the 2013 model year. Deemed an effective system by IIHS even in its early versions, EyeSight packaged lane departure warning with forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking. EyeSight-equipped models have two forward-facing cameras above the rearview mirror inside the windshield. Availability might be sparse among used 2013 model-year examples, but Subaru expanded it to more trim levels in the 2014 Outback.
- Pricing: As of this writing, average prices on Cars.com range from about $10,500 for 2010 models to about $18,000 for 2014 models.
- Used Subaru Outbacks for Sale
9. 2010-15 Toyota Prius
If you want towering gas mileage without the fourth-generation Prius' crazy styling, look no further than its third-gen predecessor. Even with revised EPA calculations, the iconic hybrid gets an estimated 48 mpg combined. That's excellent even by today's standards, though the tradeoff comes in hesitant acceleration and modest overall power. Still, the Prius' interior is plenty spacious, and this generation has a reputation for excellent reliability.
- What to look for: Optional safety tech included forward-collision and lane departure warnings, as well as a backup camera. Toyota improved crash performance for IIHS' small overlap test in 2014 models built after November 2013; you can typically find the month of assembly on a sticker in the driver's doorjamb. Cars built before that have no published results for IIHS' small overlap test.
- Pricing: As of this writing, average used prices on Cars.com range from about $9,500 for the 2010 Prius to $17,500 for the 2014 model.
- Used Toyota Priuses for Sale
Things You Need to Look For
We looked at reliability and crash-test data to nix any subpar choices, but remember that shopping for a used car takes extra scrutiny. Each car is different, and the care — or lack thereof — from a previous owner can make a world of difference. We recommend getting an independent mechanic to inspect any prospective car among your final choices, especially if it's out of warranty. Be sure to check the vehicle identification number for unfixed recalls, too.
Read up on our other tips:
- A checklist for used-car buyers
- Tips for buying a high-mileage used car
- Questions to ask when you inquire about the car
- How to inspect the car in person
- Whether a certified pre-owned car is a good idea
Cars.com's Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with Cars.com's long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don't accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of Cars.com's advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.