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Looking to buy a used car? Here are the 15 best

The 2010 Toyota Prius; one of 15 Used Car Best Bets.
The 2010 Toyota Prius; one of 15 Used Car Best Bets.The Detroit Bureau

It’s not been a great year for used car buyers. Prices have been soaring because of inventory shortages – in large part because with fewer new cars sold during the recession there are now fewer new cars entering the “previously owned” vehicle market.

The good news is that inventories are once again rising – which means used car prices are beginning to fall, according to a new report by the Black Book, a used car pricing and tracking service. In the meantime, vehicle quality is reaching an all-time, something true for both used cars and new. 

So, the question is which are the best used car to buy? The folks at Edmunds, an automotive data tracking and testing service, have compiled a list of 15 best bets. This isn’t just a beauty contest.  The selections were based on criteria including reliability, safety, value and, yes, availability. It wouldn’t help to pick a product consumers can’t find.  The list was limited to vehicles now between two and seven years old. 

The list includes a total of 11 different brands, but four marques appear twice, Ford, Honda, Hyundai and Toyota.  (Nissan is there twice, as well, if you include both the Nissan and Infiniti brands).  The editors’ picks:

  • Compact Sedan: 2005-2010 Hyundai Elantra
  • Midsize Sedan: 2005-2010 Nissan Altima
  • Large Sedan: 2006-2010 Hyundai Azera
  • Coupe: 2005-2010 BMW 3 Series
  • Convertible: 2005-2010 Mazda Miata
  • Wagon: 2005-2010 Pontiac Vibe
  • Compact SUV/Crossover: 2005-2010 Honda CR-V
  • Midsize SUV/Crossover: 2005-2010 Ford Explorer
  • Large SUV/Crossover: 2005-2010 Chevrolet Tahoe 
  • Minivan/Van: 2005-2010 Honda Odyssey 
  • Compact Truck: 2005-2010 Toyota Tacoma 
  • Large Truck: 2005-2010 Ford F-150 
  • Luxury: 2005-2010 Infiniti G35/G37 
  • Hybrid: 2005-2010 Toyota Prius 
  • Sport Compact: 2005-2010 Subaru Impreza WRX

How much you’ll pay varies widely, not just on the age but also the condition of the vehicles listed here. Costs vary widely by region, and equipment levels play a major role, of course. Even vehicle color can be influential. Black cars tend to be hard to sell in Phoenix or Miami this time of year. All-wheel-drive models can command a premium in the Snowbelt  when winter arrives.

But the big bubble in used car pricing may finally be at an end.

“Almost a million more used vehicles will be added to the industry this year as a result of more trade-ins on new-car sales,” said Ricky Beggs, auto analyst at Black Book USA. “This is a significant driver of lower prices, combined with additional rental cars being sold at auction and dealers preparing for the coming 2013 models.”

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