Once you’ve decided to start shopping around for a second-hand car, it’s time to get stuck into some serious research.
The first thing to work out is the type of vehicle that serves your needs best – a roomy family car, a durable SUV, a compact car for optimal fuel economy or, if you’re a teenager, maybe an affordable and reliable ‘starter car’ that ticks all the boxes for safety but still falls within your ‘almost broke student’ budget.
Check out our round-up of the best second hand cars in Australia.
Why buy second-hand?
A shiny, brand new vehicle can be a beautiful thing, but there are those who might consider it an unnecessary expense. Sure, a new car smells nice. It hasn’t been ‘sullied’ by a previous owner.
It’s less likely to break down than a used car. And some of today’s new models feature some very impressive safety technology and advancements in fuel efficiency that leave last century’s cars in the dust.
But there are some pretty huge advantages to buying a used car, too. The steepest drop in depreciation value will have already occurred. Even when you buy a model that’s just a few years old, you’ll still save a lot of money on the sale price compared to the new version.
The insurance will tend to be less expensive too, since the car’s monetary value is lower. And hunting down just the model you want at the price you’re prepared to pay is easier than ever – everything’s online these days and there are a ton of choices out there.
On the downside, used cars do tend to need more maintenance than new ones, and you can never be sure how well they’ve been looked after (and driven) by previous owners.
Older cars are normally less fuel-efficient and emission-friendly and may lack a lot of the safety features and tech gadgets that new car owners now take for granted, like side airbags, navigation systems, immobilisers, rear cameras, Bluetooth and other 21st century goodies. If the car you buy is really old, finding parts for it can sometimes be a challenge as well.
Still, there can be a lot to smile about when you buy a quality used car – not least of which is the fact that you can avoid all those new-car dealer fees, and nobody is going to try to talk you into paying an extra $600 for optional rust-proofing or offer you some overpriced add-on floor mats.
As for that ‘new car smell’ that everyone raves about, your health is better off without it, since it consists (at least partially) of some rather dubious airborne chemicals.
A roundup of some of the best second-hand cars in Australia
Keeping in mind that the term ‘best’ can mean different things to different car buyers, here’s a selection of some of the more popular choices for people in Australia looking to purchase a reliable second-hand vehicle.
There are hundreds of others to choose from, of course, but these are some of the tried and tested models that have proven their worth over time and consistently rate well in customer satisfaction surveys.
We’ve broken them down into four car types: best second-hand small cars, best second-hand SUVs, best used family cars and best used cars for teens – with a couple of top-notch suggestions for each vehicle type:
Best second-hand small cars
Toyota Corolla (10th Gen, 2006-2013)
Corollas are currently one of the top selling new cars in Australia, and pre-loved models are doing a roaring trade as well. The Corolla doesn’t come with any surprises – and that’s part of its appeal.
It’s a pleasant car to drive, serves well as a reliable family vehicle and has a good safety record.
The front seats offer good visibility and standard features include anti-lock brakes and electrically powered steering. If you like a quiet ride and plenty of boot space, the Corolla has both.
Comfortable ride, high safety rating, easy to look after, light on fuel, spacious interior, holds its value well over time
Plain-vanilla styling; there are sportier equivalents in other brands
Mazda 3 (2nd Gen, BL: 2008-2013)
The Mazda 3 is riding a surge of popularity in Australia at the moment, with buyers rushing to get their hands on both the new and used models. This car really excels in the handling department with a tight turning radius, ultra-responsive steering and a quality suspension that makes for a supremely comfortable ride.
It’s well styled, safe, has a reliable engine and features side airbags and ABS as standard. The seats give good support and comfort, keeping you happy on even the longest drives.
Fuel economy, dependable engine, stylish inside and out, easy to maintain, no issues with getting spare parts, a sporty ride
Could be a bit more spacious inside, with higher seats
Best second-hand SUVs
Toyota RAV 4 (3rd Gen, XA30: 2005-2012)
You only have to look around at all the Hiluxes, Camrys and LandCruisers on the roads to see how enthusiastically Aussies have embraced the Toyota brand – and the same goes for their smallest SUV, the RAV4.
This little workhorse is the perfect all-rounder for busy families, equally at home doing school runs as it is tackling weekend getaways to the bush or beach.
It has a 2.5L twin cam, 4-cylinder engine and some nice features as standard including ABS, alloy wheels, anti-skid brakes, loads of handy storage space and a tilt-and-reach steering wheel. It’s a reliable vehicle that handles well.
All-wheel drive versatility, robust build, good fuel efficiency for an SUV, highly rated for safety, four-speed auto or 5-speed manual
At higher speeds, you can experience some road noise
Hyundai ix35 (2nd Gen, 2009-2015)
You probably won’t see too many of these trying to cross the Simpson Desert or tackling wilderness tracks in the Kimberley, but that’s because it’s not really aimed at the bush-bashing market.
Think of it as a family station wagon with occasional SUV superpowers. In less formidable terrain, it more than holds its own against its competitors.
The ix35 is available in Active, Elite and Highlander models and your choice of 2.4L petrol or 2.0L turbo-diesel engines.
If you can find a well-looked-after Highlander, you’ll be living the dream with dual zone air con, keyless entry, leather trim, panoramic glass roof, cruise control and other pleasant amenities.
The diesel engine is well-built, suspension is made to handle Australian roads, plenty of room for passengers and gear inside, reputation for reliability
Side by side space in the rear seats is tight for larger adults
Best used cars for teens
Suzuki Swift (5th Gen, 2010-2017)
Teenagers need a car that’s affordable, easy to maintain, doesn’t use a ton of fuel and handles well – and the popular Suzuki Swift matches up well with all those specs.
It’s tough, reliable and has decent resale value. The seats are easy to adjust to give you more room inside where you need it, and the suspension is of good quality.
If you’re after a cheap, zippy car that’s easy to look after, this one will get you through your teen years – and beyond – without much trouble. Your car insurance premiums should be nice and low, too.
Superb fuel economy, easy to maintain, handles well, fits into tight parking spots easily, used ones available for less than $10,000
Some additional storage cubicles inside wouldn’t go astray
Toyota Yaris (3rd Gen, 2011-Present)
The Yaris seems to be absolutely everywhere on Aussie roads these days, and its popularity is growing for some very good reasons. It’s cheap to buy, cheap to run and rates quite highly on the safety scale. Using less than 6 litres of fuel per hundred kilometres, you certainly can’t complain about the fuel economy either.
The Yaris is well-built, doesn’t require much work to maintain and handles a variety of driving conditions like a champ. For teenagers on a tight budget who want a decent-looking, no-hassles vehicle that exudes reliability, this is a practical choice that should keep their parents happy too.
Super-competitive price, well-designed inside and out, driver and passenger air bags, rated highly for safety, fuel-efficient, low cost to maintain
Standard steering wheel, could use more storage areas
Best used family sedans
Ford Falcon (7th Gen, 2008-2016)
The Ford Falcon is a truly iconic Aussie vehicle that’s been transporting families all over this wide, brown country for more than half a century. Some new players have nudged it off its lofty perch in the past couple of decades, but it’s still going strong – and ‘pre-loved’ Falcons are in high demand by second-hand car buyers.
With a fuel-injected four-cylinder engine, plenty of useful technology and a suspension that handles Aussie roads with aplomb, the sturdy, reliable Falcon is a great choice for a family vehicle.
If you want to know what it’s like to own a classic Falcon, just ask your parents – there’s a good chance they owned one at one time or another!
Dependable engine, robust suspension, feels good to drive, looks sportier than other family sedans, available in LPG fuel variant
Engine compartment could be more spacious
Honda Accord (8th Gen, 2008-2012)
If you’re after a full-sized family sedan that’s fuel-efficient and gives you a feeling of spacious security and comfort, the Accord has got you covered. The engine is just as powerful, well-built and technologically advanced as you would expect from Honda – a company that knows its business when it comes to quality engines.
The steering is responsive, the acceleration is smooth and the amount of space inside is hard to beat in a sedan – this is definitely a grown-up car, size-wise. You’d be hard-pressed to find a car this big that’s as efficient with its fuel consumption.
Quality engine, incredibly roomy, easy rear-seat access, advanced fuel efficiency technology, solid reputation for reliability
Fat-nosed front; not the most stylish sedan in its class
- We’ve compiled a list of some of the best second-hand vehicles in Australia – whether you’re looking for a small car, SUV, family car or something suitable for a cash-strapped teen
- There are pros and cons to buying a used car instead of a new one; on the plus side, you can often save heaps on the car price, dealer fees, depreciation and vehicle insurance
- Toyota Corollas continue to be one of Australia’s most popular cars, both new and used
- The Suzuki Swift is an ideal car for first-time drivers – it’s super-affordable, cheap to maintain, easy to drive and fuel efficient
- The Honda Accord is a sensible choice for a family car, with good fuel efficiency for its size and loads of room inside