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 some of the best second hand cars in Australia, keeping in mind that the term ‘best’ can mean different things to different car buyers.
How did we come up with this list?
Budget Direct used Canstar’s latest customer satisfaction data to create a list of car makes for each car segment: Small Cars, SUV’s, Cars for Teens, Family Sedans, and Dual Cab Utes.
We then used this data to select a model that fit into each segment:
Small Cars: Holden Astra, Honda Civic, Hyundai i30, Kia Cerato and Mazda 3
Large SUV’s: Holden Trailblazer, Mazda CX-9, Hyundai Santa Fe, Mitsubishi Pajero Sport and Nissan Pathfinder
Medium SUV’s: Holden Equinox, Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson and Mitsubishi Outlander
Dual Cab Utes: Ford Ranger, Volkswagen Amarok, Toyota HiLux, Nissan Navara and Mitsubishi Triton
Cars For Teens: Suzuki Swift, Holden Barina, Honda Jazz, Hyundai i20 and Kia Rio
Family Sedans: BMW 3 Series, Ford Mondeo, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata and Mazda 6
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.
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.
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
While 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 Canstar’s customer satisfaction surveys.
We’ve broken them down into five car types: second-hand small cars, second-hand SUVs, used family cars, used cars for teens, and used dual cab utes – with a couple of top-notch suggestions for each vehicle type:
Best second-hand small cars
Anyone who has had the pleasure of driving a Holden Astra won’t be too surprised to see it top our list. Combining a trendy look with manageable performance, the Holden Astra is an excellent small car with excellent value for money.
For a small car, the Astra still packs a decent punch, with the engine revving willingly. Combine this with a stylish interior, a larger-than-average back seat for a three-door car, decent fuel economy, and a poised, well-balanced feel when turning and you have a recipe for success.
Good fuel efficiency, poised & well-balanced feel, roomy backseat, comfortable
Media system is slightly difficult to operate
With its trend-setting exterior design, reliable engine and low ownership costs, the Honda Civic has carved out a solid spot in the Australian compact car market. It has a perky driving feel and a well-put-together interior.
Its quick and precise steering makes it a pleasure to drive, and when pushed hard, it feels like a more expensive, more sophisticated car compared to some of its competitors. The Civic is available as a petrol or hybrid.
Peppy engine, excellent manual gearbox, road responsiveness, stylish interior, good fuel efficiency
Tight headroom, especially in the back
See our picks for the best second hand small cars in Australia
Best second-hand medium SUVs
While the Holden Equinox was a comparatively late entrant into the medium-sized SUV market, it has quickly established itself as one of the very best. Boasting a massive goodie bag of features, including a 7-inch touchscreen, active noise cancellation, 17-inch alloy wheels, a reversing camera, and automatic headlights, the Equinox is certainly top of its class when it comes to kit.
In terms of on-road performance, the Equinox fares equally well, offering a comfortable ride with a ton of storage space, highlighted by an engine that delivers a stunning 188kW of power – far more than any of its competitors. Of course, this added power doesn’t compromise the safety or practicality you would expect from a top of the line medium-sized SUV.
Powerful engine, excellent list of features, plenty of storage space, ergonomic interior design
Somewhat uninspired design compared to competitors
When it comes to medium-sized SUVs, the CX-5 is right up there with the very best. It features an excellent climate control system and was the first vehicle in its class to include lane departure warning and high beam control.
Every model in the range comes with a comprehensive array of safety features, including Dynamic Stability Control, ABS Brakes, 6 airbags, Emergency Brake Assist and Electronic Brake Force Distribution. If you like plenty of space, the CX-5 answers the call, with fold-down seats, a large boot opening and a low lift gate.
Smooth transmission, quiet ride, superior craftsmanship, proven reliability, high-quality infotainment system, excellent range of safety features
Could do with a little more grunt
See our picks for the best second hand SUV’s in Australia
In the market for a family SUV? Does it have ISOFIX anchor points? Find out what cars have ISOFIX in Australia
Best second-hand large SUVs
The Holden Trailblazer is aptly named, blazing its own trail as one of the best large SUVs in Australia. The Trailblazer stands out in several areas, although it’s particularly worth noting the spacious, seven seat interior. Also of interest is the new and improved dashboard design, proudly sporting a seven inch touchscreen with Bluetooth connectivity. Other handy features include automatic headlights and rain sensing wipers, as well as lane departure and blind spot warnings.
The tyre pressure monitoring system is also a nice bonus, perfectly complementing a powerful engine which offers excellent on-road performance. This power is matched by the comfort of a cosy, well-designed interior, leading to an outstanding overall package.
Spacious interior, powerful engine, excellent safety features, comfortable seats, ISOFIX attachment points
Boot slightly small compared to competitors
The Mazda CX-9 is a large SUV loaded with a little luxury. Upon entering the CX-9, you could be forgiven for mistaking it for a smaller, flashier model. Mazda obviously don’t believe in trading size for comfort, with the CX-9 featuring an elegant leather steering wheel, paired with black cloth seat covers, which round out an exceptionally well-designed interior. Really, there are little touches of class wherever you look.
The CX-9 also knocks it out of the park when it comes to safety, including a rear-view camera, blind-spot monitoring, autonomous braking in case of emergency, ISOFIX connection points, rear sensors for parking, and six airbags.
Excellent safety features, stylish interior design, punchy engine
Difficult to see out of when parking
See our picks for the best second-hand SUV’s in Australia
Best used cars for teens
The Suzuki Swift has been a popular used car in this country since the 1980s, thanks largely to its impressive fuel economy, quality steering and suspension, low price and good throttle response. It is known for its toughness and reliability.
Obviously, if you’re a basketball player-sized human, this car isn’t going to be your first choice, but for normal-sized people it has more than enough room inside, with plenty of adjustability in the positioning of the seats. As a Swift owner, your car insurance costs will be at the lower end of the scale, which is always good news for any teen.
Maneuverable and easy to park, excellent fuel economy, easy to get spare parts, proven reliability
Interior is a tad basic and could use more storage areas
A staple of the Australian car market for over 30 years, the Holden Barina is an extremely practical option which blends excellent value with a little room for fun. Highlighted by an impressive list of features, including automatic headlights, cruise control, rear parking sensors, a six-speaker stereo, and Bluetooth connectivity, the Barina is a reliable, sturdy car that’s unlikely to let you down.
When it comes to driving performance, the Barina’s engine offers pleasing mid-range pickup, which couples nicely with consistently responsive steering.
Reliable, good safety track record, excellent list of features for the price
Slightly lacking in terms of storage
See our picks for the best first cars in Australia
Best used family sedans
BMW 3 Series
The BMW 3 Series always seems to be one step ahead of the competition, so it comes as little surprise that it tops our list of the best used family sedans in Australia. The BMW 3 Series’ infotainment system is top class, thanks to its precise presentation, speed, and overall user-friendliness.
In terms of actual driving, the BMW 3 Series’ engine has everything you could want and then a little more. Impressing at both high and low speeds, the 3 Series is extremely quick to respond, and should be commended for its refinement. When it comes to design, the BMW 3 Series is also top class, pairing a sleek – though not showy – interior with ample storage room and comfortable leather seats.
Excellent entertainment system, comfortable, high quality engine, good storage space
Interior lacks the more flashy design of some competitors
The Ford Mondeo doesn’t necessarily go out of its way to impress. Then again, it doesn’t need to. Rather, its smooth, reliable performance does the talking. Whereas other cars will attempt to impress with flashy designs or high-tech gadgets, the Mondeo prefers a more understated approach. Consequently, it ticks all the boxes and does the basics superbly well.
From a comfortable interior to decent storage space and a modern, intuitive multimedia touchscreen, the Ford Mondeo has everything you could want for a pleasant ride. Pair this with an engine that offers solid punch, and you have the recipe for an excellent – and extremely dependable – family sedan.
Comfortable, ample storage space, good multimedia interface, extremely reliable
Strange windscreen wiper design
See our picks for the best used midsize sedans in Australia
Best used dual cab utes
When it comes to dual cab utes, the Ford Ranger is in a class of its own, which is saying a lot, given the stiff competition it faces. Combining good looks, a great driving experience, and an impressive set of features, it’s easy to see why we chose the Ford Ranger as the best used dual cab ute in Australia. Some of the Ranger’s more flashy features include adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and lane-keep assist.
Add to this an insanely smooth driving experience no matter the terrain, plus a well-designed cabin featuring a state of the art infotainment system, and it’s no surprise that the Ford Ranger is one of Australia’s best and most popular dual cab utes.
Engine and gearbox work well in combination, upgraded power steering system, great safety record, modern and intuitive infotainment system
Slightly narrow cabin
If you like your dual cab utes to be roomy, no nonsense, and powerful, then look no further than the Volkswagen Amarok. First things first, the Amarok offers the biggest tray among its close competitors, which is a huge plus for anyone who regularly hauls large amounts of cargo. Better yet, the interior is still super spacious even with the larger tray, affording passengers plenty of head and leg room.
On-road, the Amarok delivers an extremely comfortable ride, while still packing a good amount of power under the hood. The Amarok also comes with permanent all-wheel drive and an automatic gearbox with 8 ratios, which is again the most among its close competitors. Clearly, the Amarok leaves no stone unturned in its pursuit of excellence.
Largest tray in its class, permanent all-wheel drive, roomy interior, gearbox features 8 ratios, good fuel economy and engine
Ride can be slightly firm at times
See our picks for the best dual cab utes for families
- 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, dual cab ute, 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
- The Holden Astra is a great option for anyone seeking a small car that’s easy to drive, comfortable, and offers great fuel efficiency
- The Suzuki Swift is an ideal car for first-time teen drivers – it’s affordable, cheap to maintain, and ultra-reliable
- The Ford Mondeo is a sensible choice for a family car, ticking all the boxes in terms of safety, comfort, and on road performance, while also offering ample storage space
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