Disclaimer: Data on this website was sourced from Canstar in July 2020 from their latest available data. Auto & General Services Pty Ltd does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the data and accepts no liability whatsoever arising from or connected in any way to the use or reliance upon this data.

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, or 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.

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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 of six car segments: Small cars, large SUVs, medium SUVs, dual-cab utes, cars for teens, and family sedans.

We then used this data to select five car models that fitted into each segment:

Small cars: Holden Astra, Honda Civic, Hyundai i30, Kia Cerato and Mazda 3.

Large SUVs: Holden Trailblazer, Mazda CX-9, Hyundai Santa Fe, Mitsubishi Pajero Sport and Nissan Pathfinder.

Medium SUVs: 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 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 latest model.

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.

These include things 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 six 'best of' categories: second-hand small cars, second-hand medium SUVs, second-hand large, used cars for teens, used family sedans, and used dual-cab utes.

Best second-hand small cars

Holden Astra

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 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.

Pros

  • Good fuel efficiency
  • Poised & well-balanced feel
  • Roomy backseat
  • Comfortable.

Cons

  • Media system is slightly difficult to operate.

Interested to know more about this car? See Chasing Cars’ latest reviews on the Holden Astra.

Honda Civic

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.

Pros

  • Peppy engine
  • Excellent manual gearbox
  • Road responsiveness
  • Stylish interior
  • Good fuel efficiency.

Cons

  • Tight headroom, especially in the back.

Interested to know more about this car? See Chasing Cars’ latest reviews on the Honda Civic

See our picks for the best second-hand small cars in Australia.

Best second-hand medium SUVs

Holden Equinox

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 seven-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 performance, the Equinox fares equally well, offering a comfortable ride and 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.

Pros

  • Powerful engine
  • Excellent list of features
  • Plenty of storage space
  • Ergonomic interior design.

Cons

  • Somewhat uninspired design compared to competitors.

Interested to know more about this car? See Chasing Cars’ latest reviews on the Holden Equinox.

Mazda CX-5

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, six 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 liftgate.

Pros

  • Smooth transmission
  • Quiet ride
  • Superior craftsmanship
  • Proven reliability
  • High-quality infotainment system
  • Excellent range of safety features.

Cons

  • Could do with a little more grunt.

Interested to know more about this car? See Chasing Cars’ latest reviews on the Mazda CX-5.

See our picks for the best second-hand medium SUV’s in Australia.

In the market for a family SUV? Does it have ISOFIX anchor points? Find out which cars have ISOFIX in Australia.

Best second-hand large SUVs

Holden Trailblazer

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, notably its 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.

Pros

  • Spacious interior
  • Powerful engine
  • Excellent safety features
  • Comfortable seats
  • ISOFIX attachment points.

Cons

  • Boot slightly small compared to competitors.

Mazda CX-9

The Mazda CX-9 is a large and luxurious SUV. 

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.

The CX-9 also knocks it out of the park when it comes to safety.

It includes a rear-view camera, blind-spot monitoring, autonomous braking in case of an emergency, ISOFIX connection points, rear sensors for parking, and six airbags.

Pros

  • Excellent safety features
  • Stylish interior design
  • Punchy engine.

Cons

  • Difficult to see out of when parking.

Interested to know more about this car? See Chasing Cars’ latest reviews on the Mazda CX-9.

See our picks for the best second-hand large SUV’s in Australia

Best used cars for teens

Suzuki Swift

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's also known for its toughness and reliability.

Obviously, if you’re tall, this car isn’t going to be your first choice.

But for regular-sized people it has more than enough room inside and highly adjustable seats.

As a Swift owner, your car insurance costs should be at the lower end of the scale — good news for teens.

Pros

  • Manoeuvrable and easy to park
  • Excellent fuel economy
  • Easy to get spare parts
  • Proven reliability.

Cons

  • Interior is a tad basic and could do with more storage areas.

Interested to know more about this car? See Chasing Cars’ latest reviews on the Suzuki Swift.

Holden Barina

A staple of the Australian car market for over 30 years, the Holden Barina is an extremely practical car blending excellent value and fun.

Its features include automatic headlights, cruise control, rear parking sensors, a six-speaker stereo, and Bluetooth connectivity.

The Barina engine offers pleasing mid-range pickup, which couples nicely with consistently responsive steering.

It's a reliable, sturdy car that's unlikely to let you down. 

Pros

  • Reliable
  • Good safety track record
  • Easy to get spare parts
  • Excellent list of features for the price.

Cons

  • Slightly lacking in terms of storage.

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.

Its infotainment system is top class, thanks to its precise presentation, speed, and overall user-friendliness.

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.

Its design is also top-class, pairing a sleek — though not showy — interior with ample storage room and comfortable leather seats.

Pros

  • Excellent entertainment system
  • Comfortable
  • High-quality engine
  • Good storage space.

Cons

  • Interior lacks the flashier design of some competitors.

Interested to know more about this car? See Chasing Cars’ latest reviews on the BMW 3-Series.

Ford Mondeo

The Ford Mondeo doesn’t necessarily go out of its way to impress. Then again, it doesn’t need to — 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.

Yet it still 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 family sedan.

Pros

  • Comfortable
  • Ample storage space
  • Good multimedia interface
  • Extremely reliable.

Cons

  • Strange windscreen wiper design.

Interested to know more about this car? See Chasing Cars’ latest reviews on the Ford Mondeo.

See our picks for the best used midsize sedans in Australia.

Best used dual-cab utes

Ford Ranger

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 flashier 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.

Pros

  • Engine and gearbox work well in combination
  • Upgraded power steering system
  • Great safety record
  • Modern and intuitive infotainment system.

Cons

  • Slightly narrow cabin.

Interested to know more about this car? See Chasing Cars’ latest reviews on the Ford Ranger.

Volkswagen Amarok

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, even with the larger tray, the interior is still super spacious, affording passengers plenty of head and leg room.

On the 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 eight ratios, which is again the most among its close competitors.

Clearly, the Amarok leaves no stone unturned in its pursuit of excellence.

Pros

  • Largest tray in its class
  • Permanent all-wheel drive
  • Roomy interior
  • Gearbox features eight ratios
  • Good fuel economy and engine.

Cons

  • Ride can be slightly firm at times.

Interested to know more about this car? See Chasing Cars’ latest reviews on the Volkswagen Amarok.

See our picks for the best dual-cab utes for families.

Key takeaways

  • There are 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 performance, while also offering ample storage space.

See all of Budget Direct's best-cars guides