Used Car Best Bets

Every year, creates the Used Car Best Bet Awards.  These awards are based on safety, reliability, and availability.  These 16 vehicles are the winners of their respective categories.  Here are the 2011 winners and vehicle overviews according to

Compact Sedan: 2004-2009 Hyundai Elantra

A complete redesign in 2001 earned the Hyundai Elantra our respect, which was bolstered further by a tough tour of duty in our long-term fleet. In addition to peppy performance and a smooth ride, the Elantra offers solid build quality, reliability and operating economy. The GT version came in a useful hatchback body style that provided added cargo capacity in addition to standard leather seating, a moonroof and a sport-tuned suspension that improved the car’s handling. Impressive crash test scores are another feather in the Elantra’s cap. For 2007 the Elantra was again redesigned. It was initially offered only as a sedan and boasted more interior room and higher fuel efficiency.

Midsize Sedan: 2004-2009 Nissan Altima

With the introduction of the 2002 Nissan Altima, this larger, livelier Altima gave family sedan shoppers a viable choice if a fun-to-drive personality was a requirement. Since then, the Altima has established itself as an accommodating midsize car with strong performance (especially if equipped with the potent V6) and athletic handling. A redesign for 2007 brought handsome Infiniti-like styling, a nicer interior with more soft-touch materials, and a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) that delivered on a promise of ultra-smooth operation and increased fuel efficiency. That year also marked the debut of a hybrid version, though it was only available in eight states.

Large Sedan: 2006-2009 Hyundai Azera

Offering an upscale look inside and out and a number of unexpected luxury features for short money, the Azera also boasts the solid build quality and steadfast reliability that Hyundai is becoming known for. Beneath the skin, it has the bones of a Hyundai Sonata, but it is set apart from the Sonata by a premium mix of comfort and convenience features, plus a more upscale appearance. Strong crash test scores, smooth and refined performance and a quiet ride round out the Azera’s impressive credentials, while its status as an overlooked nameplate guarantees bargain pricing, since few people appreciate the value built into this upscale effort from Hyundai.

Coupe: 2004-2009 BMW 3 Series

The BMW 3 Series embodies everything a coupe should be: sporty, stylish and yet practical. The 3 Series coupe has a proper sports car personality, but it’s more like a sedan than a dedicated sports car. Even if you go with the entry-level 325/328 models (which have the smaller engines), there’s still plenty of performance to be had from the smooth inline-6. Communicative steering coupled to an athletic chassis provides a very satisfying drive and validates why these cars remain highly popular with enthusiasts. The 2007 redesign brought more power (230 hp for the 328i, 300 hp for the 335) and the availability of all-wheel drive, while the convertible got a retractable hardtop in place of the traditional soft top.

Convertible: 2004-2009 Mazda Miata

Anyone who wonders how car enthusiasts can be so passionate about driving need only take a spin in a Miata. With its communicative steering, ultra-responsive handling, an exuberant engine and a manual transmission with short, precise throws, Mazda’s little two-seater wins over even those drivers who don’t know a camshaft from a half shaft. Nothing within the average Joe’s means represents affordable all-around automotive athleticism better than a Miata. Factor in great reliability, frugal fuel usage and plenty of aftermarket accessories and it’s easy to see why so many Miata owners love their car as much as their significant other (and perhaps even more).

Wagon: 2004-2009 Pontiac Vibe

With more than a touch of style, impressive space-efficiency, compact dimensions and a smooth, reliable powertrain courtesy of Toyota, the Vibe makes for a very practical choice. Although it shares its mechanical package with the Toyota Matrix, the Vibe is arguably more attractive. In addition, it will likely be a better value, as chances are you can get this Pontiac for less money than a comparable Matrix due to the somewhat higher resale prices the Toyota name typically commands, not to mention the departure of the Pontiac brand from new-car showrooms. A redesign for 2009 brought new styling, a torquey 2.4-liter inline-4 as an option, plus improved fit and finish within the cabin.

Compact SUV/Crossover: 2004-2009 Honda CR-V

Space-efficient, fuel-efficient and easy to own, the Honda CR-V does almost everything well. With as much passenger and cargo space as some larger SUVs, the CR-V is usually more than enough for most consumers’ needs. Though no V6 engine is available, the CR-V’s inline-4 is sufficient for real-world driving and returns respectable fuel mileage. A comfortable ride, an excellent reliability record and strong crash test scores underscore why the CR-V is a top pick among our staff and consumers alike. A redesign in 2007 brought slightly controversial styling and the option of a navigation system, but no mechanical changes of note.

Midsize SUV/Crossover: 2004-2009 Ford Explorer

With a roomy interior, plenty of family-friendly features, and a nice balance between a comfortable ride and rugged utility, the Ford Explorer has a lot to offer anyone needing a versatile family vehicle. As a truck-based SUV with a burly V8 engine available as an option, the Explorer provides greater towing capability than car-platform-based (“crossover”) SUVs, so it suits the recreational needs of a typical American family. Yet by virtue of some clever engineering that provides a spacious footwell out back, it boasts an adult-friendly third-row seat, so long family trips aren’t as torturous as the ones you remember from your own childhood.

Large SUV/Crossover: 2004-2009 Chevy Tahoe

Strong performance, a comfortable ride and attractive styling are a few of the Tahoe‘s assets. Others include a roomy cabin that can seat up to nine and fairly nimble handling for such a bulky vehicle. A Tahoe equipped with the torque-rich 5.3-liter V8 is a good choice for towing duty. A complete redesign for 2007 brought greatly improved interior, which addressed the biggest gripe we had with this versatile hauler and gave the cabin in the top trim levels a truly luxurious ambiance you wouldn’t expect from a traditional truck-based SUV.

Minivan/Van: 2004-2009 Honda Odyssey

Before 1999, the Odyssey couldn’t compete with the more powerful V6-powered minivans from Dodge and Toyota. A four-cylinder engine, no matter how refined, isn’t going to cut it when the van is loaded up with seven passengers and their belongings. That all changed when Honda brought out the completely revamped Odyssey in 1999, a real minivan in place of the station wagon package that had come before. Boasting the most powerful V6 in the segment, along with a huge interior, hide-away third-row seat, top safety scores and Honda’s solid reputation for quality and reliability, the Odyssey quickly jumped to the head of the class. You’ll probably have to lay out a few more greenbacks for one of these vans, even in the used market, but consider it money well spent.

Compact Truck: 2004-2009 Toyota Tacoma

In addition to the well-known strengths of impressive overall quality and a rock-solid reliability record, the Tacoma offers a pickup for most any need or personality. There’s even the PreRunner edition which offers the suspension, ride height and aggressive tires of a 4WD truck without the added complexity and fuel appetite. Whether you’re looking for a sporty street truck, an aggressive off-roader or a crew-cab family truck, we’re willing to bet that the Tacoma lineup has something with your name on it. The difference here is really the array of different cab configurations and the level of refinement that’s possible depending on trim level.

Large Truck: 2004-2009 Ford F-150

There must be a very good reason that the Ford F-150 has been the top-selling vehicle in America for the last two decades. We can think of many: a huge variety of cab styles and trim levels, a comfortable interior with sound ergonomics, a compliant ride, communicative and precise steering, smooth power plants and best-in-class brakes.The amazing popularity of the F-150 means finding one that suits you perfectly should be fairly easy. Even more so than most pickup trucks, there are an almost bewildering number of different cab styles, powertrain choices and trim levels, so it’s easy to find the truck you need.

Luxury: 2004-2009 Infiniti G35/G37

With rear-wheel drive, a ripping V6 and sporty suspension tuning, the G35 and later G37 is Infiniti’s answer to the BMW 3 Series. As compared to that German benchmark, the G’s much roomier cabin and lower acquisition and maintenance costs make the Infiniti a smart choice for savvy enthusiasts. While the sedan will make the most sense for most folks, the rakish coupe offers Nissan Z-car (the G’s platform mate) intenders more practicality with virtually identical performance. Overall the G delivers BMW 3 Series goodness with a measure of comfort and convenience that Americans prefer along with a significantly lower entry fee.

Hybrid: 2004-2009 Toyota Prius

After testing the hybrid waters with the cramped first-generation Prius sedan, Toyota pulled out all the stops with this, the second-generation version. The Prius’ snub-nosed hatchback design devotes most of the car’s body to passenger and cargo space. The result is a large cabin that provides midsize sedan room within a relatively small body, making the Prius a snap to park in tight spaces. Of course it gets excellent fuel economy, but not at the expense of respectable performance, as there is more than adequate power on tap for dealing with city traffic as well as passing and merging on the freeway.

Sport Compact: 2004-2009 Subaru Impreza WRX

Subaru’s Impreza WRX has long been a favorite of enthusiasts on a budget thanks to its spirited performance and fun-loving personality. Yet the WRX packs a few practical strengths that also make it a good choice as an everyday vehicle. A compliant suspension means it won’t beat you up during the daily grind over broken pavement, while standard all-wheel drive allows it to handle foul-weather driving with sure-footed confidence. Throw a set of dedicated snow tires on it and the WRX can handle most anything a tough winter season could throw at it. A 2009 redesign brought firmer suspension calibrations as well as a substantial 41-horsepower boost in power.

Five Great Reasons to Buy a Used Car

The essential question for car consumers is whether or not to buy new or used.  Certainly, there are obvious pro’s and cons to both.  Here are five reasons you should consider buying a used car according to the Used Car Dealers Association.

1. Depreciation

New cars drop value as soon as they are driven off the lot.  Studies have shown that three- to five-year-old vehicles have already experienced the greatest percentage of their depreciation. With the current economy, used vehicles offer consumers the chance to save thousands of dollars or even affordably upgrade to a better class of vehicle.

2. Road-Tested

A properly maintained used vehicle with service records is helpful, because any defects that might go unnoticed in a new car will have already revealed themselves and been corrected in a used car.

3. Reliability

It’s an undisputed fact that today’s vehicles are truly built to last, unlike vehicles of 25 years ago. It’s quite reasonable to expect, with proper maintenance, a vehicle to serve reliably after 180,000 miles or more.

4. Accessible 

People like used cars because they can see them, sit in them, try the options and drive them, which you can’t do when ordering a new car from a photo or option description. People like to see and touch what they are buying.

5. Insurance

Perhaps a more costly aspect than maintenance for some vehicles is the cost to insure them for the road. Used vehicles can be less expensive to insure.


It is important to carefully and extensively research used cars.  Ask the dealer for a vehicle history report.  Also, It can be beneficial to have your own mechanic inspect the car before buying.

Car Maintenance Tips

Depending on the age and durability of the vehicle, used cars need a certain level of maintenance in order to receive the highest efficiency from it.  Here are several car maintenance tips that will keep your used car running up to par.

Wheels and tires

  • Rotate tires every 5,000 miles
  • Clean brake dust off regularly with a damp sponge and cold water
  • Check tire pressure frequently to optimize fuel economy, handling and comfort
  • Check tread depth and replace bald tires to prevent possible accidents


  • Check the belts
    • Get timing belt and accessory drive belt checked every 25,000 miles
    • Preferably replacing it every 50,000 miles
  • Check oil level
    • Engine problems can arise if oil level is too high or to low
    • Pull out dipstick and wipe it clean
    • Enter it back into the tube, pull it back out and compare the line of oil to the high and low markings on the dipstick
  • Check Coolant level
    • Check level relative to the low and high markings on the reservoir.
    • Reservoir is usually a white/transparent bottle on one side of the engine or check the manual if applicable


  • Try and fuel the car with the recommended fuel.  If regular is recommended, then use regular.  If premium is recommended for the car, it may be more expensive to fill up, but may save the vehicle problems in the long run


  • Do not touch glass when changing headlight bulbs.  Traces of oil and dust may get on glass.  When in use, the glass gets hotter than the rest of the bulb.  The traces may cause the bulb to crack