Best Places to Buy a Used Car

By Julie Blackley

Traditional, Online, or Rental Car Companies: Where to Find the Best Deals

  • Rental car companies provide more savings than other retailers to buy a used car, with an average of 1.6 percent savings or $303 according to iSeeCars analysis of over 8.5 million vehicles
  • Savings at rental car companies are on average $334 greater than at traditional local dealerships, $747 greater than online dealerships
  • Traditional local dealerships provide over $400 in savings compared to online dealerships
  • While deals aren’t as significant at traditional local dealerships or online dealerships, savings can still be found
 

Used car prices have risen in 2020 due to increased demand and limited inventory as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. With used car prices up and multiple sources to buy a used car from, consumers should examine all their options when trying to save money and find the best deal on a used vehicle. 

“As contact-free online dealers have gained popularity as a safe alternative to traditional dealerships, and as struggling car rental companies unload their inventory, consumers might be considering these alternatives to traditional brick and mortar dealerships,” said iSeeCars Executive Analyst Karl Brauer. “It’s important that used car shoppers compare prices across these types of dealers if they want to get the best deal possible on a used car.”

Car search engine iSeeCars.com analyzed over 8.5 million used car sales across the three dealer types of traditional local dealerships, virtual dealerships, and rental car companies and found that rental car dealers consistently provide the greatest savings, while local dealerships are priced close to market value and virtual dealerships are priced above market value.  

Best Places to Buy a Used Car - iSeeCars
Dealer Type Avg Price to Market Value ($) Avg Price to Market Value (%)
Rental Car Dealers (Hertz, etc.)  -$303 -1.6%
Traditional Local Dealerships +$31 +0.2%
Online Dealerships (Carvana, etc.) +$444 +2.4%
On average, rental car dealers provide the biggest savings, with cars priced 1.6 percent or $303 below the market value of a used car. “Because rental car companies buy their cars at a high volume and at a discounted rate, they’re able to sell these vehicles for less to consumers, and they price the vehicles to sell in order to move their inventory quickly,” said Brauer. “Additionally, rental car companies are also more likely to discount their vehicles given the financial hardships they are facing from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Best Places to Buy Popular Vehicles

iSeeCars analyzed used car transactions among the top 25 best selling vehicles to determine the average savings at each major dealership type (listed alphabetically).
Best Places to Buy Popular Vehicles - Average Price to Market Value (%)
Popular Vehicle Rental Virtual Local Place with the Best Pricing
Chevrolet Equinox -3.1% -2.7% -0.4% Rental
Chevrolet Silverado 1500 -6.6% +2.5% +0.3% Rental
Ford Escape -2.8% -4.3% -0.4% Virtual
Ford Explorer -3.8% +0.5% -0.4% Rental
Ford F-150 0.0% +2.3% +0.8% Rental
Ford Fusion +1.0% +1.9% +0.3% Local
GMC Sierra 1500 - 0.0% -0.1% Local
Honda Accord - +5.8% +0.4% Local
Honda Civic -6.3% +6.5% +0.4% Rental
Honda CR-V - +4.0% +0.6% Local
Hyundai Tucson +1.2% +0.6% +0.9% Virtual
Jeep Grand Cherokee -3.4% -0.2% -0.6% Rental
Jeep Wrangler - +2.5% +0.8% Local
Mazda CX-5 +0.1% +0.5% -0.9% Local
Nissan Altima -6.2% +5.9%% +1.4% Rental
Nissan Rogue -1.9% +0.5% +0.5% Rental
Ram Pickup 1500 +0.8% +2.7% +1.1% Rental
Subaru Forester - +3.9% -1.8% Local
Subaru Outback - +1.0% -1.9% Local
Toyota 4Runner +0.5% +2.9% +1.2% Rental
Toyota Camry -0.2% +3.6% +1.4% Rental
Toyota Corolla +2.0% +6.2% +0.9% Local
Toyota Highlander -0.8% +2.2% -0.2% Rental
Toyota RAV4 -0.5% +1.5% +0.6% Rental
Toyota Tacoma +3.7% +7.1% +2.3% Local
Of the 25 most popular vehicles, 13 have the greatest savings at rental car agencies. “Over 98 percent of used car inventory at rental car companies is three-years-old or newer, so these deals will only apply to shoppers looking for newer model year versions of these vehicles,” said Brauer.

Six vehicles on the list are not commonly offered by rental car agencies including the GMC Sierra 1500, the Honda Accord, the Honda CR-V, the Jeep Wrangler, the Subaru Forester, and the Subaru Outback. “These vehicles are still sold at rental car companies, but the frequency and choice will be limited,” said Brauer. 

Six vehicles commonly found across all three retailers stand out as not having the most significant savings at a rental agency. “The Ford Escape has the most savings virtually, and the Ford Fusion and Hyundai Tucson are priced above market value at all three dealership types but have the smallest increase at local dealerships,” said Brauer. “On average, traditional local dealerships are where consumers are most likely to find deals on the Mazda CX-5, while the Toyota Corolla and the Toyota Tacoma have the lowest increases above market value.” 

Best Popular Cars to Buy at Rental Agencies

iSeeCars examined which popular vehicles have savings greater than average at rental car companies and determined the average price discount for each vehicle. These are the popular vehicles that have the greatest discounts when purchased at a rental car company.
Popular Cars With the Greatest Savings: Car Rental Companies
Rank Vehicle % Savings $ Savings
1 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 6.6% $2,016
2 Honda Civic 6.3% $1,006
3 Nissan Altima 6.2% $870
4 Ford Explorer 3.8% $1,106
5 Jeep Grand Cherokee 3.4% $1,021
6 Chevrolet Equinox 3.1% $593
7 Ford Escape 2.8% $523
8 Nissan Rogue 1.9% $315
The vehicle that has the greatest savings is the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 pickup truck, which has a 6.6 percent savings amounting to $2,016. “With truck demand particularly high over the last several months, it can be tough to find a good deal. Consumers looking for a late-model, full-size used truck should consider local rental car sales inventory,” said Brauer.

Two popular sedans, the Honda Civic and the Nissan Altima also offer significant savings when consumers purchase through a rental car dealer. “Despite sedans’ overall decline in market share, these models have remained popular rental options, and consumers can save money on these vehicles through a rental car dealer,” said Brauer.

There are other benefits beyond savings opportunities to buying a used rental car. “Rental cars follow routine maintenance schedules and are routinely inspected for cosmetic damage,” said Brauer.  “All Hertz and Enterprise vehicles undergo a rigorous inspection process from certified mechanics and come with a 12-month/12,000 mile limited powertrain warranty.”

But despite the savings, there are limitations to buying from a rental car company. “Rental cars typically have higher mileage and more wear and tear because they have had many drivers who may not be as careful with the vehicle as they would be with their own car,” said Brauer. “Rental companies also typically buy the base model of a vehicle, so consumers who want higher trim levels may have difficulty finding the specific version they want.”

Best Popular Cars to Buy at Online Dealers

While the average used car is priced 2.4 percent above market value at online dealerships, three popular vehicles sold online offer discounts below market value. These are the popular vehicles that have the greatest average savings when purchased at an online dealership.
Popular Cars With the Greatest Savings: Online Dealerships
Rank Vehicle % Savings $ Savings
1 Ford Escape 4.3% $684
2 Chevrolet Equinox 2.7% $440
3 Jeep Grand Cherokee 0.2% $37
“The savings at online dealerships are generally not as significant as at rental car companies, but consumers should consider online dealers if they want a slightly older vehicle with relatively low mileage, or if there isn’t a rental car sales company in their area,” said Brauer. “Additionally, online dealerships typically sell off-lease, one-owner cars, and Carvana and VROOM only sell vehicles with clean vehicle histories that haven’t been in an accident.”

Along with the convenience of delivering a vehicle right to a shopper’s door, online dealers rigorously inspect their vehicles and offer free protection plans. “If a consumer isn’t satisfied with their vehicle, they have a five-to-seven day return window to help ease anxiety about not being able to test drive the vehicle prior to purchase,” said Brauer.  

Buying from an online dealership also presents its challenges. “Buying a vehicle from an online dealer doesn’t allow you to do a traditional test drive and the dealers use no-haggle pricing, with no room for negotiation,” said Brauer.

Best Popular Cars to Buy at Local Dealers

iSeeCars also looked at the sale of popular vehicles at traditional local dealerships. While the average used car is essentially equal to (0.2 percent above) market price at these dealerships, 10 popular vehicles sold locally offer savings below market value. These are the popular vehicles that provide the greatest savings when purchased from a traditional local dealer. 
Popular Cars With the Greatest Savings: Traditional Local Dealers 
Rank Vehicle % Savings $ Savings
1 Subaru Outback 1.9% $387
2 Subaru Forester 1.8% $321
3 Mazda CX-5 0.9% $186
4 Jeep Grand Cherokee 0.6% $140
5 Honda CR-V 0.6% $95
6 Ford Escape 0.4% $63
7 Chevrolet Equinox 0.4% $72
8 Ford Explorer 0.4% $84
9 Toyota Highlander 0.2% $54
10 GMC Sierra 1500 0.1% $35
 “Traditional dealerships have more inventory than online dealerships and car rental agencies. Shoppers looking for a specific vehicle in a certain color or trim will find more variety at these dealerships,” said Brauer. “Additionally, traditional dealerships devote more of their inventory to older vehicles, making them the best option for consumers seeking vehicles more than five years old.” 

When purchasing a used car from any type of dealer, consumers should always do their research and follow important steps to make sure a good deal isn’t too good to be true. “Online tools like the iSeeCars VIN check report provides all the important information needed to help consumers find the best car at the best price,” said Brauer. “Shoppers should always obtain a vehicle history report and have it inspected by an independent mechanic.”

Best Place to Buy Used Cars By Metro Area

iSeeCars analyzed the data geographically and determined the best place to buy used cars by metropolitan area.

Best Place to Buy Used Cars and Average Price Differences By Metro Area
Metro Area Best Place to Buy? Avg Price Compared to Market Value ($) Avg Price Compared to Market Value (%)
Albuquerque-Santa Fe, NM Rental -2.5% -$528
Atlanta, GA Rental -0.3% -$51
Austin, TX Rental -1.1% -$228
Baltimore, MD Rental -4.4% -$763
Birmingham, AL Local -0.6% $124
Boston, MA-Manchester, NH Local +0.1% $17
Charlotte, NC Rental -2.7% -$516
Chicago, IL Rental -2.4% -$445
Cincinnati, OH Rental -4.8% -$849
Columbus, OH Rental 0.0% +$7
Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX Rental -2.1% -$424
Denver, CO Rental -1.4% -$311
Detroit, MI Rental -0.4% -$74
Grand Rapids-Kalamazoo, MI Rental -1.1% -$221
Greensboro-Winston Salem, NC Local +1.1% +$210
Greenville-Spartanburg, SC Local -0.3% -$64
Harrisburg-Lancaster-York, PA Local +0.6% $122
Hartford & New Haven, CT Rental -0.2% -$42
Houston, TX Rental -2.2% -$452
Indianapolis, IN Rental -1.9% -$385
Jacksonville, FL Rental -1.5% -$289
Kansas City, MO Rental -2.0% -$407
Las Vegas, NV Local +0.1% +$11
Los Angeles, CA Rental -2.1% -$413
Memphis, TN Rental -4.6% -$900
Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, FL Rental +0.4% +$75
Milwaukee, WI Rental -1.2% -$236
Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN Rental -1.9% -$383
Nashville, TN Rental -2.8% -$535
New York, NY Rental +0.3% +$52
Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News,VA Rental +0.0% +$5
Oklahoma City, OK Rental -2.1% -$409
Orlando-Daytona Beach, FL Rental -1.0% -$193
Philadelphia, PA Rental -2.3% -$439
Phoenix, AZ Rental -1.7% -$324
Pittsburgh, PA Rental -1.2% -$245
Portland, OR Rental -1.9% -$362
Raleigh-Durham (Fayetteville), NC Rental -0.9% -$179
Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto, CA Rental -4.4% -$824
Salt Lake City, UT Local -0.4% -$89
San Antonio, TX Rental -2.9% -$568
San Diego, CA Rental -2.9% -$560
San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, CA Rental -1.9% -$364
Seattle-Tacoma, WA Rental -3.4% -$664
St. Louis, MO Rental -5.0% -$930
Tampa-St Petersburg (Sarasota), FL Rental -0.7% -$139
Washington, DC (Hagerstown, MD) Rental -1.0% -$184
West Palm Beach-Ft. Pierce, FL Rental -0.4% -$75
Of the 48 metro areas analyzed, rental cars dominated as providing the greatest savings or most minimal increases, with the exception of six metro areas.

Methodology

iSeeCars analyzed over 8.5 million used cars sold in 2020 by online-only dealerships, rental car agencies, and other used car dealers. The price of each car was compared to similar cars sold nation-wide by other used car dealers, as was its mileage. The resulting comparison was expressed as both a dollar difference and percentage difference from “market value”, and the data was aggregated at an overall level, as well as the model level for the best-selling cars of 2020. Models sold at low volumes by any particular dealer type were excluded from the final analysis.

About iSeeCars.com

iSeeCars.com is a car search engine that helps shoppers find the best car deals by providing key insights and valuable resources, like the iSeeCars VIN check reports. iSeeCars.com has saved users over $249 million so far by applying big data analytics powered by over 25 billion (and growing) data points and using proprietary algorithms to objectively analyze, score and rank millions of new cars and used cars.