Depreciating Darlings: The 10 Best Used-Car Bargains

2012 Dodge Grand Caravan

As soon as a brand new car leaves the dealer’s lot, the depreciation phenomenon commences. There are plenty of reasons to spring for a new car with an empty odometer, of course. They come with great warranties, include the latest technologies, offer the buyer peace of mind with regard to the vehicle’s history, and, naturally, they come with that wonderful new car smell. However, to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes and your new car depreciating as soon as the rubber rolls of the lot.” We took a look at the data and found that although some cars quickly lose value for good reason (looking at you, Mitsubishi Galant), there are others that actually become pretty great deals. If the smell of organic materials off-gassing is of paramount importance, feel free to pay the premium for your brand new car. If you don’t mind waiting a few years, however, we’ve picked 10 vehicles that offer incredible value on the used market.

The average lease lasts three years, so we figured this would be a good place to start when looking at rates of depreciation. We analyzed the average listing price for 2012 model year vehicles in our database and compared those prices with the manufacturer’s original suggested retail price (MSRP) in 2012. The average mileage on these cars was a hair under 49,000 miles, and to avoid outliers, we looked only at vehicles that had at least 100 listings on the site.

2012 Land Rover Range Rover

We’ll start with a vehicle whose price drop can be easily explained. The 2012 Land Rover Range Rover is the pinnacle of impractical super-luxury SUVs. Range Rovers come fully loaded with some of the most cutting-edge technologies, pack some of the best safety equipment available, and show off the very latest styling cues. If this is the vehicle you want, you’re probably just going to buy the newest one. This fact, coupled with Land Rover’s questionable reputation for reliability, explains the Range Rover’s 44% depreciation over three years. We don’t think the market for off-lease used Range Rovers would be able to survive without such a massive dip in price. But if you’re looking for cutting-edge luxury that’s just a couple years old, you can’t do much better than this. You’re getting a top-of-the-line luxury SUV for the price of a new Jeep Grand Cherokee.

2012 Infiniti G37

A sportier option for anyone looking to save on a used car is the 2012 Infiniti G37. You can find used Sport Appearance Edition sedans at about 55% of their original MSRP, and xAWD Coupes listed at about 60%. The G37 matches up well against the BMW 3 and 5 Series and the Lexus ES 350 on our car comparator, and it’s always made for a good (and more affordable) alternative to the entry-level European luxury lineups. Again, certain sedan trims are likely to be a slightly better deal, but a G37 Coupe might make a better statement for those less concerned about cabin space.

2012 Chrysler 200 Convertible

Although the 2012 Chrysler 200 may not be a superstar in the automotive world, this midsize sedan certainly has its merits. After its introduction in 2011 as a solid improvement over the less-than-remarkable Sebring, the 200 established itself as the smaller, more afforable answer to the Chrysler 300. It was all-around a very solid midsize sedan, though maybe not everybody’s favorite. The ‘12 200 even offered a couple of convertible versions, which had very little competition in the segment. Today you can find a 200 Touring convertible with an almost 52% price decrease since it was released. Wait, a $26,000 midsize sedan’s price was cut in half after just 2 years on the market? Even if the 200 is astoundingly average, this is the perfect used car. It’s hard NOT to buy it at that price point. That’s a Mitsubishi Mirage level of inexpensiveness.

2012 Ford Taurus

The Ford Taurus is a car with an interesting history. A groundbreaking innovation in the 1980s, the Taurus of the ’90s slowly faded into obscurity as it became too old and outdated to survive at the dawn of the new millennium. In 2008, Ford refitted the Five Hundred with a Taurus badge and gave the vehicle a kick in the pants toward modernity. Declining interest in full-size sedans led to a steep depreciation curve for the Taurus, and you can now find a powerful and spacious 2012 Ford Taurus at a 47% discount from MSRP.

2012 Dodge Grand Caravan

If you’re looking for a newly used family-hauler, then you shouldn’t have to look much further than the 2012 Dodge Grand Caravan. The 2012 Grand Caravan will provide you with all the passenger and stowing space you could reasonably need from a vehicle at a price you can reasonably afford. Dodge has always emphasized the Grand Caravan’s small price tag, but the savings you find on 2012 Grand Caravans are at a whole other level. The 46.7% decrease in price brings you everything you could ask for in a family vehicle without compromising on price, safety, or space. This is easily the best deal for a minivan or family vehicle you can find.

2012 Volkswagen CC

Dieselgate put a foul smell in the nostrils of Volkswagen fans, but VW doesn’t directly make money on used-car sales and never put a diesel engine in its CC model. And given that a 2012 Volkswagen CC can be had for just over half its original price, we’d call it a deal for used-car shoppers looking for precision and performance. Because it’s not a huge seller, we don’t have depreciation data for every trim, but the 2012 Sport is available at a hair over 51% of its original price. You’ll have room for only 4, the CC’s trunk isn’t huge, and it requires premium fuel to get so-so mileage, but if you want a good-looking German sedan at a great price, it’s worth a look.

2012 Chevy Malibu

Chevrolet’s Malibu debuted the year the Beatles first played “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Music and cars have changed a lot since then, but still have one thing in common: Freshness counts. Collectors pay premium dollars for distinctive old product that’s in exceptional shape, but plain stuff that’s a few years old doesn’t hold value well. The debuting seventh-generation Malibu earned awards in 2008, but got redesigned in 2013, so the 2012 Chevrolet Malibu was old news even before it hit dealer lots. That’s probably why loaded LTZ2s sell for an average of almost 52% less than their original sticker, with other premium trims averaging just over half-price. The 2012 Malibu won’t ever be collectible, but it does offer a comfortable ride and generous cargo capacity at a bargain price.

2012 Mercedes-Benz S-Class

The most dramatic depreciators in the auto world belong to the exclusive class of luxury sedans. The Audi A8L and BMW 750Li both carry depreciation percentages well into high 40s and 50s, but we’re inclined to give the crown to the 2012 Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Wait three years to pull the trigger on that S550 4MATIC you’ve always wanted, and you’ll save close to 53% off MSRP—a difference of nearly $50,000. For a car that’s always on the cutting edge of technology, you’ll still pay a pretty penny, but not nearly as much as you would new.

2012 Nissan Leaf

We’ve found that electric vehicles tend to show some pretty serious depreciation—a phenomenon that seems somewhat surprising until you consider that anyone who purchases a new EV is eligible for a $7,500 federal tax rebate. So prices on used EVs tend to reflect an MSRP that is $7,500 lower than what appears on paper, as the original owners aren’t trying to recoup as much initial expense. The Nissan Leaf in particular demonstrates this process at work: Used 2012 Leaf SVs can now be found for about 33% of their original MSRP. The Leaf has proven to be the best selling modern EV, and we recently got an introduction to the 2016 Leaf, which is the first non-luxury EV with a range of more than 100 miles.

2012 Chevrolet Volt

And as with the Nissan Leaf, so with the Chevrolet Volt. A used 2012 Volt Base can be had for something like 40% of its original MSRP. For the Premium Edition, you’re looking at about 42% of the initial price. So why choose the Volt over the Leaf? For the Volt’s exceptional range, mostly. The 2012 Leaf has an EPA estimated range of 73 miles, and even a 2016 Leaf SV or SL outfitted with the improved 30kWh battery offers an estimated range of only about 107 miles. A 2012 Volt, however, combining a standard 4-cylinder engine with a 16kWh battery, can go roughly 380 miles without stopping for fuel or a charge. So if you’re looking to do something more than basic city or suburban commuting—a road trip, perhaps—the Volt would be a better choice and a better deal.

Would you wait a couple of years to buy a used car well below sticker price?

–Chase Hammond, John Harrington, Matt Smith, and Steve Halloran

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Used Land Rover Range Rover
Used Infiniti G37
Used Chrysler 200
Used Ford Taurus
Used Dodge Grand Caravan
Used Volkswagen CC
Used Chevrolet Malibu
Used Mercedes S-Class
Used Nissan Leaf
Used Chevy Volt

6 Comments

  1. After blowing tons of money on over 30 new cars I completely agree that used vehicles are the absolute smartest buy, unless you just have money to burn!

  2. The other advantage is many if these cars were leases, which have mileage caps and charge back for excessive wear an tear.

  3. I currently drive three Mercedes, and E class, an M Class and an AMG convertible. I buy CPO’s that have extended factory warranties and go through MB’s certification program which means they are pristine. The total MSRP of my vehicles is north of $260k and I paid less than $100k total and borrowed most of that from MB for 1.9%.
    Dad always said “Drive whatever car you want, just make somebody else pay the depreciation on it”

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