Auto Loans

Places That Buy the Oldest Used Cars

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Across the country, people are looking to buy used vehicles and skip out on ever-increasing new car prices. But how used is too used?

In a new study of used car sales, LendingTree analyzed more than 600,000 auto loan queries from prospective borrowers in the top 100 U.S. metros (based on population). We discovered the national average age of a used car people sought to finance was about five years old. But some parts of the country prefer older used cars more than others.

Key facts about places that buy the oldest cars

  • Spokane, Wash.: Residents here sought the oldest cars, pushing the previous top city,  Portland, Ore., to 10th place. Vehicles at least 7.66 years on average were what people sought to finance.
  • Wichita, Kan. ranked second among cities where people sought older used cars. Car buyers here sought loans for cars just under 7 years old.
  • Ogden, Utah ranked third nationally for those seeking to buy the oldest cars, with an average age of 6.80.
  • The heartland of the U.S. dominated last year’s list of places that buy the oldest cars, but more Southern cities join the top 10 this year including Knoxville and Chattanooga, Tenn., and Greenville, S.C.
  • Across the board, the average age of vehicles for which people are seeking financing has dropped from 6 years in 2018 to 5.34.

Key facts about places that buy the newest used cars

  • San Jose, Calif., heart of the wealthy Silicon Valley, prefers newer used cars, at an average of 3.54 years.
  • Miami also stays under the 4-year mark while another Florida city, Orlando, stays under five years.
  • California is a large market for newer used cars. In addition to San Jose, San Franciscans sought loans for cars with an average age of 4.03 years while Los Angeles and Oxnard stood at 4.42 and 4.67 years, respectively.
  • East Coast dwellers from Washington D.C. to Boston largely sought newer used cars. Among these, New Yorkers wanted the newest used cars, an average age of 4.04 years.
  • In cities where buyers preferred newer used cars, the vehicles they purchased were 4.12 years younger than the ones purchased by buyers in the places that buy the oldest used cars.

Places where buyers purchase the oldest used cars

1. Spokane, Wash.

Spokane drivers entered this year’s list and vaulted to the top as LendingTree expanded its look from the top 50 U.S. metros to the 100 largest metros. Spokane replaced nearby Portland, Ore., which remains in the top 10 places that buy the oldest cars: drivers in Portland sought cars with an average age around 6 years.

2. Wichita, Kan.

Also new to the list, Wichita is a distant second to Spokane. Spokanites sought out cars with an average age of 7.66 years while Wichitan car buyers sought loans for cars aged a bit short of 7 years, at 6.96.

3. Ogden, Utah

Just north of Salt Lake City, Ogden drivers ranked third nationally for seeking to buy the oldest cars, at an average age of 6.80.

4. Knoxville, Tenn.

Drivers in this mountain town face some gnarly roads but used cars are apparently up to the challenge — cars with an average age of 6.7 were sought after by potential buyers here.

5. Colorado Springs

People here sought to finance cars with an average age of 6.63 years, helping the city to claim the fifth spot for buying the oldest used cars.

Places where buyers want newer used cars

San Jose, Calif.

An hour south of San Francisco, San Jose takes the crown for seeking the newest used vehicles in the country.

Miami

Bumped by San Jose, the home of South Beach claimed the top spot for newest used vehicles in our previous study. But drivers continue to seek relatively recent used vehicles, 3.85 years old, on average.

San Francisco

The Golden Gate city wants used cars around four years old. Combined with San Jose, the pair make a huge market for newer used cars.

New York

The Big Apple placed fourth on our list of places seeking newer used cars, with New Yorkers preferring cars with an average age of 4.04 years.

McAllen, Texas

Texans love their cars and this far south border town isn’t to be left out — buyers here seek used vehicles with an average age of 4.14 years.

Tips on purchasing a used car

Shop around to compare prices. Once you know your budget and decide whether to buy a new or used car, check out online sites like CARFAX, AutoTrader and Edmunds. They let you sort through inventory by price, age, mileage, location and more.

Sites like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace don’t have as many search filter options but feature mostly private sellers. The advantage of buying from a private seller is that the price is lower than those at dealerships. The con is that private sellers don’t have to meet standard state laws that businesses do regarding inspections, disclosures and the warranty of merchantability.

Don’t buy a car without test-driving it. Whether you go to a dealership or find one from a private seller, test-drive the car and listen to see if the brakes are good, the lights work — the whole shebang.

Does it pay to buy older used cars?
Pros Cons
You avoid overpaying for an asset that sharply depreciates when it’s new. Out-of-pocket repairs could be needed sooner as the car ages and the warranty expires.
The savings on depreciation could outweigh potential repair costs. You miss out on that new-car smell.

 

Request to take it to an independent mechanic. By having an independent mechanic take a look at it, you’ll know if the transmission will drop out of the vehicle in 50 miles or not. The mechanic can give you an unbiased report on whether the vehicle is in good shape.

Check the maintenance log if it’s available. You want a car that’s been maintained well. High mileage on a vehicle is not always a death toll for your wallet in repair costs, if the car has been serviced regularly. Low mileage is not always what it’s cracked up to be. Lack of use can cause rubber and plastic parts, like valve covers, to crack and break, so check the timing between maintenance, not just the miles. Often the Carfax report will have the vehicle service record, but you can also ask for a copy from a dealership.

Ask the dealer for a copy of the CARFAX report, which is considered the top standard in vehicle history reporting, and check for any vehicle recalls with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration by entering the VIN. If the dealer isn’t willing to provide a CARFAX report, that’s a red flag; you might want to look elsewhere. If you’re buying from a private seller, you can purchase a CARFAX report yourself for $39.99.

For more information, you can see this article on how to buy a used car in 10 simple steps.

How to finance a used car

Never just accept what a dealer tells you is a good financing deal. Know the type of rate you can get before you kick some tires and take a test drive.

Check out if your bank or credit union offers used auto loans. If you’re already a member and in good standing with them, you could qualify for a rate discount on the loan with them.

You can shop around online for an auto loan before you know the exact car you want. This way you’ll get an idea of what’s available to you. Some banks offer preapproval programs. If you already know the exact car you want, that’s even better. You can go into the dealership knowing you have a financing offer ready, and you can ask the dealership to try and beat the offer.

You can check out this guide to getting your wheels for more information on financing and the current auto loan rates to give you an idea of the APR you may qualify for based on your credit score.

Methodology

Vehicle age was averaged across the 100 largest metropolitan statistical areas (“MSAs”) from the model years reported on over 611,000 query forms submitted by LendingTree customers seeking loans for used vehicle purchases in those MSAs. The data set was limited to queries submitted in 2019 for cars and light trucks with model years less than 2019.

 

Compare Auto Loan Offers