Tips on Finding a Reliable Pre-Owned SUV

Published April 5, 2017 by Sean Jackson

If you want to save money you can receive a great deal on pre-owned SUVs. In some instances, they come with many of the benefits you find with new SUVs (warranties, free services, etc) at a lower price. However, buying a used SUV can be like throwing a dart blindfolded. While reputable dealerships do testing to ensure the vehicles they sell operate well, there’s no guarantee you won't encounter problems. Due to this, it’s important to do extensive research when considering a pre-owned model. Here are some things to look for.

Vehicle History

First, you want to gain an accurate depiction of the history of the model you are considering. A good place to start is to ask for a CARFAX report. Reputable dealers will be happy to provide this information to you. When reviewing a vehicle report, CARFAX provides detailed histories of the SUV including:
  • How many owners the model has had
  • Have there been any title issues with the SUV?
  • Service records
  • Any accidents the vehicle has been in
  • How the airbags deployed?
  • How many recalls the vehicle has underwent
Compiled, all this information gives you a better understanding of the vehicle. While CARFAX is a great place to start, it might not provide the entire picture. A great illustration of this is the SUV you like has had only one owner--dealers love to use this as a selling point. However, the previous owner didn’t take good care of the model, failing to adhere to maintenance schedules and being slow to respond to issues. Now, the dealership conducted an inspection and made any changes. In fact, this would show up in the CARFAX report too. With that said, if the vehicle has had a history of neglect, problems can rear their ugly head at any time, especially if it’s a higher mile model. Therefore, it’s important to take vehicle history reports with a grain of salt. The service records are much more important, so see if you can get them from the dealer. Sometimes you might luck out as the previous owner bought and serviced the vehicle continually at the dealer. Other times, you won’t have access to this information. If this happens, you can protect yourself. Provided the SUV is eligible based on age and miles driven, you can buy an extended auto warranty. How this work is they protect covered parts on your SUV that way if the unexpected happens you won’t have to worry about a huge repair bill.


Another aspect of the vehicle’s history to view closer is how many recalls it has had. It’s normal for most SUVs to have one or a few recalls. However, if there have been many recalls issued in a short time, it can indicate there are systematic issues with the model. It’s important to consider if the manufacturer is coming across problems now, what does that say about the future of that SUV? If you choose to roll the dice and take the model, be sure you have protection by way of extended warranty.


Which models tend to perform better for longer? This is a good aspect to consider when choosing the right vehicle for you. J.D. Power and other independent research agencies conduct studies to find the most dependable SUVs on the road today. Currently, brands like Subaru, Lexus, and Honda dominate the list.


When you finance a new model and you have great credit, it isn’t uncommon for you to receive financing incentives where you pay zero percent interest on the loan. The same won’t apply to used models, though. The reason for this is the value of the model has depreciated significantly since it isn’t considered new. This means the more you drive it, the less the lender will be able to recoup should they have to repossess it due to loan default. Now, this doesn’t mean you cannot receive a low-interest rate, but you might have to shop around more than relying on the dealer. One of the best alternatives to dealership financing is to find a local credit union. Credit unions offer lower rates on loans--depending on your credit--making them a great option on the affordability end. Other choices include using a loan service like LendingTree, who can match you up with lenders that best align with your finances or use peer-to-peer lending. With this option, you have private donors invest in your loan. You can lock in competitive rates and have flexible repayment terms.

Consider Certified Models

Certified models have undergone rigorous testing to ensure they deliver great quality. Though they are more expensive than other used vehicles, they come with outstanding benefits too. Many certified programs include the original manufacturer warranties, access to free technological features like SiriusXM Radio for a specified time, and other perks. Additionally, some dealerships try to sweeten the deal by offering free service for the first year or two for oil changes, inspections, tire rotations, and more. This can be a great deal on the surface, however; it’s important to consider other factors as well. Certified models don’t cost much less than newer ones, so if you qualify for the best dealer/manufacturer incentives it might be wise to take the new model instead where you won’t pay interest on your loan and you could receive cash back. At the same, if you want to have confidence in your purchase, then a certified model is a great choice.

Our Take

Buying a used vehicle can be a stressful process. To make it easier, you can research your model’s history using CARFAX. If everything checks out on that end, use J.D. Power’s dependability study to see how your model measures up to the most dependable out there. By doing side-by-side comparisons, you can gain confidence in knowing you are going to find the right model for you.

Useful SUV Links

Recommended SUV News & Reviews

∗ Monthly payments are only an example shown for convenience. Estimated monthly payments based on 3.9% APR, 60 month financing, and 20% down payment. Taxes and other fees are not included in price or payment. Subject to approved buyer credit. Actual purchase terms may vary. Payment calculations may not reflect actual financing terms. Down payments subject to availability, approved buyer credit and lender requirements.