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Finding bargains among one-year-old used cars

Joshua Lott/Getty Images

Used auto shoppers are always looking for a reliable car at a good price. So, auto research site has come up with a new way to find those bargains -- including some surprising models.

Researchers at iSeeCars winnowed through 5 million 2014 model vehicles to find which ones most often were sold after one year as used cars with 10,000 to 15,000 miles on the odometer. Of those 5 million cars, only 2.7 percent sold after a year. But the vehicles on this list turned over at least 2.5 times as often.

The apparent reasons for these quick turnovers varied. But what most of these six vehicles share is bargain prices -- a greater-than-average used-car discount from their original selling prices.

To see which of these vehicles was likely to be a reliable used car, we turned to reliability ratings from J.D. Power & Associates (MHFI) and Consumer Reports. That step produced some good used car deals, like the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and the Buick Regal. It also turned up some used cars to avoid, like the Dodge Charger and the Chevrolet Sonic.

What does the quick turnover mean for used-car buyers? "With these models, car shoppers have a much greater likelihood of finding their ideal car in terms of color, options and mileage," iSeeCars CEO Phong Ly told CBS MoneyWatch. He said he was surprised to see luxury models Mercedes C-Class and BMW X1 (a small SUV) on the list. "If you look at the depreciation, you may want to buy these cars used rather than new," Ly added.

Click here for a closer look at these six vehicles and their prices, listed in order of their discounts from new-car prices.

Buick Regal

General Motors

The Buick Regal sells at the biggest used-car discount on this list -- 32.2 percent vs. 18.1 percent for all cars sold on a similar schedule. That means the average 2014 Regal is selling for $22,736 vs. $33,541 on average a year earlier as a new car.

The Regal is also likely to be a reliable used car. It gets an above-average score of four out of a possible five for reliability from J.D. Power and and a better-than-average ranking as a used car from Consumer Reports.

The quick turnover for the Regal, the analysts at iSeeCars believe, may result in its being in the same price range as entry-level luxury cars. "Competitors such as the Lexus IS250 and the BMW 320i are known for their top-notch interiors and seat comfort, whereas the 2014 Buick Regal has been criticized by some as lacking in these areas." The owners may not have recognized such issues with the Regal in a short test drive.

However, if you like the Regal's style and don't agree with such complaints that showed up in owner chat rooms, this Buick could be a bargain as a used car.

Dodge Charger

Fiat Chrysler

The Dodge Charger is selling at a 31 percent discount as a used car. The average used-car price for the 2014 Charger is $21,960 compared with its average new-car price a year earlier of $31,813.

But the Charger doesn't look like a good bet as a used car. Consumer Reports ranks it much worse than average as a used car, and J.D. Power rates it a below-average two for reliability.

Unlike some other cars on this list, the Charger's quick turnover may result in part from mechanical problems. Owners surveyed by Consumer Reports reported problems with the transmission and audio system.

The Charger is a sporty car with a powerful V-6 engine, and the option for an even more powerful "Hemi" V-8. But even if that sounds intriguing, look for another sporty used-car option.

Mercedes-Benz C Class


CEO Phong Ly of iSeeCars said he was startled to see this entry-level Mercedes crop up on the quick-turnover list. The 2014 C-Class is selling for a 28.4 percent discount, or an average $31,729 used vs. $44,343 as a new car.

This may be the best bargain on the list. J.D. Power ranks the 2014 C-Class as an above-average four for reliability. Consumer Reports makes it a much-better-than-average used-car prospect in both the four-cylinder and six-cylinder versions.

Reasons for the quick turnover of the C-Class aren't readily apparent. But the analysts at iSeeCars speculate that some buyers may have had experience with friends or through rentals with bigger, more expensive Mercedes models and that the C-Class didn't meet their high expectations.

But if you have always wanted to own a Mercedes, reviewers surveyed by U.S. News praised the 2014 C-Class for its attractive interior and comfortable ride. These reviewers preferred the extra punch that comes with the V-6 engine in the C300 and C350 versions.

Chevrolet Sonic

General Motors

Chevy's Sonic, an inexpensive small car, sells for a 19.6 percent discount from its new car price. The average used-car selling price is $14,439, compared with its average new-car price of $17,952.

That's a low price for a one-year-old car, but Sonic may not be a reliable used car. Consumer Reports ranks the 2014 much worse than average as a used-car prospect, while J.D. Power hasn't rated it.

Analysts at iSeeCars believe the Sonic's quick turnover may be related to complaints by owners in online auto forums about cheap interior materials and not-that-comfortable seats.

The 2014 Sonic was praised by reviewers for nimble handling and a spacious cabin. But if you're in the market for a small used car, a better bet is the sibling Chevrolet Cruze (next page).

Chevrolet Cruze

General Motors

The Chevy Cruze sells at an 18.8 percent discount -- just above the average for all 5 million cars studied that were sold after one year. That translates to an average used-car price of $16,706 vs. $20,586 as a new car a year earlier.

The Cruze likely will be a reliable used car if you stick with the 1.8-liter base engine, which Consumer Reports gives an average used-car rating. (It has a lower rating for the turbocharged 1.4-liter engine.)

Researchers at iSeeCars think that, like the Sonic, the quick turnover for the Cruze may be connected to complaints about the interior and seating comfort. Reviewers, however, generally have found the Cruze comfortable for a compact.

An option generally praised by reviewers is the diesel-engine Cruze, rated for an eye-popping 46 MPG in highway driving (27 in the city). For a one-year-old used car well under $20,000, the Cruze may be a good bet.



BMW's X1 small SUV sells at a 17.9 percent discount -- nearly equal to the average discount of all 2014 used cars sold after one year. The average used-car price is $32,112 vs. average $39,126 for the X1 when new.

The X1 likely will be a reliable used car. Consumer Reports projects the 2014 to be of average reliability, and reports no specific problems. J.D. Power also gives it an average rating.

CEO Phong Ly puts the X1's quick turnover down to not meeting owners' expectations for a luxury car. The limited cargo space reviewers cited also could be a factor.

As you would expect from a BMW, reviewers praised the X1's strong acceleration, nimble handling and quick-shifting automatic transmission. If you care more about the driving than the hauling, this could be your chance to get a BMW for closer to $30,000 than to $40,000.

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