What makes a car a good deal?

As anyone who has shopped for a car before knows, there is a lot that goes into finding the right next car for you. Most people will, at the very least, consider the prospective car’s make and model, the car’s mileage, the car’s condition, and its price.

For many, the important considerations stop there, and the fairness of the deal is determined by looking at those factors and those factors alone. However, there is so much more that goes into a car being a good deal, and this article will go over exactly what all of those things are.

The Basics

To start, it’s important to first go over those basic elements that go into our assessment of whether a car is a good deal, or whether it’s one that you should pass on. These things are: 

  • Make and Model
  • Mileage
  • Price
  • Condition
image credit: mileiq.com

These are the four most basic aspects of a car that shoppers will consider, and these are the primary things that car listing sites will use to determine whether or not the car is a good deal. You’ve probably noticed that on many car listing sites, some cars will carry a tag that says “Great Deal!” or perhaps “Bad Deal.” These tags are determined by analyzing the above-mentioned criteria. However, these tags are, to savvy shoppers at least, taken as little more than arbitrary, because a savvy shopper—which you are soon to become—can recognize that some other things can be far more important than the criteria listed above. Let’s get into what some of those things are.

Image credit: CarGurus

History and service records

Words cannot describe just how incredibly important a car’s history and service records are. Comprehensive service records will not only increase a car’s value (that’s a tip for you sellers), but they will allow the buyer to know exactly how reliable the car has been in the past, and what, if any, maintenance they should expect to perform in the future. Additionally, ownership history can give some insight into how many times the car has turned over, and whether owners have loved their car, or used it as nothing more than an appliance. This is all extremely valuable knowledge for buyers, and while I wouldn’t say you should pass on a great car just because it has no records, I will say that you should value service records more highly than you probably are right now. 

image credit: revaluesoft.com

Options and features

 This is likely something that most car buyers are considering anyway, but I thought it was worthy of mention regardless, because it is quite important. Cars can be optioned, when new, with a variety of different features and packages, and many used car buyers will be shopping exclusively for a car with certain features or packages that they find desirable. These things can sum to quite a substantial increase in value of the car, so know that the price should always be reflective of the options that a certain car is equipped with. 


Having a warranty come with your used car can be a very valuable thing to have, and can offer the buyer peace of mind in that if something does go wrong on their new-to-them used car, it will be covered under their warranty. Warranties are valuable not just for the safety net they offer; they are monetarily valuable, too! Warranties can increase the value of a car by quite a bit, so you should know that if the asking price for a non-warrantied car is roughly equivalent to a comparable warrantied car, you’re looking at an overpriced car.

Putting it all together with an example

Now that we’ve gone over some of the less obvious things that factor into the price of a used car, we can tie everything together with an example, showcasing how the importance of these three above-mentioned things can often outweigh the importance of the more traditional car buying criteria. So, on to our example (a real-life example that I’ve recently encountered in my own car shopping experiences):

Car 1: 2013 BMW 335i, Estoril Blue exterior, Black Leather Interior, 6-speed Manual

Mileage: 84,000

Price: $18,400

Condition: Good

Warranty: 2 years/50,000 miles (aftermarket)

History/Service Records: 1-owner/comprehensive

Options/Features: Fully Loaded

Car 2: 2014 BMW 335i, Black Exterior, Black Leather Interior, 8-speed Automatic

Mileage: 61,000

Price: $16,900

Condition: Good

Warranty: None

History/Service Records: None

Options/Features: Average

Okay, go ahead and take a look at the above two cars, and guess which one you think I’m going to say is the better deal… If you guessed Car 1, you’re correct!

But wait, Car 2 is newer, cheaper, and has fewer miles—what gives? Here’s what gives: Car 1 is a fully optioned 1-owner car with full service history, a rare color combination and transmission, and an aftermarket warranty. In my opinion, and according to my preferences, this more than makes up for the 1 year, 23k mile and $1,500 difference. 


As the above example hopefully made clear, price, mileage, and condition are not the end-all be-all criteria when it comes to assessing a car’s value. Instead, there are lots of other things that need to be considered, and now you know what they are. So go ahead and put this knowledge to good use as you look for your next used car, and rest assured that you know more than most regarding what really goes into a car being a “good deal.” 

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