PORTLAND, Ore. ( TheStreet) -- When demand for used vehicles rises, the race to find the most reliable beater on the market suddenly becomes a slightly scuffed version of the new car market.
Sales of new cars increased 13.4%, but the definition of the "best" car money can buy has changed since the recession curbed everyone's spending. Those used cars that were once rental car fodder and lures for cash-strapped high school kids are now legitimate competitors to newer models. That's creating an interesting mix in the overall vehicle market.
Automotive data service Polk revealed last year that the average age of cars and light trucks on U.S. roads is roughly 11 years. That's up from 8.9 years a decade ago and 9.8 as recently as 2007. New car sales slumped during the 2008 and 2009 recession years as America's drivers squeezed as much mileage out of their old cars as possible.
According to Manheim Consulting's Used Vehicle Value Index, used car prices actually fell 0.8% last year, but jolted up 1.2% in December as Superstorm Sandy reduced an already small supply. Dwindling new car inventory and used car lots already depleted of 2- and 3-year-old vehicles are keeping prices high as sales increased 5% last year and more than 10% from 2010.That's making a lot of formerly undesirable older vehicles a lot more popular. Manheim found that owners are looking to sell their old Toyota (TM) Camry, Honda (HMC) Accord or Ford (F) Fusion, Manheim says they'll make an average of 2% more on the deal than they would have last December. Even used pickups and vans have benefited as demand accelerated 2.6% and 0.2% respectively within the past year. While Polk has found that American car buyers are regaining their confidence, there's no way to make them ignore the value of an older, cheaper, equally reliable vehicle. Considering the advanced age of the average American car, we asked the folks at Kelley Blue Book to see what decade-old models should factor into car buyers' decision-making this year. They came back with an extremely flush selection of 30 vehicles. Even folks at auto-sales site Edmunds, who are typically more focused on newer model's than yesterday's favorites, are acknowledging the appeal of an older vehicle. They just released a rundown of the 17 "best" used cars of the market and showered praise on models including 2006-11 Ford F-150s, 2006-11 Subaru Outbacks and 2006-11 Honda Odysseys. The following are just 10 of their selections and some of the reasoning behind the picks. With used car prices not quite the deep discount they once were, it pays to know which vehicles are worth the price:
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