But Consumer Reports says you have to shop carefully. First, narrow down your choices to a reliable make and model. That translates into less time and money spent at the repair shop.
"The reliability information that Consumer Reports gathers shows that some models are generally more reliable than others. It's hard to go wrong with a Honda, for instance. The Accord, the Civic, the CR-V, and the Pilot are all very reliable," said Paul.
Next, you want to find a car that's been well maintained. Ask for records so you can see if the recommended maintenance was done as well as any repairs.
"You should also look over a used car very carefully. Telltale signs of damage are rust or corrosion or a door that doesn't close properly," said Paul.
Also check the engine and under the car for any oil or coolant leaks. If you find any, steer clear. But most importantly, have an independent mechanic check out a used vehicle before buying it.
"If someone won't allow a car to be inspected, consider that a red flag and move on," advised Paul.
Is it better to get a certified used vehicle? They can cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars more.
"If you focus on getting a reliable car that's well-maintained, and you have it inspected by an independent mechanic, you can skip going the certified-car route," said Paul.
Taking a test drive is also important. You want to see if the car drives smoothly and that there are no unusual noises. Take the car on highways and local roads. Ideally you want to spend up to a half-hour driving the car so you have enough time to size it up.