Want a High-Tech Used Car? Here’s What to Look For

It's easier and cheaper than you think to get some of the best tech in a used car with just a little bit more research while you are car shopping.

Want a High-Tech Used Car? Here’s What to Look For

Picture this: You’re driving along, fumbling with your phone, trying to get Google (or worse, Apple Maps) to get you to your afternoon meeting on time when, the next thing you know, the phone slips from your hand and slides under the seat. Traffic be damned, you’re determined to fish your long-lost phone from between the seats and you’re driving like a crazy person down the 101 in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Sound familiar?

Well, if you’ve been considering a used car, you may think this is what your life will be relegated to…. permanently. You’ll be stuck in a world with a lack of cool, useful technology outside of bolt-on additions and clunky solutions. We here at Instamotor are here to tell you that its easier and cheaper than you think to get some of the best tech in a used car with just a little bit of leg work.

New car technologies depreciate after a few years

First, know how the new car industry works. Many times new cars come with a bundle of technology to help entice buyers to purchase the latest and greatest. (Hey, a certain fruit-named computer company does the exact same thing.) The truth is that while these technologies are often more expensive when bought new, they tend to depreciate much faster once they’ve been on the market for a few years. This is mainly due to the fact that car companies are creating many of these systems themselves. Sometimes that makes them incredibly clunky and awkward to use in their first iterations—and the only way to get the newest (and more user friendly) version of the system is to buy a new car.

Look for the right model years

So if you find yourself lusting after things like Bluetooth, back-up cameras and navigation, all you have to do is target the right model year. Basically, anything you can find on the used market that is just 2-3 years old, could fit both your budget and your desire for some of the great technology you may have thought was only available to you in a new car. Edmunds.com says that if you want Bluetooth, target a used car that is from 2009 or later. Looking for a back-up camera? Try for a 2010 or later. Blind-spot monitoring? Go for a model that’s no older than 2013. Adaptive cruise control? Look for up-market or luxury cars built after 2013.

That being said, technology evolves very quickly so there is a point of diminishing returns when looking at used car tech. Typically anything older than 7 years is going to be too old to be useful. The other thing you should be aware of, if you are looking for a used car with some of these upgrades, is that you’ll need to pay attention to the details of each car. Some of these items are included in a premium package or a safety package that would have been added onto the car at purchase. Sometimes upgraded technology pieces are added on a-la-carte. It all depends on how the car was built when it was bought new.

One other thing to remember, too: you can always add aftermarket solutions for GPS systems, radio and Bluetooth upgrades, and even back-up cameras, but things like blind-spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control are essentially impossible to add on later. If you are looking to make your used car like-new again for just a few pennies, follow these tips and buy the tech you want.

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Abigail BassettAbigail Bassett

Digital media content producer/consultant & former CNN senior producer, now running CN'TRL : Cars, Tech, Real Estate & Luxury.