Ask any local, whether they’re a long-time transplant or a born and bred Angeleno, and they’ll tell you: Los Angeles is the greatest city in the world. While some of us may disagree for personal reasons, on the quantitative list of awesomeness, Los Angeles scores very high marks. The people, the scenery, the entertainment industry—they’re all there to be seen, and they’re all stunning. But in such an image-conscious world, what kind of car is the best for LA, especially if you’re looking to buy used and maybe on a bit of a budget until that big gig comes through?
Rest easy, Instamotor has the answers—and whichever of our Best Used Cars for LA you choose, you’ll find a nice, vetted example right in the Instamotor app, ready to buy—though you’ll want to be sure to take our advice about an inspection from a certified mechanic before buying.
Without further ado, here are the 11 best used cars for Los Angeles, whether you just moved last week or you’re a born native!
Quirky, compact, easy on gas and the eyes, and best of all, the top rolls back to open up nearly the entire roof—and it does it old-school style, with a sort of telescoping cloth setup that bunches up at the rear. The Fiat 500 Cabriolet is an easy pick for any fair-weather city, and Los Angeles is among the fairest of them all—as long as you don’t dwell on the traffic. These sold in the low- to mid-$20,000s when new, so finding a used deal close to the $10k mark shouldn’t be too hard.
Los Angeles is a big city, to be sure, but it’s not very urban. And in the suburbs, especially for those who take care of their own houses, their own yards, their own cars, and those of friends and family, a pickup truck is indispensable. The GMC Sierra and Chevy Silverado twins (they’re essentially the same truck aside from some minor trim and equipment details, and the badges) have long offered great value for those seeking a do-it-all vehicle, and with the 2014 models beginning to hit the used market, you can now get a full-sized V8-powered pickup that’s not too hard on your wallet at the pump. Thanks to a new cylinder deactivation system that really works, the latest General Motors pickups can see you getting MPGs well into the mid- or upper-20s when cruising around town at moderate pace.
Older pickups will be easy to find in the sub-$10,000 range, but the newer trucks will hold onto their value for a few years yet—expect to pay $30,000-$45,000 or more for a newer used Sierra or Silverado, depending on equipment.
Inexpensive, relatively fuel efficient, cute, small (and easy to park), and convertible, the Mazda Miata is a great choice for every reason the Fiat 500 Cabriolet is, except for two things: the Miata’s roof is quicker and easier (but perhaps a little less retro-cool), and the Miata itself is quicker and more fun to drive. If you live near Mulholland, Angeles Crest, Little Tujunga, or any other of the myriad great driving roads in the Greater LA Area, the Miata is a car you must own at some point, at least for a little while, just to experience the pure joy of driving.
Let’s face it, driving around LA is mostly a chore—it’s only rarely enjoyable. So if you’re going to have to grind it out twice a day every weekday, why not do it somewhere comfortable, connected, and unobtrusive? The Honda Accord has long ranked among the top-selling models in the U.S., and for good reason. Honda packs a lot of key equipment into the Accord, and sells it for good value. This has been true for decades, so no matter which model of Accord you pick, you’ll have a trusty, well-equipped vehicle—though those built before 2000 may want some modernization to make the most out of your long commute. If you’re after Bluetooth audio streaming, hands-free calling, and more, it’s a lot easier—and cheaper—than you might think to add those to an older car yourself.
Like the Miata, the Corvette is a fun car to drive. Unlike the Miata, most versions of the Corvette pack lots of power relative to their weight. Newer examples of the Corvette (those produced since 1997, essentially) offer brilliant handling to go with that power, though the Corvette does have a less-friendly reputation for novice drivers than the Miata. Available in both coupe and convertible forms, the Corvette is a great LA car because it sounds amazing even when it’s just idling along, it cuts an iconic figure, identifiable even at great distance, and, when the road opens up, it’ll get you where you’re going just about as quick as anything.
Corvettes are fun and all, but they only seat two, and they’re really low. What if you just want something that’ll get you from Point A to Point B and sit unobtrusively on the street until the next time you grudgingly leave your bike behind and plod out into the cager community? Then maybe you’re after a Toyota Camry. This car, often beige, is nearly unnoticeable, making it perfect for those who’d rather forget they have to drive at all. If you want to save some money, get the slightly smaller version of this soporific special, the Toyota Corolla.
Iconically beautiful but understated, the Porsche 911 has become a bit of a “me too” car in many parts of the LA area—it’s a bit like driving around with your credit score or your paycheck painted on the door. But on the other hand, it really is a practical, quick, surprisingly efficient form of four-wheeled transportation, and its half-century of history is rich with the heritage of racing, if the sweep of a tach tends to get your heart pumping. Available in Coupe, Convertible, and Targa forms, there’s a generation and body style of 911 to suit nearly every personality type—and LA definitely has every one of them.
Just because GM makes great trucks doesn’t mean you can’t look into the world of the Blue Oval, too. After all, the Ford F-series of trucks has long been the best-seller in the entire United States—and we all know what LA does, the rest of the country eventually copies. Whether you’re looking for a heavy-duty work truck, a yard work- friendly commuter, or simply a way to express your immense prowess at Jenga, the F-150 can be a great choice.
The 405. The 110. The street in front of your house. Wherever you’re stuck, you’re stuck there, inching along, wasting gas—unless you have start/stop, of course. The feature wasn’t common in the U.S. until the last 3-5 years for most brands, even though carmakers have offered the start/stop system in Europe for a decade or more, so be on the lookout for cars built after 2010 or so if you’re keen on start/stop.
Of course, if you’re keen on saving gas, a hybrid of some sort is the obvious next step. Combining either harvested electricity from braking or electricity directly from the grid (or both), hybrids can save you some money at the pump, but that savings is usually balanced out when you purchase the car—though that’s less true for those who buy hybrids used. Because the carmakers are all required to warranty the batteries for at least 10 years, even second-hand buyers are covered—so don’t let the fear of an expensive battery pack swap keep you from buying a used hybrid.
If you want the ultimate in gas savings—as well as image—then the Tesla Model S is still your “it” car on the used market. Yes, there are newer and more expensive cars (including one from Tesla), but the Model S still says “I am a successful person who cares about the Earth and still likes to haul ass” in a way no other car can.
automotive freelance journalist