Buying a used car was once seen as a distinctly second-rate option. Your first car might be a used vehicle -- some old banger that you wouldn't mind bearing the brunt of your embryonic driving skills -- but after that, you'd want new all the way. In these straitened economic times, however, used cars are an increasingly inviting option. As the price of a new car climbs, the pre-owned vehicle sector claims a more and more significant share of the auto market. Car dealerships are responding to this, however -- they're trying to win back customers by offering more favourable terms and special deals on new cars.
Both new and used cars have their advantages. A new car is typically more reliable than a used one; breakdowns and mechanical glitches can cause a lot of inconvenience, not to mention expense. Used cars of dubious provenance can be a false economy, hiding hundreds or thousands of pounds-worth of future repairs under their carefully re-sprayed hoods. A used car also has a far lower resale value than a new one, making it a poor investment. While new cars tend to be far more expensive, you can often find extremely competitive special offers that can cut the cost of a new vehicle significantly. It's especially easy to find these online.
Another factor to consider is the rapid advance of technology. Buying an older car means that you won't get to benefit from recent improvements, such as fancier electronic gadgets or enhanced fuel economy. This can affect how economical your car is to run, since there may have been significant improvements even in the space of two or three years.
On the other hand, it's possible to buy used cars that are certified to meet a high standard of good repair and dependability. Some models are particularly reliable and these often retain a large proportion of their future resale value. It can sometimes be cheaper to insure a used model (provided it's in good repair) because the car's value is lower, making a quality used car cheaper to run. The Internet also makes it easier for you to track down quality used cars with low mileage and good provenance.
Not all changes made by the manufacturer between model years are necessarily for the better. You might find a feature that was written out recently more desirable than the current version. For example, maybe you'd prefer to have a manual transmission but the manufacturer no longer offers this in the car you're looking at. Choosing a used car also lets you explore more high-end options than you might otherwise be able to afford, with larger, higher-performance or more luxurious vehicles being brought within your price range. If you're a fan of luxury and the choice is between a brand-new Toyota or a used Lexus, the Lexus might suit you better.
In the end, the choice between new and used largely comes down to resale value. While all cars begin to decline in value as soon as you drive them off the dealer's forecourt, and while some lose their value more slowly than others, you'll recoup more of your money if you're selling a car with one owner rather than two. The drop in value between a second-hand car and third-hand can be very dramatic. If you're looking at your vehicle as an investment and plan to sell in the near future, a new car is the best bet as it will keep its resale value for longer. If you don't plan to sell anytime soon and simply want a quality, reliable vehicle at a good price, a good used car may well be the winner.