The Best Cities to Own and Maintain Used Cars

FinanceBuzz determined the most and least affordable cities for drivers to buy and maintain used vehicles.
Last updated Sept. 22, 2022 | By Josh Koebert | Edited By Melinda Sineriz
Trucks on a used car lot

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Purchasing a pre-owned vehicle is an affordable alternative when buying a car. However, buying used comes with its own pros and cons. A new model, while more expensive, doesn’t come with high mileage or prior repairs, while a used car will have a history that drivers should be aware of.

While most people know keeping mileage to a minimum is important for long-term vehicle health, how and where you drive also has a significant impact. For example, bad weather, limited access to affordable, high-quality repair shops, and even worn roads can have a huge effect on the longevity of your car.

To get a sense of which parts of the country are the most affordable for buying and maintaining used cars, FinanceBuzz analyzed data from 50 of the biggest metropolitan areas in the country, giving cities overall scores based on their performance in six different metrics related to buying and maintaining a used car.

In this article

Key findings

  • Fresno, California, is the best city for owning and maintaining a used car, while Washington, D.C. is the worst.
  • Norfolk, Virginia, is the city with the most affordable used cars ($21,545).
  • West Palm Beach, Florida, is where used cars are most expensive ($27,737).
  • Washington, D.C., has the worst quality roads in the country, with 89% of the city's roads qualifying as poor quality.
  • 40% of the auto service shops in Grand Rapids, Michigan, are A+/A rated by the BBB, which is the highest percentage in the country.

How we chose these metrics

To come up with our rankings, we identified metrics that would be important for used car owners as well as those looking to buy a used car, such as cost, maintenance, and environmental factors that can impact its lifespan. We then collected data on each metric for 50 of America's biggest metropolitan areas.

For each metric, each metropolitan area was given a score relative to all others. Metrics were then weighted by overall importance and added together to create a final score for each metro area on a 0-100 scale. The highest scores indicate better metro areas for buying and maintaining used cars.

The factors we chose were:

  • Average cost for a used car: Used cars cost more to buy in some places than others, and affordability is an important factor when it comes to a major purchase such as a car. Areas where used cars were less expensive scored higher in this category.
  • Number of used car dealers per 100,000 residents: As anyone who recently tried to buy a car knows, the availability of used cars can be almost as important as price these days. Cities with higher numbers of used car dealerships per capita earned better scores here.
  • Average miles driven per day: The more miles a car is driven, the more wear and tear develops on that vehicle. The fewer miles the average person travels in a car in a given metro area, the better that area performed here.
  • Road quality: Driving on roads worn down and full of potholes damages and wears down a car faster than driving on smooth, well-maintained roads. The better the road, the higher the score in this area.
  • Number of days of extreme weather or precipitation annually: Weather conditions are another factor that can impact the longevity of a car. Metro areas where extreme temperatures and precipitation are more common earned lower scores for that reason.
  • Quality of automotive repair shops: It’s inevitable that cars will need repairs, and when that happens, a trustworthy repair shop is invaluable. Cities where the percentage of auto shops that have earned A or A+ ratings from the Better Business Bureau is higher earned a higher score for this factor.

Best cities for owning and maintaining used cars

Graphic of the best cities for owning and maintaining used cars


Ranking Metropolitan area Average used car cost Used car dealers per 100,000 people Per capita daily vehicle miles traveled Percentage of miles of road that are poor quality Number of days of extreme temps or precipitation Percentage of auto service shops with A/A+ BBB rating Overall score
1 Fresno, CA $24,744 53.6 17.7 34.4% 169 38.9% 68.3
2 Greenville, SC $23,458 91.4 27.1 17.9% 204 21.4% 64.7
3 Greensboro, NC $24,114 84.7 35.6 12.9% 214 32.9% 63.5
4 Columbus, OH $22,098 42.5 23.2 24.4% 275 32.4% 63.3
5 Norfolk,VA $21,545 33.5 21.2 30.3% 187 18.4% 63.0
6 Grand Rapids, MI $22,999 47.5 24.7 25.0% 307 40.0% 61.9
7 Portland, OR $24,527 28.5 18.0 19.0% 199 27.8% 61.5
8 Cincinnati, OH $21,597 29.5 23.6 36.8% 257 32.1% 61.4
9 Raleigh, NC $24,102 45.0 32.9 10.3% 220 35.3% 61.1
10 Minneapolis, MN $23,500 14.0 22.5 6.9% 307 39.3% 60.9 
  1. Fresno, California

    Fresno residents spend less time in the car than people in most other big cities, traveling just 17.7 miles daily per person. Fresno also boasts the third-highest percentage (38.9%) of A or A+ rated auto shops in the country.

  2. Greenville, South Carolina

    Greenville features a high number of used car dealerships per capita, with more than 91 for every 100,000 people that live in the area. That gives people shopping for used cars a variety of options to choose from. Another area the metro scored highly in is road quality, as less than 20% of the area’s roads are classified as low quality.

  3. Greensboro, North Carolina

    The Greensboro metro area shares some similarities with its Greenville neighbors one state over. There is only a 10-day difference in the number of extreme weather days in each city and an 8.5-mile difference in how far the average person in each travels via car. Though Greensboro doesn’t have the bounty of dealerships that Greenville has, it has a higher percentage of quality repair shops (32.9% to 21.4%) and an even lower percentage of low-quality roads (just 12.9%).

  4. Columbus, Ohio

    Columbus, Ohio, is the highest-ranked metro in the midwest. The average price for a used car here is just $22,098, more than $1,000 less than the top three cities on this list. However, that affordable pricing is offset by a low number of dealerships, as Columbus has just 42.5 per 100,000 people.

  5. Norfolk, Virginia

    Used cars in Norfolk are the least expensive in the entire country, with an average price tag of just $21,545. That affordability, coupled with a low number of extreme weather days (187), was more than enough to land this metro area in the top five despite having just 33.5 used car dealerships per 100,000 people and the lowest percentage of A/A+ rated repair shops of any city in the top 10 (18.4%).

  6. Grand Rapids, Michigan

    While Grand Rapids has fairly middle-of-the-road results for most categories, it was also best overall in one category and worst overall in another. On the negative side, this metro area tied with Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, for dead last when it comes to the number of days of extreme weather annually (307). On the other end of the spectrum, Grand Rapids has the highest percentage of A/A+ rated repair shops in the country (40.0%). So while weather conditions may prematurely age cars, plenty of high-quality repair shops are available to fix that damage.

  7. Portland, Oregon

    Drivers in Portland enjoy roads that are in good shape, with only 19% of them qualifying as low quality. Additionally, Portland residents keep wear-and-tear down by driving only 18 miles per person daily.

  8. Cincinnati, Ohio

    Used cars in Cincinnati cost $21,597 on average, which is just $50 more than they do in Norfolk, the city with the most affordable used cars in the nation. Despite top-tier affordability, Cincinnati only landed at #8 in our rankings thanks to a low number of dealerships per capita (29.5 per 100,000) and a high percentage of poor-quality roads (36.8%).

  9. Raleigh, North Carolina

    Raleigh-Durham is the third metro area in the top 10 located in the Carolinas. Raleigh-Durham has far fewer used car dealerships per 100,000 people than the other Carolina-based cities in the top 10. Yet, it boasts better roads (only 10.3% are rated poor quality) and a higher percentage of A/A+ rated service centers (35.3%).

  10. Minneapolis, Minnesota

    In terms of road quality, the Twin Cities are unbeatable, with the lowest percentage of their roads qualifying as poor quality (just 6.9%). Minneapolis-St. Paul also has one of the highest percentages of A/A+ auto service centers in the country (39.3%). The top scores in those factors were more than enough to earn this metro area a spot in the top 10 despite tying with Grand Rapids for the most days of extreme weather annually (307).

Worst cities for owning and maintaining used cars

Graphic of the worst cities for owning and maintaining used cars


Ranking Metropolitan area Average used car cost Used car dealers per 100,000 people Per capita daily vehicle miles traveled Percentage of miles of road that are poor quality Number of days of extreme temps or precipitation Percentage of auto service shops with A/A+ BBB rating Overall score
50 Washington, DC $23,482 3.2 20.1 89.2% 239 17.4% 37.7
49 New York, NY $25,189 1.9 13.4 56.2% 215 3.1% 38.0
48 Houston, TX $26,964 51.8 25.6 44.0% 191 5.0% 38.1
47 Detroit, MI $23,741 17.8 21.2 47.9% 283 8.8% 39.9
46 Miami, FL $27,623 21.8 22.5 18.1% 170 5.5% 41.2
45 Dallas, TX $26,351 23.6 26.2 43.8% 199 19.2% 42.2
44 Chicago, IL $24,657 6.9 18.3 31.8% 268 12.1% 43.4
43 Los Angeles, CA $25,782 5.1 19.4 68.9% 73 9.8% 43.8
42 Nashville, TN $24,937 46.2 47.5 7.3% 244 25.9% 46.0
41 Charlotte, NC $26,448 31.2 34.0 19.0% 213 25.5% 46.2
  1. Washington, D.C.

    Car owners in the nation’s capital have to deal with some truly terrible roads, as nearly 90% of the miles of roads in the Washington, DC metropolitan area qualify as poor quality. Additionally, The D.C. metro area’s number of used car dealerships per 100,000 people is one of the lowest in the country at just 3.2.

  1. New York, New York

    It’s no surprise that New York City is limited with space, so we weren’t shocked to see NYC had the lowest number of used car dealerships per capita. New York City also earned the lowest possible score when it comes to the percentage of auto shops that are A/A+ rated by the BBB, with just 3.1% of shops holding that distinction.

  1. Houston, Texas

    At nearly $27,000 on average, used cars in Houston are some of the most expensive in the country. Beyond the high cost of buying a used car in the first place, only 5% of auto shops in the area are A/A+ rated, giving Houstonians limited options when looking for a quality place to get repairs done.

  1. Detroit, Michigan

    It is interesting to see a city nicknamed “Motor City” in the bottom five, but a low percentage of quality service shops (8.8%), a high number of days with bad weather (283), and a low number of used car dealers relative to the population (17.8 per 100,000 people) all firmly place Detroit in the bottom five.

  1. Miami, Florida

    Used car prices in the Miami metropolitan area are among the highest in the country, coming in at $27,623 on average. Should anything break on those expensive cars, only 5.5% of auto shops in Miami have earned an A or A+ BBB rating.

  1. Dallas, Texas

    Used cars are expensive in Dallas, with an average cost of $26,351. A relatively low number of used car dealers per 100,000 people (23.6) also contributed heavily to Dallas landing in the bottom 10.

  1. Chicago, Illinois

    Like other midwestern cities, Chicago is hurt by the number of days of extreme weather the city experiences every year (268). Playing an even bigger role in Chicago’s bottom 10 finish, however, is the low number of used car dealers per capita (6.9 per 100,000 people).

  1. Los Angeles, California

    While Los Angeles has some of the best weather in the country (just 73 days of extreme weather annually), it also has some of the worst roads (68.9% rated poor quality). Additionally, less than 10% of the auto shops in LA are A or A+ rated, and the city has just 5.1 used car dealers per 100,000 people.

  1. Nashville, Tennessee

    Despite having excellent roads (just 7.3% rated as poor quality), Nashville still lands in the bottom 10 thanks to a high number of extreme weather days (244) and, more importantly, an extremely high number of miles traveled by car. The average person in Nashville travels 47.5 miles per day in a car, the highest mileage of any city in this analysis.

  1. Charlotte, North Carolina

    While three cities in the Carolinas were in the top 10, the largest city in either state rounds out the bottom 10. Like many cities in the bottom 10, Charlotte features high costs for used cars ($26,448) and low numbers of used car dealerships per 100,000 people (31.2).

Cheapest cities to buy used cars

Metro areas where used cars are least expensive
Ranking Metropolitan area Average used car cost
1 Norfolk, VA $21,545
2 Hartford, CT $21,594
3 Cincinnati, OH $21,597
4 Indianapolis, IN $22,011
5 Columbus, OH $22,098

The Norfolk, Virginia, area features the most reasonable prices for used cars at $21,545 on average. Hartford, Connecticut, came very close to taking the top spot, as used cars in that city cost just $49 more than they do in Norfolk. Cincinnati rounds out the top three and is the only other city where the average cost for a used car is less than $22,000.

Most expensive cities to buy used cars

Metro areas where used cars are most expensive
Ranking Metropolitan area Average used car cost
50 West Palm Beach, FL $27,737
49 Miami, FL $27,623
48 Houston, TX $26,964
47 Charlotte, NC $26,448
46 Albuquerque, NM $26,433

On the other side of the coin, anyone looking to purchase a used car in south Florida should be sure to budget a little extra before heading to the dealership. West Palm Beach is the metro area where used cars are the most expensive, costing $27,737 on average. The only other city where costs are in excess of $27,000 is nearby Miami ($27,623). Houston does come close to that threshold, however, with an average used car price tag of $26,964.

Tips for getting the best deal for your automotive needs

Once you decide whether it financially makes sense to own a used car in your location, you should:

  • Check your credit score. Knowing what a good credit score is can help you anticipate the amount of financing you may receive.
  • Get ready to get approved. Once you have a handle on your credit, learning how to get a loan to finance an auto purchase is the next step.
  • Save money while protecting your ride. Insuring your car is the best way to protect yourself and your wallet in case of an accident. Be sure to investigate how to save money on car insurance when buying your policy.
  • Get rewarded while filling your tank. Use one of the best gas credit cards while refueling to get cash back and points that can be redeemed later on.

Methodology

For this analysis, FinanceBuzz collected data for 50 of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States. We gathered data points for six different factors in each metro area. Data for each location was put into a dynamic formula that assigned a 0-5 score to each city or state for every factor, with scores being relative to all other cities or states in the evaluation. Individual factor scores were then weighted and added together to get a final score on a 0-100 scale.

Factors, data points, factors weights, and sources are as follows:

Average Used Car Cost Score — Average price for a used car — iseecars.com — Weight: 3.5

Used Car Dealers Per 100k People Score — The number of used car dealers in a metro area for every 100,000 people that live there — YellowPages.com, U.S. Census — Weight: 2.5

Per Capita Daily Vehicle Miles Traveled Score — The number of miles the average person in each metro area travels by car on a daily basis — Federal Highway Administration — Weight: 3.5

Road Quality Score — The percentage of roads (measured in miles of road) that are rated as poor quality according to the international roughness index — Federal Highway Administration — Weight: 3.5

Weather Score — The number of extremely hot days (above 90 degrees), freezing days (below 32 degrees), and days with rain or snow in a year in a metro area — BestPlaces.net — Weight: 3.5

Quality Auto Service Centers Score — The percentage of automotive service centers in each metro area that are A or A+ rated by the Better Business Burea — YellowPages.com — Weight: 3.5

Complete factor scores and overall rankings for all 50 metropolitan areas

Ranking Metropolitan Area Average Used Car Cost Score (Weight: 3.5) Used Car Dealers Per 100k People Score (Weight: 2.5) Per Capita Daily Vehicle Miles Traveled Score (Weight: 3.5) Road Quality Score (Weight: 3.5) Weather Score (Weight: 3.5) Quality Auto Service Centers Score (Weight: 3.5) Overall Score
1 Fresno-Visalia, CA 2.4 2.6 4.4 3.3 2.7 4.9 68.3
2 Greenville-Spartanburg, SC 3.5 4.6 3.0 4.3 2.0 2.5 64.7
3 Greensboro-Winston Salem, NC 2.9 4.2 1.7 4.6 1.8 4.0 63.5
4 Columbus, OH 4.6 2.1 3.6 3.9 0.6 4.0 63.3
5 Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News,VA 5.0 1.6 3.9 3.5 2.3 2.1 63.0
6 Grand Rapids-Kalamazoo, MI 3.8 2.3 3.3 3.9 0.0 5.0 61.9
7 Portland, OR 2.6 1.4 4.3 4.2 2.1 3.3 61.5
8 Cincinnati, OH 5.0 1.4 3.5 3.2 1.0 3.9 61.4
9 Raleigh-Durham (Fayetteville), NC 2.9 2.2 2.1 4.7 1.7 4.4 61.1
10 Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN 3.4 0.6 3.7 5.0 0.0 4.9 60.9
11 San Diego, CA 2.2 1.3 4.0 3.6 5.0 1.6 60.5
12 Oklahoma City, OK 2.2 4.1 3.0 4.6 1.6 2.9 60.4
13 Hartford, CT 5.0 1.9 3.3 3.8 0.6 3.1 60.3
14 Jacksonville, FL 3.1 3.0 2.2 5.0 2.4 2.3 59.9
15 Orlando-Daytona Beach, FL 3.5 3.5 2.1 4.9 1.9 2.1 59.6
16 Pittsburgh, PA 3.0 1.0 4.5 3.9 0.4 4.5 59.0
17 Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto, CA 2.5 1.7 4.1 2.2 3.2 3.3 57.8
18 St. Louis, MO 3.3 1.3 2.6 3.5 1.3 4.7 57.2
19 Tampa-St Petersburg (Sarasota), FL 2.2 1.6 3.0 4.6 2.5 2.7 56.6
20 Birmingham, AL 2.7 2.9 1.0 4.4 1.7 4.1 56.0
21 Harrisburg-Lancaster-York, PA 3.6 3.4 3.2 4.4 0.9 1.3 55.4
22 Baltimore, MD 3.5 1.2 3.7 2.9 1.4 3.4 55.2
23 Seattle-Tacoma, WA 2.6 0.3 4.1 3.2 2.4 3.2 55.0
24 Indianapolis, IN 4.6 2.0 2.0 4.1 0.9 2.7 55.0
25 Memphis, TN 2.7 2.1 2.9 3.9 1.6 3.1 55.0
26 Las Vegas, NV 2.6 1.8 3.8 4.4 2.6 1.0 54.7
27 Albuquerque-Santa Fe, NM 1.1 2.2 4.2 3.1 1.4 3.7 52.3
28 Kansas City, MO 3.3 2.2 2.7 3.5 1.2 2.6 52.0
29 Cleveland-Akron (Canton), OH 4.1 1.3 3.5 3.1 0.2 3.0 51.5
30 Phoenix, AZ 2.4 1.1 3.3 3.9 2.1 2.2 51.1
31 Austin, TX 1.4 1.8 3.3 4.4 1.9 2.2 50.6
32 San Antonio, TX 1.2 2.9 3.1 3.3 2.0 2.6 49.9
33 San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, CA 1.5 0.0 4.5 1.9 4.5 1.7 49.3
34 West Palm Beach-Ft. Pierce, FL 0.0 5.0 2.7 4.8 2.1 1.0 49.2
35 Milwaukee, WI 3.3 0.9 3.9 2.4 0.1 3.8 49.2
36 Atlanta, GA 1.9 1.7 2.0 4.8 2.3 1.8 48.9
37 Philadelphia, PA 3.3 0.6 4.5 3.0 1.5 1.2 48.7
38 Salt Lake City, UT 2.2 2.3 3.6 3.8 0.8 1.9 48.7
39 Denver, CO 2.3 1.2 3.7 3.2 0.1 3.8 48.6
40 Boston, MA-Manchester, NH 2.3 0.2 3.7 3.0 0.4 4.0 47.8
41 Charlotte, NC 1.0 1.5 2.0 4.2 1.8 3.0 46.2
42 Nashville, TN 2.3 2.3 0.0 4.9 1.2 3.1 46.0
43 Los Angeles, CA 1.6 0.2 4.1 1.2 4.6 0.9 43.8
44 Chicago, IL 2.5 0.3 4.3 3.5 0.8 1.2 43.4
45 Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX 1.1 1.1 3.1 2.7 2.1 2.2 42.2
46 Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, FL 0.1 1.0 3.7 4.3 2.7 0.3 41.2
47 Detroit, MI 3.2 0.8 3.9 2.5 0.5 0.8 39.9
48 Houston, TX 0.6 2.6 3.2 2.7 2.3 0.3 38.1
49 New York, NY 2.1 0.0 5.0 2.0 1.8 0.0 38.0
50 Washington, DC (Hagerstown, MD) 3.4 0.1 4.0 0.0 1.3 1.9 37.7

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Author Details

Josh Koebert Josh Koebert is an experienced content marketer that loves exploring how personal finance overlaps with topics such as sports, food, pop culture, and more. His work has been featured on sites such as CNN, ESPN, Business Insider, and Lifehacker.