What is the riskiest used car to buy?

Feb 7, 2013
st louis, mo
So I have been looking a little at Chevrolet Volts recently. I'm starting to think that a Gen 1 (2011-2015) Volt is one of the riskiest used car buys, here's why:

  • They didn't make many of them, so there's not a ton of junkyard parts out there. Also, not a lot of knowledge on how to fix them.
  • The battery is really expensive to replace - around $6-10k for a "refurbished" one.
  • There is no new battery available, and the refurbished options only offer a short warranty.
  • The health of the battery is hard to tell from a test drive, most of the 1st gens may be getting close to the end of battery life, but is that six years or six weeks away?
  • They aren't that cheap. The bottom of the market seems like it's $5-6k for the oldest, highest mileage gen 1s and close to $15k for the newest models in this generation.
What about you? Can you think of a used car that is a bigger roll of the dice?
Without knowing too much about them the Volt is probably up there, just thinking fundamentally.

I really think most cars in the 6-10k price range these days are "risky", at least compared to what the market used to be like. Only a few years ago, the bottom price range for getting a car that was in reasonably good mechanical condition and OK mileage was 3-5k, a price were if it crapped out it wasnt the biggest hit in the world and most could budget 1-2k on top of the cost of the car for repair.

Now, the floor is about 6-7.5k to get anything thats not a complete and total POS, and usually with high miles (at least were i live). For people that dont have a lot of money shopping for cars (which is most in this price range), thats a very high cost and risk for what is usually a mystery box mechanically.

I recently helped a friend search for a car after his got hit and totalled, he got 7k insurance. It was extremely tough to find options that felt like a solid buy, much less a good deal.
Maybe a works Porsche previously owned by anybody named Pablo from Columbia.

I would personally not even consider a new or used EV. Those batteries are too expensive to replace, and can even be damaged with a small accident and require replacement thereby totaling the car.

As for conventional ICE? As a general rule (not vehicle specific) any (typically German) car that requires the engine overhaul to need pulling out the engine for a timing chain. I think normally VWs and Audis, Mercedes and BMWs of several eras require unbelievably expensive engine maintenance which will generally exceed the value of the car.
People tend to forget even though your getting a $10,000 used car, you're still PAYING to maintain a $100,000 car.

Anything post, say 2010, needs to be looked at with skepticism. Lots of cost cutting, lots of electronic bloatware that goes bad and is very expensive. Also lots of very cheap plastics involved as well, I have noticed. Fake leather seats do not age well. Cheap dash materials, etc. break.
Some people would have said that about my first prius, which I put another 68k miles on and sold for more than I paid for it.

You can take an extended test drive to see a battery's true range, and compare it to its published rating. If the seller won't go for it, pass.