Used Car Categories: Comparing Used Car Types & Factors

It’s a question everybody on the hunt for a car asks. “What am I looking for?” Figuring out exactly what you need in a used car can be tricky, especially with so many different pre-owned options on the table. With an estimated two second-hand cars sold1 for every brand-new one in SA and between 30,000 and 50,000 cars sold each month in total, those options are growing. 

Finding the used car types that suit your needs means understanding the different used car factors, categories and offerings that separate them. From choosing a particular make and model to deciding on fuel type, body shape and even colour, knowing what your options are will help you find the right used car for you.

We look at the different used car types, search categories and things to consider in making the right choice. We’ll unpack some of the most important elements in the used car search and explore them in a little more detail.  

Used car factors & why they matter

There are many used car factors to think about when browsing for pre-owned cars. Because these vehicles are used, they come with more things to consider than if you were buying a brand-new car.

You see, new vehicles come standard off the factory floor. They all have the same zero mileage, cost the same and are available wherever the manufacturer has a showroom. Used cars, on the other hand, have histories. While some were looked after by their previous owners, others weren’t. Two pre-owned cars of the same year, make, and model may have hugely different mileages. Things like road conditions, petrol prices, and taxes may also have changed since a particular model was first sold. 

This is why it is so important to know what used car types and specifications you’re looking for. Because understanding these important used car factors means getting more value out of your purchase while getting the most out of the car itself. 


Used car categories

Here’s a list of the possibilities you can pick from when browsing for used cars in South Africa. While some used car categories only offer two or three options, others provide an endless list of choices. 

  • Price
    Let’s start with the big one – price. Price is usually the first step in used car searches. Most people have a budget cap – a limit on what they can afford to spend on a used car. But many people forget that there is a bottom limit, too. This allows you to filter out the cheapest cars that you know aren’t going to be acceptable for your search.
    Choose a price range that fits into your budget. However, be careful of very low prices that look too good to be true. Don’t be afraid to extend your upper budget limit by around 5% to 10%, either. This ensures you don’t miss out on great deals just outside of your limit.
  • Make
    A trusty Toyota or a problematic Citroen? Choosing the make of car you’re interested in is a big decision. Different vehicle manufacturers have different track records. Some brands manufacture their cars here in SA, while others must import them. A few manufacturers focus on offering a limited line of vehicles aimed at a specific market. Others offer a wide range of choices for everyone.
    The make of car also plays a big role in its price category and can impact things like insurance and resale potential. But most of us are loyal to a particular make or have always dreamed of driving a specific brand. Whatever motivates you, picking the right used car make from a long list of options available in South Africa can be difficult. Choose carefully. 
  • Model
    Models are different from car makes. Every car make or brand has a range of models. These can vary from multiple lines covering many different vehicle categories to only a few limited options. Models determine the specifications of the car and are often categorised according to the features included in each one. Remember, though, that the biggest thing that your model choices will affect is price.
    Choosing between different models means thinking about what you need in a car. If you’re looking for space for the family, then models boasting large interiors are best for you. Need performance and power? Then opt for top-of-the-line sports models or a big 4x4. Models can range from high-end luxury saloon vehicles, powerful 4x4s and spacious family SUVs to entry-level hatches, everyday budget cars and eco-friendly options.
  • Body type
    Sedans with large boots and bakkies with removable canopies were once extremely popular in SA. Recently, the emergence of the hatchback and innovative crossovers has changed how we see body types. Some models offer a choice between a sedan or a hatch. Others come standard in one shape.
    Many people looking for bakkies or SUVs can select from multiple body type options, and people interested in performance can choose between coupes or GT versions. Or if you’re on a tight budget and want to save on fuel, you can pick a hatch, crossover or entry-level ride that meets your expectations.
  • Fuel type
    With increasing fuel prices, understanding the difference between petrol and diesel-powered vehicles can help refine your used car search. Diesel cars are more fuel-efficient and are better for longer journeys. But they can be more expensive than petrol engines and can get noisy. Petrol cars, on the other hand, provide more power for short bursts of speed, are quieter and are more popular among everyday commercial vehicles.

    Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide between a petrol or a diesel car. But when taking your used car budget, make and model preferences into account, remember that this decision can affect availability.
  • Transmission
    Most South Africans know how to drive a manual car. Most countries worldwide drive mainly manual vehicles, except for the USA2. However, automatic transmission vehicles are growing quickly in popularity. As a rule, automatic cars are more expensive than manual transmission ones. 

    Changing gears can be tough for new drivers to master, but manual options do allow for more control and are usually cheaper than automatic versions. Automatic cars are much easier to drive and can save on fuel over the long term, but they are prone to problems, and many of them can’t be towed without a flatbed truck. 

    Choose a transmission that suits your needs and doesn’t break the budget.
  • Year & Mileage
    A second-hand car’s year and mileage can be used to determine how much work the car has done in its life so far. A 2019 model with 300,000km on the clock has been used much more than a 2016 model with only 140,000km. This can tell you about the car's general condition and how much it still has left in the engine

    Later year models are sometimes updated and improved while keeping the basic shape, style and appearance of the previous ones the same. Other models are completely overhauled and refreshed, hardly resembling their predecessors. When it comes to kilometres, some people are looking for used car types with limited mileage and are prepared to pay more for them. Others, however, are happy to pick a vehicle with extensive mileage, especially if it’s a dependable brand. 

    Try to establish a good balance between the year the car was built and its mileage covered. Think about how long you plan to drive the car and what you want to do with it in the long run.
  • Colour
    Almost half of all cars on the road in South Africa are white3. White cars are also the most popular colour globally, with black, silver and grey next on the list. White cars also don’t absorb as much heat as other colours, are easier to clean and cost the least to repair paint chips and scratches. 

    But we’re individuals who like to express ourselves. This means we’re free to pick from all the colours of the rainbow, especially for used cars. There’s more to deciding on a used car’s exterior than just the colour, though. Some options include metallic paint finishes or even blends of different colours to give your wheels a stylish finish. 

    While a white exterior colour is always a safe bet, if colour isn’t a big issue for you, you may get lucky searching for used car types in a less in-demand colour category.
  • Location
    Finally, location matters, especially for used vehicles. While you may find the perfect used car, remember to check where it currently is. If you’re living in Cape Town and the used car you find is in Limpopo, you’ve got a long drive ahead, not to mention the extra fuel costs to bring it home. Plus, if you’re planning on a test drive, travelling across the country just to see the vehicle may not be worth it. 

    Unless you have an affordable way to get your new used car to you, consider refining your search to vehicles within your own province or even municipality.

Filtering your used car search by the categories above will help you narrow down the available options. Of course, filtering some used car factors may turn up only a few choices or even none, so try running a few different search filter combinations. 

You can browse through the various used car categories on most inventories. Try out a couple of versions here.

Comparing used car types

Sometimes, we have more than one version of the ideal used car on our shopping list. Deciding between the top candidates for the different pre-owned vehicles you want to buy can get complex, especially if you can only review one of them at a time. 

Take advantage of the “compare” features to get an in-depth, contrasting look at the cars you’re interested in. These online features pit chosen vehicles against each other, allowing you to compare the various used car categories listed above. 

This enables you to make a more informed decision and to select the car you want with ease. You can add as many pre-owned vehicles to the list as you like and come back later to add new candidates. 

Conclusion – Picking a used car that’s right for you

Buying a used car is a big deal and can be a lot more complex than purchasing a brand-new one. Used cars come with their own histories, and some have a longer story than others. Having the power to refine your used car search by identifying and then exploring the different used car categories means you can narrow down your search and only pay attention to the options that suit your needs. 

If the make and model of the car you’re looking for matters most, start there. If you have a strict budget or can’t afford to travel to test out the top contenders, refine your search by price and location. The more specific you are in your used car search, the more likely you’ll be to find the ones that are the best options for you. 

Auto Pedigree’s extensive inventory has been carefully catalogued, with every vehicle’s category data included in the listing. This means that people searching for used car types can refine their search based on any one of the listed categories, saving them time and effort.