The Best Used Cars for Every Budget

No matter your budget, there are many top-notch used cars you can select for your next ride. Here are the keys to saving money while avoiding duds.

The Best Used Cars for Every Budget Photo by AXL / Shutterstock.com

Whether you need to find a car for less than $10,000 or you have as much as $30,000 to spend, buying used is generally the best way to save money.

Finding a reliable vehicle can be more challenging when shopping for used cars, but a little research can help. Start with ratings and reviews from expert sources such as the nonprofit Consumer Reports and the automotive research company Edmunds.com.

For example, take Consumer Reports’ latest guide to the best used cars by price. The vehicles in this guide all:

  • Performed well in CR’s road tests when they were new
  • Had above-average reliability for multiple years
  • Offered electronic stability control as a standard or optional feature

CR’s guide organizes top-rated used vehicles by price, ranging from cars that cost less than $10,000 to cars that cost $25,000 to $30,000. The publication also classifies cars by type, such as sedan or SUV, which are indicated in parentheses below:

The best used vehicles for less than $10,000:

  • Honda Fit 2007-2011 (subcompact)
  • Pontiac Vibe 2007-2010 (compact)
  • Toyota Matrix 2007-2008, 2010 (compact)

$10,000 to $15,000:

  • Honda Fit 2012-2013 (subcompact)
  • Toyota Corolla 2012-2014 (compact)
  • Acura TSX 2007-2010 (sedan)
  • Buick Verano 2012-2013 (sedan)
  • Honda CR-V 2007-2010 (SUV)

$15,000 to $20,000:

  • Honda Fit 2016 (subcompact)
  • Toyota Prius 2013-2015 (compact)
  • Honda Accord 2013-2014 (sedan)
  • Lexus ES 2010-2011 (sedan)
  • Mazda MX-5 Miata 2012-2013 (sporty)
  • Toyota Venza 2009-2011 (wagon)
  • Toyota RAV4 2010-2012 (SUV)
  • Toyota 4Runner 2007-2008 (SUV)

$20,000 to $25,000:

  • Toyota Avalon 2013-2014 (sedan)
  • Lexus CT 200h 2013, 2015 (sedan)
  • Lexus IS 2011-2012 (sedan)
  • Toyota Prius V 2014-2016 (wagon)
  • Subaru XV/Crosstrek 2014-2016 (SUV)
  • Toyota Highlander 2011-2012 (SUV)
  • Honda Ridgeline 2010-2012 (pickup)

$25,000 to $30,000:

  • Acura TL 2014 (sedan)
  • Infiniti M 2013 (sedan)
  • Lexus GS 2013 (sedan)
  • Lexus RX 2012-2013 (SUV)
  • Toyota Tundra 2012 (pickup)

Why financially savvy shoppers prefer pre-owned cars

As we say in “11 Essential Tips for Buying the Right Car at the Right Price“:

“While everyone loves that new car smell, used cars are generally going to be more economical. Cars suffer the most depreciation in the first few years — including a big drop the moment the vehicle drives off the lot … Let someone else will take that big initial loss.”

Three-year-old vehicles offer the best return on investment, according to Consumer Reports. They are new enough to have the latest safety and comfort features, but they have depreciated by almost 50 percent on average since they day they left the dealer’s lot.

What to look for in a used car

The downside of buying used is that even among the models featured in Consumer Reports’ guide, “there can be stinkers — because of a bad day at the factory or a neglectful owner who didn’t care much for car maintenance,” the publication explains.

But following a few key tips can help you save money while avoiding duds when shopping pre-owned vehicles:

  • Look for electronic stability control (ESC): This feature, which CR says can save lives, has been required on all new cars since model year 2012. So if you buy an older vehicle, confirm it has ESC.
  • Research recalls: Used-car sellers are not required to fix outstanding recalls, CR reports. So check for recalls on a vehicle before you buy, such as via the U.S. Department of Transportation’s safercar.gov website.
  • Get an inspection: Have a vehicle inspected by a qualified auto mechanic before you buy.

For more shopping tips, check out “It’s a Great Time to Buy a Used Car — Just Take These 5 Steps First.”

Would you recommend any of the vehicles you’ve driven as used cars? Let us know below or on Facebook.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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