The Best Used Car Buys for Under $20,000

28 Oct 2016

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If you’re currently in the market for a used car, you’re probably like most consumers in dreading having to shop through endless listings of vehicles, not knowing if you’re picking a gem or a lemon. This is particularly so if you’re on a budget and need to maximize the value you get in your next use-car purchase. After all, a mediocre pre-owned vehicle can cost plenty in yearly maintenance and repairs. So which makes and models are considered the best buys for budget-minded car buyers? 

$10,000 or Less 

Let’s say money is tight, and your budget means you need to look at a car that’s between 5 and 10 years old. You could do worse than take a look at a Ford Focus, one of the early Scion xB versions, or an Acura TL or TSX from the late 2000s. These models share a reputation for being reliable, spacious and relatively stingy on fuel. If you have a larger sedan in mind, the Hyundai Sonata and Mazda6 are good bets. The latter model, along with the two Acuras, even offer a sportier driving experience for your money. 

Honda’s CR-V and Pilot SUVS offer durable performance and give you better odds of staying away from escalating maintenance and repair costs, but keep in mind that 10-year-old SUVs won’t offer you such impressive fuel economy. 

Under $15,000 

You can now consider some more recent models, which offer better safety and performance technologies and improved fuel economy. A Mazda3 or Honda Fit from the early 2010s, for example, gives you considerable driving thrills in the case of the former and savings at the pump in the latter. The same period saw Kia make impressive gains in terms of performance, reliability and overall quality, so a Kia Soul is another good possibility. 

If you’re looking for swankier transportation, in this price range you can probably land a decent 7-to-10 year-old Infiniti G or Lincoln car, or Toyota Highlander or Acura MDX SUV, but again, fuel economy might not be up to expectations if you’re comparing with new car models. Like all Toyotas, the Highlander benefits from a well-deserved reputation for reliability. 

Up to $20,000 

In this range you can start to compare what you’ll be getting in a used car with what you can expect from a lower-priced new car. A 2-to-4 year old Honda Civic with relatively low mileage on it is a smart and popular choice, with the Elantra from Hyundai providing an interesting alternative. Both offer solid, slightly sporty driving and strong fuel economy. Higher up the food chain, you can add the Camry from Toyota and its doppelganger the Honda Accord to your list of good choices, but at the price you may have to settle for one that’s up to five years old. Still, though, these are remarkably durable and low-maintenance cars. As for SUVs, an intriguing choice is the CX-5 from Mazda, which as always makes the most fun-to-drive vehicles on the market, in all segments.

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