Once again, it is possible to find a very appealing, high-quality, low-mileage used car for less than $10,000—but only if you know what to look for and what to avoid in today’s market.
Used-car prices are slowly returning to reasonable levels after half a decade of record highs. The main reason is that the improving economy is prompting a rising number of drivers to buy new cars—and their trade-ins are pumping up the used-car supply.
But most used cars still are not great deals because plenty of sellers still expect big dollars for old cars or cars with more than 100,000 miles. In general, the best deals today are on vehicles less than four years old with less than 75,000 miles or so on their odometers. These generally sell for a huge discount to their original prices while providing almost-new quality—particularly if you choose a model with a strong record of reliability.
Here’s our list of the best used cars with fewer than 75,000 miles that you can find in today’s market for less than $10,000…
BEST NEARLY NEW CAR
2012 Fiat 500. Buyers paid upward of $16,000 for the 2012 Fiat 500 (shown above) as a new car, but a year later, base-model 500s that have upward of 40,000 miles on their odometers sometimes sell for just under $10,000. Most 2012 vehicles don’t yet have 40,000-plus miles on the odometer, so you might have to travel some distance for one—but it could be well worth the time.
Fiat 500s decline relatively quickly in value because Fiat has only recently returned to the US market, and it wasn’t considered a reliable brand in the early 1980s, when it was last sold here. But unlike those old Fiats, the new 500 is well-made and reliable, not to mention very stylish. And if you find a 500 whose owner has racked up lots of miles—but not quite 50,000 miles—then that car’s four-year/50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty still will be in effect.
The main downside of the 500 is its tiny size—it’s smaller than a Mini Cooper. Of course, that’s an advantage for many people who live and park in urban areas…who use their cars just to run occasional suburban errands…or who simply like driving a small vehicle. Miles per gallon (mpg): 27 city/34 highway with the automatic transmission.
Alternative: 2011 Kia Rio. The Rio is a reliable, fuel-efficient little car with a long five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty (and 10 years/100,000 miles on the drivetrain). You should be able to find one from 2011 (or, if not, then 2010) with less than 60,000 miles on the odometer for under $10,000. The Rio is not stylish, but it’s very practical. MPG: 27 city/36 highway.
BEST FOR RELIABILITY
2010 Kia Forte. If you want basic, reliable transportation—but something with more room for passengers than the two cars mentioned above—the Forte is an excellent option. You should be able to find a two- or three-year-old Forte sedan with less than 75,000 miles for less than $10,000—coupe and hatchback versions typically go for a bit more. MPG: 25 city/34 highway.
Alternative: 2008/2009 Toyota Corolla. Like the Forte, the Corolla (which comes only as a sedan) is a very dependable but unexciting car. Toyota’s resale values are higher than Kia’s, however, so you probably will have to reach back to the 2008 model year—or possibly 2009—to find one in good condition with less than 75,000 miles for under $10,000. MPG: 27 city/35 highway.
BEST FAMILY SEDAN
2007 Honda Accord. The Accord is tremendously reliable and quite roomy inside for a midsize sedan. It is also a lot more fun to drive than most of its competitors in the “reliable family sedan” category—the steering feel is excellent. You should be able to find a 2007 Accord base model with less than 75,000 miles on the odometer for a little less than $10,000—and such an Accord usually has many, many miles left in it. MPG: 23 city/31 highway.
Alternative: 2006 Toyota Camry. The Camry is one of very few cars that can match the Accord in terms of reliability, and it’s roomy inside, too. But while the Accord is fun to drive, the Camry definitely is not. And Camrys hold their value so well that you probably will have to buy a slightly older one to keep your price below $10,000. MPG: 21 city/31 highway.
BEST LARGE SEDAN
2005 Toyota Avalon. If you want a used car that’s big and comfortable, finding something reliable for less than $10,000 can be a challenge. An Avalon from the middle of the last decade is your best bet. Avalons have a very strong record of quality and reliability, plus plenty of power and the smooth ride that big-car buyers like. The cabin is spacious and refined. It could take some patience to find an Avalon this age with less than 75,000 miles on its odometer, but they’re out there. MPG: 19 city/28 highway.
Alternative: 2008 Ford Taurus. Tauruses of this vintage are reliable, roomy, safe and well-built large sedans. And it was such a big seller that there inevitably are plenty to choose from on the resale market. MPG: 18 city/28 highway.
BEST LUXURY SPORT SEDAN
2003 Lexus IS 300. The trouble with buying a used luxury car for less than $10,000 is that most out-of-warranty luxury cars cost a lot to maintain…break down frequently…and then cost a fortune to repair. In fact, among luxury carmakers, only Lexus offers a truly high-quality driving experience along with superior long-term reliability, reasonable maintenance costs and affordable repairs. The IS 300 is a rear-wheel-drive, midsize sedan with understated looks and a quiet, well-appointed interior. It also is surprisingly fun to drive, thanks to its responsive handling and a 215-horsepower (hp), three-liter, six-cylinder engine. MPG: 16 city/22 highway (premium gas required).
Alternative: 2004/2005 Acura TL. Acura is the only luxury brand that approaches Lexus in terms of reliability and affordable ownership—and you can get a newer Acura sport sedan for the same price as the Lexus above. MPG: 18 city/26 highway (premium gas required).
BEST CROSSOVER/SMALL SUV
2007 Hyundai Tucson. The Tucson is a functional and flexible crossover capable of transporting five adults comfortably or a fair amount of cargo when the seats are folded down. It’s well-made, reliable and fuel-efficient by SUV standards. It also comes with Hyundai’s long warranty—which includes 10 years/100,000 miles on the drivetrain, so the engine, transmission and some other major components of a low-mileage 2007 Tucson still would be covered. Some drivers consider the base model’s 2.0-liter, 140-hp, four-cylinder engine a little underpowered—the alternative is the optional 2.7-liter, 173-hp, six-cylinder engine. However, you might have to settle for a 2006 to find a Tucson with the larger engine and less than 75,000 miles for under $10,000. MPG: 19 city/25 highway (four-cylinder)…18 city/24 highway (six-cylinder).
Alternative: The 2007 Mazda CX-7 can’t match the Tucson’s long warranty or overall reliability, but it has zippier styling and better handling—it is much more fun to drive. MPG: 17 city/22 highway (premium gas required).