Unless you come from New York City, it’s hard to imagine living without a personal car these days. However, prices for new cars roughly start from $15,000, while the average price of a well-equipped sedan or SUV goes above $30,000. What if you don’t have enough money to buy the latest model from a dealer or just don’t think it’s wise to invest that much money in something that just takes you from home to work and back?
Of course, you can look at used car market. Besides, you could own a car you’ve always wanted but has never been able to afford brand new. Say, you want to own a Porsche but 2017 model year prices start from $50,000. Yes, check for a used one and you could make the dream come true. Obviously, there is a price to pay, and that price would be tens of thousands of miles on the odometer, the record of previous maintenance, possible accidents and other risks. When you buy a $10,000 car, you’ve got to be particularly careful and get as much information about the vehicle’s history as possible.
Preferably, buy from a well-known dealer who has full record of the vehicle’s previous maintenance as well as CARFAX report. Make sure you understand that large SUVs or luxury sedans will require expensive maintenance, so don’t buy them with your last dime. If all that doesn’t scare you away and you know what type of car you want, here is our selection of the most reliable and safe cars, representing the best value for your $10,000.
Best Used Minicar under $10,000 — Honda Fit
When it comes to used minicars, Honda Fit is easily the best option if you have $10,000. For this money you can find a 2011–2013 model year vehicle that has only clocked around 50,000–60,000 miles. Most of the cars are equipped with 1.5L engine and 5-speed automatic transmission. Honda Fit is one of the most reliable cars on the market and will most likely serve you for another couple of years without any problems if you pick the right vehicle. It has a surprisingly spacious cabin for a car of this size and provides decent space for cargo. Reliability, low ownership costs, excellent safety record and practicality are the qualities that make Honda Fit a perfect used minicar. And you can find one painted in vivid colors like orange metallic or celestial blue metallic.
Best Used Small Car under $10,000 — Hyundai Elantra
Cars from South Korea have proved to be as reliable as their Japanese rivals, but still tend to offer more for the same money, and this works for used vehicles too. If you are looking for a small car and have $10,000 on your bank account, you might want to have a look at Hyundai Elantra, one of the leaders in the class. And that would be a fresh 4–5 year old vehicle with 40,000 to 60,000 miles on the odometer, something hardly possible in case of the rivals. In most cases Elantra would be equipped with 1.8L engine and 6-speed automatic transmission. You will enjoy the comfortable cabin with plenty of additional features and smooth ride. If maintained properly by the previous owners, Elantra can get you around 28 mpg in city and up to 38 mpg on highway. No major repairs will be expected in the next couple of years. All in all, the North American Car of the Year 2012 is a perfect value for $10,000.
Best Used Midsize Car under $10,000 — Ford Fusion
The first generation Ford Fusion looks like a reasonable option in midsize class for $10,000. You might even find a facelift model, built in 2010–2011. It will offer spacious cabin and trunk, brilliant safety scores and plenty of options. Regardless of the trim level Ford Fusion is equipped with cruise control, at least six airbags, ESP and much more. However, what attracted customers in the first place was its handling, beating most rivals. If you find a robust unit that has been maintained well, you will still be able to enjoy its sharp steering and engaging chassis. Most vehicles are equipped with 2.5L Duratec engine and 6-speed automatic transmission. If fuel economy is not an issue, search for a V6 vehicle and enjoy the drive of a family car.
Best Used Midsize Luxury Car under $10,000 — Lexus ES
German luxury cars like Audi or Mercedes-Benz are brilliant when they are new. However, if you are looking for a used $10,000 option, you’d better stick with a Japanese brand, and there is hardly a better option than Lexus ES. You could look at 2007–2008 model with around 100,000 miles on the odometer. It will be equipped with an impressive 3.5L V6 engine and 6-speed automatic transmission, however, its main advantage is luxurious interior, enabling you to travel in quietness and comfort. Like most vehicles built by Toyota, Lexus ES doesn’t have any major reliability issues and boasts the best safety records. It is a car that would be your entrance ticket to the world of luxurious automobiles and hardly give you any troubles.
Best Used Large Car under $10,000 — Toyota Avalon
If you are not ready to put up with limited comfort of a midsize car or an SUV but only have $10,000 to spend, have a look at large car segment. Cars like Toyota Avalon offer high-quality large cabins that might be confused with luxury vehicles and smooth ride. The Japanese sedan stands out for its reliability, which is essential when buying a 2008–2009 model year car, and fuel economy beating the rivals. It doesn’t have exquisite design or impeccable handling, but it’s not what you are looking for in the class anyway. A car like that seems like a reasonable investment.
Best Used Large Luxury Car under $10,000 — Hyundai Genesis
Trying to find a low-budget used luxury vehicle is a very tricky business as you need to be aware of high maintenance costs that might easily equal the purchase price if you pick the wrong car. Hence, reliability and costs to own are the qualities you need to look for in the first place. That scares us away from the likes of Mercedes or Audi, brilliant cars that could burn the hole in your pocket. An off-gauge look brings our attention to 2009 model year Hyundai Genesis, the South Korean brand’s flagship car back then. They tried to catch up with European and Japanese rivals and put in the best technologies in the car that was meant to break them through to the luxury class. In a car worth around $10,000 you can find a powerful 3.8L V6, 6 or 8-speed transmission, a handful of features like dual-zone climate-control, ventilated seats, parking sensors, navigation and much more. And there is a big chance you’ll find a vehicle that is still going strong.
Best Used Small SUV under $10,000 — Toyota RAV4
Small SUV is arguably the segment with the stiffest competition these days. Basically every car manufacturer has to offer at least one model in the class. However, when you go to the used car market with $10,000 set your eyes on Toyota RAV4 and don’t look further. Impeccable reliability history, excellent safety scores, powerful engines and spacious cabin make this SUV a strong favorite. Standard 2.5L engine was the most popular option with good fuel economy, while 3.5L V6 was an active driver’s choice. However, like most Toyota cars, RAV4 is not built of the best materials inside the cabin and doesn’t offer refined handling. It might be slightly more expensive than the rivals, but that’s the price you pay for predictably high Toyota quality.
Best Used Midsize SUV under $10,000 — Saturn Outlook
Don’t let the fact that Saturn brand was discontinued in 2010 scare you away from considering one of their vehicles as your next purchase. Quite the opposite, we recommend taking a look at Saturn Outlook if you want to buy a used midsize SUV. Nobody is going to keep the price high on a Saturn-branded vehicle anymore, but you can get a robust midsize SUV for as low as $10,000. Outlook was produced from 2006 to 2010 and equipped with 3.6 V6 engine and 6-speed automatic transmission. The SUV provides seating for eight, making it a perfect family car. Also, Saturn Outlook boasts excellent safety scores and proves to be a very reliable vehicle.
Best Used Midsize Luxury SUV under $10,000 — BMW X3
Anyone who is willing to buy a luxury SUV but only able to pay $10,000 will have to put up with significant age of his future vehicle. Don’t expect to get anything younger than 10 years and get ready to invest in maintenance. If that’s alright, then look no further than BMW X3 and you can enjoy brilliant European chassis and sharp steering that will deliver driving pleasure no rivals can match. Most models are equipped with 3.0L engine providing 260 hp and 6-speed transmission. Interior might seem a little outdated, but quality is still there. If you manage to find a solid 10-year old vehicle that has been maintained properly by previous owners, then you’ll definitely enjoy it.
Best Used Large SUV under $10,000 — Ford Expedition
$10,000 is nowhere close to the amount of money that can buy you a strong large SUV in good condition. Yet, if you are desperate for owning one of those then take a look at 2007 Ford Expedition. Fuel costs might bust your bank account as this large SUV, equipped with 5.4L Triton V8, can only make up to 14 mpg in city and 17 on highway. Also, Expedition is not the most practical vehicle as it has no rearview camera and is handled poorly. However, you’ll enjoy comfortable and extremely spacious cabin, seating for up to 8 people and large towing capacity. There is not much competition in the class as 10-year GM SUVs, including Chevrolet Tahoe and Chevrolet Suburban, are considered to be less reliable options, while used Toyota Sequoia is more expensive.
Best Used Minivan under $10,000 — Honda Odyssey
When you buy a minivan, you probably care about your family so safety record, reliability and interior comfort are the qualities you need to look for. Honda Odyssey is a popular vehicle that excels in all of them, and you can buy a 2008–2009 model for as low as $10,000. It is powered by a potent V6, delivering 244 hp, so you will never feel the lack of torque. There have been no major reliability issues related to Honda Odyssey, so you can take your family on a long trip even in a used car. Seating for eight, various safety features and a sedan-like drive add to the value. On the dark side, Honda Odyssey looks a little boring, but which minivan doesn’t?
Best Used Pickup under $10,000 — Nissan Frontier
Entry-level trucks are not extremely expensive these days. However, if you only have $10,000 to spend, you might want to look at 2008–2009 models and one of the most reasonable purchases would be Nissan Frontier. They were offered with two engines, 2.5L and 4.0L V6. Despite higher running costs stick to the latter one as it probably has more residual power left after the previous owners. Frontier is a modest vehicle in terms of interior quality and the number of installed features, however it is great off-road and has positive reliability reviews. The most important thing to remember when buying a used truck is its probable past as a towing vehicle. Hence you’ve got to be careful about transmission and engine that might have experienced immense loads in the past years.
As you see, there is nothing impossible and you can buy a decent car for $10,000. Remember that reliability and durability is something to look for in the first place when you buy a car built 8 or 10 years ago. So look for the brands with impeccable reputation, opt for larger engines that tend to have more stamina, check transmission and body condition and enjoy the car you really want.