Top 6 Best Used Cars Under $10,000 – 2012 Edition

As I’ve been looking at cars over the last few years I realized that some of the lists of best used cars under $10,000 sucked. A slideshow of pictures? Cars nobody wants? No thanks. That’s why I set out to create my own list of the six best used cars under $10,000. To be included in this list a car has to be 2002 model year or newer. Any car that is older than 2002 model year and still costs $10k is going to be expensive to maintain. The car must have an Edmunds True Market Value below $10,000. I also made sure that I could find the car with reasonable mileage at a price below $10,000. This helps to insure that you could actually find the car in a desirable condition for that price. I then assessed each car based on safety, fuel efficiency, features, aesthetics, reliability, and “fun-factor”. I obtained the safety, fuel efficiency, and reliability data from ConsumerReports and Edmunds. The aesthetics and fun-factor are both subjective assessments that I made myself. I then crunch the data through some Excel formulas and out comes my list of the Best Used Cars Under $10,000. This list is in no particular order, and should only serve as a starting point in your search for a good car under $10k. You’ll need to evaluate your own needs and determine what you require in a car.

2004 Infiniti G35 Sedan

Edmunds TMV: $9,533
MPG: 17 city / 24 hwy
CR: Very Good

2004 Infiniti G35 Sedan - Best Used Car Under 10,000

Infiniti has carved out its place among the luxury automakers as being more sporty than Lexus and more reliable than BMW or Mercedes. The G35 sedan is the result of Infiniti’s balance between sportiness and reliability. Edmunds says that the 2004 G35 sedan is “fast, affordable and stylish” and Consumer Reports gives it a reliability rating of “very good”. By comparison, the 2004 Audi A4 has a reliability rating of “poor”, and the BMW 3 Series and the Mercedes C-class are rated “good”. Edmunds gives it a used TMV of $9,533. So for under $10k, you can get yourself a reliable sporty-luxury sedan with a moonroof and heated leather seats. The example car I found was clean, with about 94k miles on it.

2007 Ford Fusion SEL

Edmunds TMV: $9,803
MPG: 20 city / 29 hwy
CR: Very Good

2007 Ford Fusion SEL Sedan - Best Used Cars Under 10k

The base Ford Fusion made my 2011 list and the Fusion is making it again in 2012. This time we’re going all out with the SEL version. The Ford Fusion SEL packs leather seats and a moonroof. Plus, the Ford Fusion has proven itself to be a reliable car, while still managing to have sportier handling than its competitors. If you need a reliable, sporty midsize sedan, the 2007 Ford Fusion SEL definitely deserves to be on your list. The example car I found pictured above was completely loaded and had 105k miles on it for $9,900.

2007 Mazda3 i Touring Sedan

Edmunds TMV: $9,559
MPG: 24 city / 32 hwy
CR: Very Good

2007 Mazda3 Sedan - Best Used Cars Under 10k

An economic compact car with good handling? Check. The Mazda3 sedan looks great compared to its competitors and has proven to be quite reliable. Although its fuel economy won’t win any awards, it will definitely suffice. Consumer Reports gives it a “very good” rating. Edmunds describes it well when it refers to the 2007 Mazda3 sedan as “entertaining yet sophisticated.” The 2007 Mazda I found was pretty loaded and came out to $9,750 with 98k miles.

2006 Mustang

Edmunds TMV: $9,874
MPG: 17 city / 26 hwy
CR: Very Good

2006 Mustang GT - List of Best Used Cars Under $10,000

The 2005+ Mustang really upped the ante from the previous generation, increasing MPG and bringing back awesome retro styling. A few years later this Mustang gets a nice MPG bump and HP bump, but with this one you’re getting most of the style and an affordable price. If you want a reliable car with some muscle for under $10k, then this is the one to go with. Consumer Reports gives it a “very good” rating and Edmunds remarks that the 2006 Mustang “presents compelling performance in all areas.” I was able to find a very clean 2006 Mustang with premium GT package for $10,000 with 90k miles.

2004 Toyota Highlander SUV

Edmunds TMV: $9,207
MPG: 19 city / 25 hwy
CR: Excellent

2004 Toyota Highland - Best Used Car Under $10k

Some families simply need the space and a sedan just won’t cut it. Or maybe you like the in-command driving position that an SUV provides. Whatever it is that you like about an SUV, the Toyota Highlander most likely offers it. The Toyota Highlander isn’t a full-sized SUV, yet it offers an available third-row backseat. That means you can have the extra seats when you need them without the fuel costs that a full-sized SUV brings with it. The 2004 Toyota Highland has Consumer Reports’ “Excellent” rating

2004 Ford F-150 SuperCrew

Edmunds TMV: $9,662
MPG: 14 city / 19 hwy
CR: No Data

2004 Ford F-150 SuperCrew Truck - Best Used Cars Below $10k

You know if you need a truck. If you “want” a truck, then I’d recommend not getting one until your finances are in line. The fuel economy of trucks is completely horrendous. However, if you need a truck, then the Ford F-150 SuperCrew should be at the top of your list. This truck can fit five people (or four burly men) and has the hauling capacity needed for most tasks. There’s a reason it’s been the best selling vehicle in America for 28 consecutive years. Edmunds says the F-150 is the “class leader when it comes to ride, handling and hauling capability.” The car I found had 105k miles and was listed for $9,700.

That concludes my 2012 version of the best used cars under $10,000. I’ve done my best assessing the information available online as well as my own personal experience to create a good list to start from when searching for the best used car under $10k. Used car prices are fairly high right now due to low new car sales over the last few years, so if you don’t need a new-to-you car right now, then it may make sense to wait. Now that new car sales are picking up in 2012 we can expect used car prices to fall over the next couple of years. Take a look at my previous post about predicting used car prices based on new car sales trends. If you decide to purchase a used car, you’ll likely sell your existing car. As you probably know, selling your car privately (on Craigslist or AutoTrader) results in a better deal for you and the buyer. You will receive more money than a dealer will give you, yet the buyer will pay less than a dealer will charge. If you decide to sell your car privately, I think you’ll find my post on selling a car on Craigslist useful. And if you want to ensure that you get top dollar for your vehicle, check out my step-by-step guide to formatting your Craigslist car ad. A well-formatted ad with detailed information and good pictures will save you a lot of time and ensure that you get top dollar for your car. If you’re interested in something a little less than $10k, I reccomend checking out my list of the best used cars under $8,000.

If you have any suggestions for my list that you’d like to see in the 2013 version and maybe cars that you recommend that I check out please post in the comment section. I read every comment on this site and would love to hear your feedback.

17 Responses to “Top 6 Best Used Cars Under $10,000 – 2012 Edition”

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  1. I’m going to be looking at getting a car in the next few months so I’m starting to do the research now, it’s really helpful! I am not sure what I’m looking for or what’s a priority in terms of mileage vs. reliability, etc. but I appreciate articles like this that help me get a head start!

    • Will says:

      Are you looking to buy new, or used? If you’re looking for a compact sedan or something of similar size, you should really look at the difference in cost between a new vs. used. I’ve noticed that, because used prices are fairly high right now, that there are many cases where buying new makes more sense if the car is priced at $20k or below.

      Also, don’t be fooled by EPA mileage claims if mileage is important to you. Look for real-life mileage at http://www.fuelly.com/car/. Some automakers who can get 40MPG in EPA tests aren’t able to get anywhere near that in real-life. For example, a 2012 Elantra is rated an EPA 29 city/40 hwy MPG, yet Fuelly users (out of 150 cars being tracked) have only managed 29.9 mpg combined. Compare that to the Mazda CX-5, which would gives more space and provides that in-command feeling, and has clocked in at 28.7 MPG combined on Fuelly.

      If you’re buying used, and looking for something $10k or less, I’d say get something that depreciates quicker but is reliable. One example is the Ford Fusion. It has been reliable, but you can get a newer car with more features or less miles than a Camry or Accord for the same price. The reason I say under $10k is that this will be a car you could potentially run into the ground. If you’re looking to buy a car that’s only 2 or 3 years old and, let’s say, valued at $15k, you’re going to want to take resale value into consider and probably opt for something that maintains its resale value at least decently because you’ll probably be reselling this car at some point.

      In the end, figure out what your budget and priorities are and then seek out a car that has a good blend of what you want. If you’re buying new, you will likely have a ton of options because competition from American car makers and Korean car makers in the past few years has really kicked the industry into gear and there are a lot of great cars coming out from a greater variety of companies. You are no longer limited to the Japanese automakers (Toyota, Honda, Nissan) if you want a solid, reliable car.

  2. Mike says:

    I’m actually trying to sell my car right now and go to a one-car family. Where are the Hondas on the list? Our 2005 Odyssey has over 105,000 and runs like a champ!

    • Will says:

      The Honda Accord was close to making the list, but it was beat out by the Ford Fusion because the Fusion has proven to be just as reliable and offers better bang-for-your-buck because Honda retains its resale value better (and thus costs more when buying used). If buying new, the 2012 Honda Accord > 2012 Ford Fusion for that same reason, because it will maintain its resale value well.

      Honda and Toyota (and their Luxury arms Acura and Lexus) are pretty unique in that they have accross-the-board solid reliability. When you look at Consumer Reports they just have a sea of “very good” and “excellent” ratings. For other auto makers there are some models that are good, and some that have been horrible. If someone likes the appearances and features of a Honda or Toyota I think they can buy it and be pretty comfortable in the fact that they’re going to get a good, solid car.

  3. Hassan Springer says:

    The Ford Fusions are a really good deal — I’ve been eying them in my area and thinking of picking one up. I’m glad you didn’t just say: Hey, let me make a list of three Hondas and three Toyotas like so many websites do when they publish their top 10 use cars list.

  4. Wow, you put in a ton of work on this. Thanks so much for putting this together and including an SUV. We’ve been a 1 car family (not by choice) for 2-3 years now and I’ve been itching to get another car. I didn’t know you could get a highlander for under 10k, that’s pretty awesome. :-)

    • Will says:

      You can pretty much get any car under $10k, it’s just a matter of if you want it at that point. There’s always some combination of model-year and mileage that will get you there, which is why I had to set limits of 2002 model-year and approximately 100k miles. All of the cars on this list will typically get you another 100k quality miles.

  5. Conrad says:

    I’m a teenager (just turned 19 a week ago) looking for my first car. I’m on a budget of $10,000 and I want to get the most bang for my buck. Some of the cars I’m currently looking at are: 2007 Scion Tc, 2006 Honda Civic, 2003 Acura Rsx, and the Mazda 3 i Touring. I also really like the 2004 Infiniti G35 Coup but it seems that most of the cars are hitting $10,000 with over 10K.

    I’m looking for something nice looking with decent fuel economy and safety features (auxiliary support would be nice as well). I was just wondering if you could recommend any cars for me; the ones I’ve listed or others that I haven’t.

    Thanks for the list!

    • Will says:

      I think, as you said, you’ll have difficulty getting a good G35 coupe for under $10k. I can tell you’re looking for something a little sportier, and I personally prefer the Mazda 3 to the Honda Civic. I think you’ll get a lot more life out of something in the 2006 era, as opposed to going with a 2003 RSX. I think the Mazda 3 would make a lot of sense for you. It’s going to have a low cost of maintenance yet still have sportier handling. And if you want, in a couple years you can sell it with very little deprecation and upgrade to the G35 coupe you want.

      • Conrad says:

        Thank you for the feedback! I noticed I made a mistake in my previous comment. I meant 100K instead of 10K miles (Haha, that would be a pretty good deal if it was 10K). :)

        Do you have any thoughts on the 2007 Scion Tc? Or, would you still recommend the Mazda 3 over the Scion?

        Are there any other cars you would recommend me checking out? Thanks again!

        • Conrad says:

          I also stumbled on another car today that I really like. It’s a 2007 Volkswagon GTI. I love the look of the car as well as the option to drive it as an automatic or switch things up and pop it into manual mode. Is this an overall good car or pass?

          I found one online for $9,993 with 101,209 miles on it.

          • Will says:

            Honestly, I’d stear clear of VW. They look great and they’re sporty and fun, but the unreliability is going to hurt your wallet.

        • Will says:

          I think you’d basically considered the bulk of what I could think of as far as the type of car you’re looking at. I personally like the Mazda3 better, but that comes down to personal taste, so go with whichever you’d like out of those. Both are going to be very reliable. I’m not that big on Scion in general, but they’re made by Toyota and they’re going to be reliable while still giving you what you want.

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