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.

Best Used Cars Under $8,000 – 2012 Edition

I set out to find the best used cars under $8,000 and these are the results. With used car prices holding well (and in some cases, increasing), buyers have to be more discerning to find a good car under $8,000. Now, as you might expect, the needs of car buyers can vary greatly. Because of these varying needs, this list includes everything from the perfect commuter to the big family hauler.

To be included on the list of best used cars under $8,000, each car had to be 2002 model year or newer. The value of the car in good condition through a private party transaction, per KBB, had to be below $8,000. The price of the vehicle also had to be confirmed in the wild. Cars were evaluated based on reliability, critic reviews, modern aesthetic appeal, and versatility. This is a “best of” list, and the vehicles are not ranked in any specific order.

2003 Acura TL

Best Used Cars - 2003 Acura TL

Acura, Honda’s luxury brand, shares in the same reputation for reliability that Honda does. The 2003 Acura TL is the final iteration of the second generation Acura TL. The last year of a generation is usually very reliable at that point, and offers significant savings over moving to the next generation. KBB gives the 2003 Acura TL a price of $7,450 and Edmunds a Used TMV of $6,986. With any 2003 Acura TL you buy you’re going to get a good list of standard equipment, including a power sunroof, a good sound system, heated front seats, and audio controls in your steering wheel. The engine is powerful, packing 225 hp and 216 lb/ft of torque. As with any older luxury car, fuel economy leaves something to be desired, but it’s not too bad at 17 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. Consumer Reports gives the 2003 Acura TL a “very good” used car rating, and I think Edmunds sums it up best: “Jack-of-all-trades but master of none, the TL provides an impressive mix of luxury, sport and affordability.” The picture above is the real world car I was able to find. For $7,500 you could buy that 2003 Acura TL, which looks to be in great condition, for $7,500.

2005 Ford Escape Hybrid

Best Used Cars 2005 Ford Escape Hybrid

When gas prices are rising you can save yourself some dough with a fuel efficient car. And, since this is a personal finance blog, I’m all about saving money. When new, hybrids take a few years before the hybrid premium pays for itself in gas savings. But if you need the utility of an SUV then you’re going to get one either way, so you might as well get a fuel efficient one. In 2005 Ford released the first hybrid SUV. Like Honda with its Civic, Ford took its normal car and simply made it a hybrid, rather then designing a specific hybrid car. The 2005 Ford Escape Hybrid offers a solid 30 city/28 hwy mpg. With a combined 29 mpg, you’re getting the same fuel economy of the 2005 Honda Civic below. I was able to find a 2005 Ford Escape Hybrid with 102,000 miles for $7,800. Oh, and it’s loaded with leather seating and navigation.

2005 Honda Civic

Best Used Cars - 2005 Honda Civic

Can any list of the best used cars be made without the Honda Civic? Maybe in the future if the reception of its 2012 model is telling, but for now, the Honda Civic remains a staple to any list of the best used cars. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you about Honda’s reliability. Consumer Reports gives the 2005 Honda Civic its highest used car rating of “Excellent”. Like the Acura TL, this year of Honda Civic is the last of the generation. Not only is this year very reliable, but I think the seventh generation Honda Civic (2001-2005) looks significantly better than the eighth generation released in 2006. This model is good for an EPA 25 city/34 hwy mpg and Edmunds called it “the most refined, solidly built economy car on the market.” KBB expects a 2005 Honda Civic LX to cost you $7,423. I was able to find the above 2005 Honda Civic with 101,000 miles listed for $7,900. That’s a car that still has half its life left.

2004 Mazda MX-5 Miata Convertible

Best Used Cars Mazda Miata 2004

The Mazda Miata has become well known for providing an affordable, fun sports car. It’s a two-seater convertible, so right off the bat there will be some of you who will be very interested in it, and others who won’t at all. However, it’s probably the most affordable sports car you’re going to find. Edmunds gives it props for having “fun-to-drive character, excellent steering and handling, [and being] economical to run.”Don’t be fooled by low prices for used sports cars on Craigslist. The maintenance and repair bills will kill any “deal” you think you’re getting on that 2001 CLK55 AMG Coupe. Consumer Reports rates the 2004 Miata as “Excellent” and has given it a rating of “Very Good” in every year for which it currently provides a rating. KBB expects the car to set you back $7,250 and Edmunds gives it a Used TMV of $8,000. I was able to find the 2004 Mazda Miata pictured above with 103,000 miles for $7,500.

2006 Nissan Altima

Best Used Cars 2006 Nissan Altima

Each year the Altima continues to be well received based on its “whole package”. If offers great handling for a family sedan and provides wealth of features for the money. Among ratings from Consumer Reports, the Altima is Nissan’s bright spot. The 2006 Nissan Altima has a “Very Good” rating and Edmunds gives it 4.5 stars. KBB expects that you could snag your own 2006 Altima for $7,350. The Altima features a decent 21 city/29 hwy mpg. For $7,500 you can grab the example I found above. This car had 87,000 miles, but unfortunately didn’t pack any extras like leather seating or moonroof.

2002 Toyota RAV4

Best Used Cars Under $8,000

No list of the best used cars under $8,000 could be complete without something from Toyota. Toyota has proven itself to be THE leader in reliability. However, it’s also often to leader in boring. However, I think the 2002 RAV4 looks great when compared to the Honda CR-V of the same year. This small SUV received high marks from Consumer Reports for its nimble handling and excellent brakes. Edmunds remarked that it “steers and handles like a car” and features a “well-built interior”. The example 2002 Toyota RAV4 I was able to find had 128,000 miles on it and was listed right at $8,000. It says a lot about the 2002 Toyota RAV4 when it sells for the same amount as a 2003 Acura TL.

Many of the cars on this list of best used cars under $8,000 are now at their sweet spot. This is the point where the car’s depreciation is quite insignificant each year in comparison to the operating costs of the car. You can buy any of these cars and be fairly certain it’s going to provide you fun, useful, and reliable transportation.

Predicting Used Car Prices Based on New Car Sales

It’s no secret that used car prices have been on an absolute tear over the past two years. I previously wrote about how some used cars were selling for more than you could get the car for new! It’s often touted by personal finance gurus that you should always buy used due to the costs of depreciation. However, when the quality of new cars is improving dramatically, and when used car prices are high, this may not be the best advice.

Because I am considering a car purchase at some point in the next couple of years, I figured I’d check out some of the available data on used car prices and new car sales. To do this, I gathered used car value information from the Manheim Used Vehicle Value Index and sales information from WardsAuto, which is the same source that the Bureau of Labor Statistics relies on when it comes to vehicle sales.

Used Car Prices vs. New Car Sales Volume

As you can see in the graph I created with this data, the price of used cars clearly has a correlation with the 5-year rolling average of new vehicle sales. Theoretically, I figured that there were be a strong association because it makes sense based on how used cars come about. A lot of used cars hit the market 3 to 5 years after being originally purchased. Some people love the drive used cars constantly, while many others end up on the market after leases end or rental fleets are sold. When more new cars are being purchased, the future supply of used cars is increasing. We’d expect this to affect the average price of used cars 3 to 5 years in the future.

This is a trend that isn’t specific to any vehicle company, and it’s not something that can really be adjusted for. As I get closer to buying a car, I’ll be evaluated those influences that I can control. One such example is looking at the trends in fleet sales. Selling to fleets can often hurt a brand’s image and floods the market with lower-priced used cars for that model. For now, I just wanted to point out this interesting trend I’d noticed.