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
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
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
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
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
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
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.