Because the average price of a new vehicle is now a staggering $37,851, the thought of a used car is very appealing to many shoppers. The problem is, used cars are also far more expensive than they used to be. Two years ago, in 2018, the average cost of a pre-owned vehicle was $20,084—and prices have undoubtedly gone up since then.
With vehicles being so expensive, you might be wondering: What does someone on a budget do when it’s time to buy a car?
Thankfully, if you shop around, you can still find reliable transportation for less than $20,000. In fact, there are decent vehicles in nearly every price range, including the under $5,000 category. You just have to put in a little extra effort to find a good deal.
The Best (and Most Reliable) Used Cars When You’re On a Budget
When you’re on a budget, the two things you’re looking for in a car are a decent purchase price and reliability. There are plenty of pre-owned vehicles to choose from, but not all of them can last over 200,000 miles.
But the vehicles on this list often surpass the 200,000-mile mark when properly maintained. What’s more, they’re affordable.
Our list includes four different price ranges, each of which contains four different types of vehicles. So, regardless of your budget or what kind of car you’re looking for, you’ll find something that fits the bill.
Keep in mind that all of the estimated vehicle prices were obtained by averaging those from listings on AutoTrader.com—a website that primarily lists used cars sold by dealers. You can find many of these vehicles available from private sellers for far less.
Best Used Cars Under $20,000
Let’s first take a look at the cars in the upper echelon of the budget-friendly spectrum. If you can afford a vehicle that’s priced between $15,000 and $20,000, these are the primary options to consider.
Best Truck: Toyota Tacoma (Second-Generation 2005 – 2015)
Average price of a 2010 Toyota Tacoma: Approximately $19,000
The Toyota Tacoma appears twice on this list because it’s one of the best trucks (if not the best truck) ever made. Because these pickups are nearly bulletproof, they have a high resale value. Even older, high-mileage examples command top dollar on the used car market.
In 2005, Toyota introduced the second-generation Tacoma, which was bigger, more powerful, and more aggressive-looking than the previous model.
It isn’t easy to find a reasonably-priced Tacoma that’s also in good condition. But If you look around, you can find a decent second-generation model for less than $20,000. In particular, there are plenty of two-wheel drive trucks in this price range.
Best Car: Honda Accord (Ninth-Generation 2013 – 2017)
Average price of a 2015 Honda Accord: Approximately $17,000
The Honda Accord is well-known for being one of the most dependable cars on the road. In 2013, the ever-popular midsize sedan got a complete overhaul. It received revised styling, updated technology—including several advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS)—and upgraded powertrain options.
Yet despite all of the changes, the Accord was one of the few vehicles in its class to still offer the option of a manual transmission. The manual gearbox helps highlight the sedan’s overall perky demeanor.
In other words: If you’re looking for a reliable four-door that’s also fun to drive, consider checking out the ninth-generation Accord. Many clean examples are available for less than $20,000.
Best SUV: Toyota RAV4 (Fourth-Generation 2013 – 2018)
Average price of a 2016 Toyota RAV4: Approximately $20,000
The RAV4 was the first-ever compact crossover SUV when it debuted way back in1996. Now, it’s the best-selling SUV in the United States.
There are several reasons why the RAV4 is so popular, one of which is its exceptional reliability. In 2013, Toyota introduced the fourth-generation RAV4—and the updated SUV became an immediate success.
Like the Tacoma, the RAV4 has a high resale value. Fortunately, since there are tons of these SUVs on the market, you can get a decent fourth-generation model for under $20,000. Front-wheel drive variants are particularly affordable.
Best Sports Car: Honda S2000 (2000 – 2009)
Average price of a 2003 Honda S2000: Approximately $18,000
The S2000—it’s a Honda, it’s a roadster, and it’s rear-wheel drive. Need we say more? These cars have a cult following, and it’s easy to see why. You get Honda dependability combined with the fun-to-drive demeanor of a high-revving, four-cylinder sports car.
Although Honda sold more than 66,000 examples of the S2000 in the United States, the automaker decided to discontinue the car after just nine years of production. That limited run has helped spur sales of the S2000 on the collector car market. Today, premium examples are worth far more than they were brand-new.
Still, you can get a reasonably clean S2000 if you shop around. Because these cars are old, you’ll need to take your time to find the right one. And when you do, it will be well worth the effort.
Best Used Cars Under $15,000
After reviewing your finances, you’ve figured out that you can spend up to $15,000 on a pre-owned vehicle. Now what?
Before you do anything else, consider taking a look at these budget-friendly cars that are both affordable and dependable.
Best Truck: Honda Ridgeline (First-Generation 2006 – 2014)
Average price of a 2010 Honda Ridgeline: Approximately $12,000
Even though the Honda Ridgeline has a relatively small bed, it offers 5,000 pounds of towing capacity and a 1,500-pound payload capacity—and that qualifies it as a truck in our book. What’s more, you get Honda reliability, along with a venerable 3.5L engine under the hood.
The first-generation Ridgeline is a good choice if you’re shopping for a truck on a budget. Not only are these pickups dependable, but all-wheel drive comes standard, so you’ll be getting a vehicle that’s capable in the snow and rain.
Best SUV: Honda CR-V (Third-Generation 2007 – 2011)
Average price of a 2009 Honda CR-V: Approximately $10,500
Like the Toyota RAV4, the Honda CR-V is a compact SUV that’s reliable, versatile, and inexpensive to maintain. You’ll find that the CR-V often comes in handy, thanks to its roomy cargo area and available all-wheel drive.
When Honda first introduced the third generation CR-V in 2007, the SUV was larger and had a more distinct style than the previous version. Sadly, the manual transmission option was also dropped during the model change.
But the lack of a clutch pedal doesn’t take away from the fact that the third-generation CR-V is a fantastic SUV. If you shop around, you can put one of these rugged little Hondas in your garage for less than $15,000.
Best Car: Toyota Camry (Seventh-Generation 2012 – 2017)
Average price of a 2014 Toyota Camry: Approximately $14,000
Every “best cars” list should include at least one Toyota Camry. The midsize sedan is a hallmark of dependability around the world.
In 2012, Toyota introduced the seventh-generation Camry, complete with a sportier exterior and more cabin space than the previous model. Unfortunately, the car also lost the option of a manual transmission during that time.
Regardless, if you’re looking for efficient, reliable transportation, the seventh-generation Camry is hard to beat. The car is also a great value—many late-model, low-mileage examples are available for less than $15,000.
Best Sports Car: Nissan 350Z (2003 – 2008)
Average price of a 2005 Nissan 350Z: Approximately $12,000
The words reliable and sports car are rarely used together. But the Nissan 350Z is both dependable and sporty—plus, it’s relatively affordable. Since the 370Z superseded the 350Z in 2009, the older Z car has been steadily decreasing in value.
As a result, the 350Z is now a bargain in today’s market. The car packs a powerful V6 engine, a rear-wheel drive platform, and eye-catching good looks. Also, because the sporty Nissan is fairly dependable, you can use it as a daily driver.
Best of all, you can pick up a Nissan 350Z for less than $15,000.
Best Used Cars Under $10,000
While $10,000 might seem like a lot of money, these days, it doesn’t go far when you’re shopping for a used car. Pre-owned vehicles have become so expensive that there are few reliable options in this price range.
But don’t despair—there are still a few decent vehicles left in the under $10,000 category. Just check out the options below.
Best Truck: Toyota Tacoma (First-Generation 1995 – 2004)
Average price of a 2000 Toyota Tacoma: Approximately $9,500
The first generation Toyota Tacoma is known for being one of the most dependable trucks ever built. There are plenty of documented examples with over 500,000 miles on the odometer.
Because these trucks last forever, they have a relatively high resale value. Even models from the mid-90s can be worth nearly $10,000.
Still, if you shop around, you can find a decent first-generation Tacoma that won’t break the bank. Two-wheel drive examples are particularly affordable.
Best SUV: Toyota 4Runner (Third-Generation 1996 – 2002)
Average price of a 1999 Toyota 4Runner: Approximately $7,500
There are many midsize SUVs on the market, but the Toyota 4Runner is one of the best. The 4Runner shares the same platform as the Tacoma pickup, making the SUV one of the most dependable choices in its segment.
Although late-model 4Runners are quite costly, you can get a decent third-generation model for under $10,000. Two-wheel drive variants are the most affordable.
Best Car: Toyota Corolla (Ninth-Generation 2009 – 2013)
Average price of a 2011 Toyota Corolla: Approximately $8,500
The Toyota Corolla has been the best-selling car globally since 1997. Unrelenting reliability is one of the primary reasons the Corolla has continued to be a worldwide success.
In 2009, Toyota debuted the ninth-generation Corolla, which had more modern styling and a sportier platform than the previous model. Because there are still thousands and thousands of these cars on the road, you can easily find one for less than $10,000.
Best Sports Car: Mazda MX-5 Miata (Second-Generation 1999 – 2005)
Average price of a 2002 Mazda Miata: Approximately $10,000
While the original Miata (circa 1990 – 1998) was a huge success, critics felt the car’s gaping front end and round body lines made it a bit too “cute” looking. Mazda addressed that concern in 1999 when it introduced the bigger and bolder second-generation MX-5 Miata.
The second-generation Miata is also surprisingly dependable, especially for a sports car. That means the little Mazda can pull double-duty as a daily driver and a weekend warrior. And if you shop around, you can find a clean example for less than $10,000.
Best Used Cars Under $5,000
Finding a reliable used car for less than $5,000 is difficult—but not impossible. If you’re willing to be patient (and put in some extra effort), you should be able to find a decent example of one of the following vehicles for less than five grand.
Best Truck: Ford Ranger (Third-Generation 1998 – 2011)
Average price of a 2000 Ford Ranger: Approximately $5,500
Since it’s tough to find a decent Toyota or Nissan truck for less than $5,000, we’re going to give this win to the third-generation Ford Ranger. Compared to the other semi-modern pickups in this price range (i.e., the Chevy S-10 and the Dodge Dakota), the Ranger has the best track record of the bunch.
As such, if you need a pickup truck but have less than $5,000 to spend, you might want to take a look at the third-generation Ford Ranger.
Best Car: Honda Civic (Seventh-Generation 2001 – 2005)
Average price of a 2003 Honda Civic: Approximately $5,000
When someone says the words “reliable car”, the Honda Civic is often the first vehicle that comes to mind. Nearly every version of the Civic is dependable and affordable, making the car ideal for basic transportation.
The seventh-generation Honda Civic is a particularly good deal, as it has a larger engine and more modern styling than the previous model. Also, many Honda aficionados feel that the seventh-generation is one of the most reliable Civics ever built.
Of course, one of the best things about the seventh-generation Civic is that it’s cheap. These days, you can pick up a clean example for less than $5,000.
Best SUV: Toyota RAV4 (First-Generation 1996 – 2000)
Average price of a 1998 Toyota RAV4: Approximately $3,500
America’s first compact crossover SUV, the Toyota RAV4, was introduced in 1996. At the time, the small SUV—with its snub-nosed styling and Corolla-based platform—was a breakthrough in the automotive industry.
Although there are now plenty of crossover SUVs on the market, the RAV4 is still known for being the first of its kind. The first-generation RAV4 is also known for being incredibly reliable. If you take a look around, you’re bound to see many still on the road.
So, go ahead and snag yourself a piece of automotive history by purchasing a first-generation RAV4—there are plenty available for less than $5,000.
Best Sports Car: Mazda MX-5 Miata (First-Generation 1990 – 1998)
Average price of a 1997 Mazda Miata: Approximately $5,000
The Mazda Miata made its North American debut in 1990. At the time, the car offered a unique package that included an ultra-lightweight body and rear-wheel drive layout. To this day, that combination still makes the first-generation Miata one of the most fun-to-drive cars on the road.
Furthermore, the first-generation Miata is relatively reliable and affordable. With $5,000 (or less) and a little legwork, you should be able to find a decent example to park in your driveway.