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Compact cars are popular among budget-conscious buyers because they’re easy to drive and affordable to maintain. Most compact cars have high reliability ratings and excellent fuel economy, which can drive ownership costs down. They’re also pretty affordable.

Used compact cars provide decent transportation without the high sticker price. There are a lot of them on the used car market. The pricing may vary depending on the condition, mileage, and location of your desired car.

Don’t know what car to get? Say no more! We’ve compiled a list of the five most reliable used compact cars to help you make the best decision.

Reliable Used Compact Cars From Least to Most Affordable

Established dealerships usually have a wide selection of budget-friendly cars. Independent lots are also good places to look for a bargain. We suggest doing some research on used car sites to find the average range for the car you want.

2014 honda civic
The Honda Civic’s ninth generation has become a favorite among budget-conscious buyers looking for excellent fuel economy, affordable price, and durability. Image source: order_242 | Wikimedia Commons

Ninth-Generation Honda Civic (2011 – 2017)

The Honda Civic is one of the most reliable used compact cars you can buy. It holds up well over time and gets good gas mileage. The Honda Civic’s ninth generation has become a favorite among budget-conscious buyers looking for excellent fuel economy, affordable price, and durability.
The Honda Civic entered its ninth generation with a redesigned 2012 model. The 2013 Civic was the first compact car to include standard modern features. All subsequent models offered Pandora internet radio, Bluetooth, and rearview cameras. In addition to these modern features, Honda added performance upgrades to the 2014 Civic Coupe. A new SE level trim was introduced along with the 2015 Honda Civic, which gave buyers more options and fuel ratings of up to 41 mpg highway and 31 mpg city.

2018 mazda 3
The most reliable Mazda3 models belong to its third generation.

Third-Generation Mazda 3 (2014 – 2018)

The Mazda 3 is the sportiest compact car on this list, combining outstanding performance with superb fuel economy. Its distinctive Kodo styling sets it apart from the practical and sometimes bland design of numerous economy cars. The most reliable Mazda 3 models belong to its third generation.

The Mazda 3 was redesigned for the 2014 model year. It had a wider body and a lower stance, which provided more legroom for rear-seat passengers. Mazda would improve on the tried-and-true Kodo formula for the following model years by adding safety and fuel-saving features like SkyActiv. The 2016 Mazda 3 base SV, Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring models all had standard rearview camera systems. Mazda equipped all Mazda 3 models with a low-speed automatic braking system for the 2018 model year.

2005 toyota corolla
Known for being compact, reliable, and economical, the Toyota Corolla is the best-selling car of all time. Image source: Bookster451 | Wikimedia Commons

Ninth-Generation Toyota Corolla (2000 – 2005)

There’s a reason why the Toyota Corolla is the best-selling car of all time. It’s compact, reliable, and economical. The Toyota Corolla is widely available, serving as a dependable commuter for millions of drivers worldwide.

The ninth generation of the Toyota Corolla was a turning point in the car’s evolution. The Toyota team concentrated their efforts on the overseas market, which was ramping up its Corolla production. The end result was a refined 2003 Toyota Corolla with a punchy engine, solid build quality, and improved drivetrain. In 2005, Toyota restyled the front fascia and rear tail lights on all Corolla models, including the sporty XRS model that had a 170-horsepower engine and a sports-tuned suspension. On top of that, the 2005 Toyota Corolla had better reliability scores than previous model years.

2008 toyota prius
The Toyota Prius is an ideal car for the environmentally conscious driver who wants to save on fuel and maintenance costs. Image source: JBleeker | Wikimedia Commons

Second-Generation Toyota Prius (2003 – 2008)

The Toyota Prius is an ideal car for the environmentally conscious driver who wants to save on fuel and maintenance costs. It’s classified as an Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicle or ULEV.
Second-generation Prius models from 2003 to 2009 were liftbacks that offered standard steering wheel controls, cruise control, and a digital gauge cluster. It’s a much larger vehicle than the previous Prius generation, which unfortunately led to a slight decrease in fuel efficiency. Still, the second-generation provides excellent versatility with a bigger cargo hold. Toyota fitted the Prius with an all-electric air conditioner compressor that consumed less fuel and utilized a shallow cycle battery operation that always kept a charge of 40 to 80 percent. This significantly extended the battery’s lifespan and translated to roughly 200,000 miles.

2005 hyundai elantra
Many consider the Elantra’s third generation to be the most reliable in the lineup. Image source: Hyundai

Third-Generation Hyundai Elantra (2001 – 2006)

The Hyundai Elantra is a strong competitor to the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic, receiving high reliability scores in major review sites.

Many consider the Elantra’s third generation to be the most reliable in the lineup. The 2001 Hyundai Elantra was considerably larger than the previous year’s model. It was available as a four-door sedan and a five-door hatchback. The base GLS trim standard offered frontal airbags, power windows and locks, and power steering, while the sportier GT trim had performance suspension, leather seats, alloy wheels, and more. Hyundai redesigned the 2005 Elantra with a new exterior, lights, and dashboard. With 24 combined city/highway mpg, the third-generation Elantra may not be the most fuel-efficient car on this list, but it’s certainly the most affordable.

Older Cars Need More Maintenance

Older compact cars are more likely to break down due to damaged or worn-out parts. If you buy a used car that’s more than 20 years old, you’ll have to perform extra maintenance to keep it running smoothly.

Most of the cars listed above have heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) door actuators that have to be replaced. These actuators are responsible for controlling the flow of warm and cold air inside the cabin. Failing to replace your faulty HVAC door actuators can result in a lack of both heat and air conditioning in the passenger areas.

If the car’s seller doesn’t know when the HVAC door actuator was last replaced, you should immediately ask your trusted mechanic to inspect the car’s cooling system.
Buying a used compact car is a good investment if you’re looking to cut down on fuel expenses. If you look hard enough, you can probably find one for under $10,000. You don’t have to take out a loan to afford reliable transportation.

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