Car and truck buyers, as we’re sure you’ve noticed, are increasingly being priced out of the new vehicle market as every month seems to set a new record for average transaction prices. The good news, though, is that financial relief can be found if you’re willing to look at a used but “new-to-you” vehicle that’s still in good condition and that should provide several years of trouble-free service.
We’re breaking down this list of the best used cars to buy in 2023 by price first, then by vehicle segment. We’ll offer a couple of solid suggestions in each category, along, when appropriate, with an alternative or two for those who dare to be a little different. Be aware that the used vehicle market is an ever-changing one, and that your location within the United States can have an impact on the price you pay and the availability of certain models. If you’re willing to spend some time and do a little searching (our classifieds are a great place to start), you ought to be able to find the right vehicle for your family while fitting nicely within the constraints of your budget.
Best used cars under $10,000
Top picks: 2014-2020 Hyundai Elantra, 2017-2019 Kia Soul, Any Toyota Camry
These days, the pickin’s are slim in the under-$10,000 used car bracket. Our top pick goes to the 2014-2020 Hyundai Elantra. It’s a compact car, but there’s room enough for a small family if they don’t mind being close. The Hyundai’s reliability record is solid, and since it’s fairly new, it packs more safety technology than an older car. The 2014 Hyundai Elantra received some desirable updates, and a completely new model hit the U.S. market in 2017. At this price point, you’ll likely find older models with more equipment or newer models without some high-tech options you may prefer to have. Take a look around and pick the one you like the best.
If you need something with a bit more room for cargo, the Kia Soul is a solid choice. Its funky design helps it stand out from the crowd, and though not quite as efficient as the Elantra, the Soul’s range of four-cylinder engine options ought to prove fairly thrifty.
If all else fails, it’s hard to go wrong with the nicest Toyota Camry you can find. There’s a reason Toyota’s midsize sedan has sold so well for so many years. Its record for reliability is basically unmatched, it’s been sold with both four- and six-cylinder engine options so buyers can tailor their choice for their needs and wants, and it has room inside for families.
Interesting alternative: 2011-2017 Nissan Leaf
Yes, you can buy an electric car for less than $10,000. The Nissan Leaf was America’s first mass-market EV, first hitting the scene for the 2011 model year. They sold in good enough numbers that they aren’t hard to find for sale. The early Leaf hatchback didn’t come with a particularly big battery — if you travel more than 70ish miles in a day, this probably isn’t your top choice — but it’s 73-84-mile range is enough for a good chunk of the population.
Used SUV: 2011-2020 Dodge Journey, 2014-2017 Nissan Rogue
You’ll be hard pressed to find an SUV you like in this price range. The Dodge Journey never won any desirability awards when it was new, and it hasn’t gotten any more likable with age. But it offers three rows of seats, optional all-wheel drive and a comparably low price, which are big wins for a lot of buyers. We’d suggest casting a wide net and being willing to drive a bit further than you’d like in order to find a Journey with a Pentastar V6 engine instead of the grossly underpowered four-cylinder.
The best thing about the Nissan Rogue is that it sold really well for a very long time. That means there are a lot of them on the used market. The Rogue doesn’t carry the resale value of rivals like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, and that means it’s more attainable for buyers with limited funds to spend. The continuously variable transmission isn’t very rewarding, and repair bills can be high if something goes wrong. On the positive side, the CVT does improve fuel efficiency.
Used pickup truck: 2005-2011 Dodge Dakota, 2008-2012 Nissan Titan
The Dodge Dakota is a solid pickup truck that’s bigger than rivals like the Ford Ranger and Chevy Colorado. The final Dakota was built between 2005 and 2011, and later models are actually badged as Rams, not Dodges. Either way, it’s the same truck. The standard 3.7-liter V6 won’t win any drag races — the optional V8s offered more power, naturally — but a decent Dakota offers the ability to haul and tow for just about the lowest price point in America.
If you need more towing power, your best bet may be an older Nissan Titan. It’s likely that any full-size pickup truck you’ll find for less than $10,000 will have higher miles or dents (or both), so be prepared for a truck that’s not going to win any beauty contests. But as long as it can still do trucky things and runs well, that’s what really matters.
Best used cars under $15,000
Top picks: 2011-2015 Chevrolet Volt, 2016-2018 Honda Civic
As far as we’re concerned, the Chevy Volt is one of America’s top used-car bargains. The first-gen model has fallen into the $10,000-$15,000 bracket, and for that sum, you’re not likely to find anything more efficient — as long as it was plugged in the night before, the first 25 to 35 miles will be on electricity alone — stylish and comfortable for daily driving duties. Note that the Volt seats four passengers, not five, but does have a hatchback for greater cargo versatility.
If you don’t want to worry about plugging in and want a good, solid, reliable daily driver, the Honda Civic is our top pick. It’s more fun to drive than a similar Toyota Corolla (which should also prove a very reliable choice), and the 10th-generation model that debuted for the 2016 model year is a surprisingly comfortable and roomy option. If you can find one, the hatchback that debuted in 2017 with a 1.5-liter turbocharged engine is our favorite.
Interesting alternative: Any Mazda Miata, 2014-2017 Mini Cooper
You knew you were going to find a Mazda Miata on this list, right? The quintessential little Japanese sports car is a great used buy for those who don’t need room for more then themselves and one significant other. It’s a joy to drive, reasonably efficient and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to buy. Buy one and we’re sure you’ll love it.
The Mini Cooper used to be one of the least-reliable vehicles in America. Most of those reliability foibles were worked out over the years, and the 2014-2017 edition has proven pretty durable. The Cooper isn’t as quick around a track as the aforementioned Miata, but it’s awfully fun to drive around town. And unlike the Mazda, the Mini has a (small) back seat and a hatchback.
Used SUV: 2014-2016 Mazda CX-5, 2010-2014 Chevrolet Tahoe
SUV used to mean body-on-frame construction and a rugged four-wheel-drive system. These days, the sport utility segment covers everything from barely lifted hatchbacks to monsters that wear Hummer badges. If you’re looking for an efficient, reliable and fun-to-drive crossover, the Mazda CX-5 is our top pick. If you find a Honda CR-V in a similar price bracket, that’s also a solid choice for the money. The Toyota RAV4 should also be reliable, though probably not as fun to drive as the other options.
If you need a (much) larger utility vehicle, consider an older Chevy Tahoe. It should have one of GM’s solid small-block V8 engines under its hood, which should equate to comparably simple maintenance and a wide selection of local mechanics who should be familiar with fixing them when something does break. Check the interior for squeaks and rattles, because GM wasn’t known for screwing together the best interiors in this time frame.
Used pickup truck: 2005-2015 Toyota Tacoma, 2013-2018 Ram 1500
The Toyota Tacoma is known for lots of things: reliability and durability being just two of them. High resale value is another, as well as so-so comfort. In the end, a used Tacoma is a solid choice for around $15,000, and likely to offer more years of trouble-free service than anything else in this price range. Expect to see some higher-mileage examples on the market, so be on the lookout for a Tacoma with regular maintenance records.
If you need a bigger truck, listings for the Ram 1500 would be a good place to start at the $15,000 price point. Ford and GM options enjoy higher resale value on the used market, but the Ram is just as capable and arguably more stylish and comfortable. Our suggestion is to look for a 2013 or newer Ram, and to choose the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 and eight-speed automatic combo over the 4.7-liter V8 and six-speed auto. While it’s tempting to opt for the V8, our own testing and that of other outlets tells us the V6 is a refined powerplant with solid durability, and the newer eight-speed transmission is a much better choice than the less reliable six-speed.
Best used cars under $20,000
Top picks: 2016-2019 Chevrolet Volt, 2015-2018 Toyota Prius, 2018-2021 Mazda6
Move up one price bracket and you can score a second-generation Chevy Volt instead of the first-gen. The bodywork got swoopier, the noise pointier, the engine downsized and the overall package got more efficient in 2016. Electric range improved from 38 in 2015 to 53 in 2016, meaning more of your miles will be on battery power instead of using more expensive gasoline.
We’d argue that the Volt is more stylish and more fun to drive than the Toyota Prius, but it’s hard to argue against the hybrid’s overall efficiency and expected reliability. The Prius was into its fourth generation by the 2015 model year, and the overall package was more refined than ever. Don’t expect to find a plug-in Prius Prime (which debuted in 2017) in this price range, though.
The Mazda6 may have ended production in 2021 as the compact crossover took over from the midsize sedan as the vehicle design of choice for the majority of Americans, but it’s still an excellent vehicle worth pursuing on the used-vehicle market. It had long been the best-driving car in its segment, its four-cylinder engine options were strong enough to have fun but efficient enough not to break the bank.
Interesting alternative: 2017-2018 BMW i3
The BMW i3 is nothing if not interesting. Its Lego-block styling isn’t to everyone’s liking, and even the upgraded 94ah battery the BMW EV got in 2017 won’t offer the kind of capacity that makes range anxiety disappear completely, but if your daily commute is 100 miles or less, the i3 may be an interesting option. The boxy hatchback is surprisingly roomy inside, and the interior is almost Scandinavian in its design. Much of the car’s structure is made from lightweight carbon fiber, which is pretty exotic for an urban runabout like the i3. Potential buyers should be aware that the German BMW will likely carry higher repair and maintenance bills than a comparable American or Japanese car.
Used SUV: 2017-2018 Honda CR-V, 2016-2017 Mazda CX-9
It’s hard to go wrong with a Honda CR-V that’s been well cared for by its previous owner. The fifth generation of Honda’s compact crossover debuted for the 2017 model year with more room, more comfort, more efficiency and, importantly, more safety equipment than ever before. The 1.5-liter turbocharged engine is the most efficient choice, while a 2.0-liter engine is less common. The automatic is a CVT, but it’s better than most competitors and not really a hindrance.
Need something larger? Consider the Mazda CX-9. Not only does it offer three rows of reasonably sized passenger space, it’s also pretty fun to drive. In fact, we think it’s the best-driving seven-passenger crossover on the market. It’s powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, and while it’s not quite as powerful as some vehicles it competes with, it’s plenty sufficient.
Used pickup truck: 2016-2018 Chevrolet Silverado, 2009-2019 Nissan Frontier
Pretty much any of the American pickup trucks of the late 20-teens will serve buyers well, but GM’s mainstream truck is slightly more affordable than its competitor from Ford, which went to a lightweight aluminum body for the 2015 model year. The Toyota Tundra would also be a solid choice, but fewer were sold each year and they tend to trade at higher prices compared to the ubiquitous Detroit trucks. That’s why we’re pointing our digital finger at the Chevy Silverado. As the second-best-selling truck, they are very easy to find, so prospective buyers ought to have a few options to choose from. Their V8 engine options are all very solid and have well-earned reputations for durability.
Don’t need a full-size truck? The Nissan Frontier that seemingly sold for eons is a solid pickup. It boasts a powerful V6 engine, rugged good looks and a rugged chassis to boot. We didn’t have to look hard to find late-model Frontier trucks with reasonable mileage in the $20,000 range. Going back a few years should still result in a bevy of choices in various cabin sizes and with or without four-wheel drive. The 2020 edition got a new engine, but buyers in this price bracket may want to consider sticking with the tried-and-true 4.0-liter V6 of previous years. A six-speed manual was even available, a boon for buyers who prefer to shift for themselves.
Best used cars under $25,000
Top picks: 2019-2022 Mazda3, 2020-2022 Toyota Corolla Hybrid, 2020-2022 Subaru Legacy
The Mazda3 is a great car. It’s offered in either sedan or our preferred hatchback form, and it has a perfect blend of driving enjoyment and practicality. There’s a reasonable amount of room inside for people and cargo, but buyers who need more space may want to look for something bigger (like the Subaru we’ll mention shortly). Since it’s a late-model option, the 2019-2022 Mazda3 offers pretty much all the latest safety tech a buyer could wish for (but no self-driving functionality, of course), and should prove reliable for years to come.
If saving money at the gas pump is of prime concern, we’d suggest taking a good hard look at the Toyota Corolla Hybrid. Toyota has been the undisputed king of hybrids for decades now, and all their best Prius-based tech can be had in a more normal-looking and feeling package in the form of the compact Corolla. Expect fuel mileage in the mid-to-high 40s for most Corolla Hybrid models.
The Subaru Legacy is also a solid choice for buyers looking for a nice car for less than $25,000. You may know that the hot-selling Subaru Outback is based on the Legacy, but you may not know how much more an Outback costs on the used market until you take a look at the online classifieds. In reality, though, the Legacy offers just as much all-weather dependability and spaciousness as the pricier Outback, and because it’s lower to the ground, it’s more fuel efficient.
Interesting alternative: 2015-2019 Volkswagen Golf R, 2015 Dodge Challenger R/T
You can really have some fun in the $25,000 price range. The Volkswagen Golf R is a blast with 290 turbocharged horsepower and all-wheel drive catapulting a little German hatchback at breakneck speeds. It’s the hottest version of the quintessential hot hatch, and it’s a riot. You can also save some cash and get a GTI, which is also a fun choice.
If your tastes run a little more muscular, now would be a good time to take a look over at the Dodge lineup. For $25,000, buyers can snag a lovely Challenger R/T — yes, it’s got a Hemi — or if they need a bigger back seat and two more doors, a Charger. Now, we should mention that these Dodge twins are riding atop very old underpinnings and are anything but fuel efficient. But that’s kinda the point. If you’re more interesting in laying rubber than slicing fuel bills, the Challenger and Charger are there for you.
Used SUV: 2014-2019 Subaru Outback, 2010-2016 Toyota 4Runner, 2018-2020 Toyota RAV4 and RAV4 Hybrid
We know. You’d really rather have an SUV than a sedan. It’s a common refrain, and we get it. The added utility of a crossover and the promise of all-weather capabilities is appealing. We still think you should take a look at the most recent Subaru Legacy, but if you’d rather have an Outback, that’s OK. Just know you’ll have to go back a generation to snag an Outback in this list’s budget price category.
Of course, we’ve already explained that the Outback is basically a Subaru Legacy underneath. If what you want is a real traditional sport utility vehicle, the Toyota 4Runner is one of the best out there. It’s super rugged underneath and is powered by big, burly 4.0-liter V6 engines. Five occupants fit comfortably, and some models have a mostly usable third row, too. Do be aware that the 4Runner doesn’t just look like a proper SUV, it is a proper SUV. That means it rides like an SUV and guzzles fuel like and SUV.
A more traditional compact crossover experience can be found in the Toyota RAV4, and the 2018-2020 edition is a much nicer overall package than the models that came before. The ride is good, the handling is solid, and the powertrains offer a solid compromise between performance and efficiency. There’s a lot to like in these RAV4s. If you want to reduce your fuel bill, the RAV4 Hybrid also falls into the price range we’re considering.
Used pickup truck: 2015-2019 Ford F-150, 2016-2019 Toyota Tacoma, 2017-2019 Honda Ridgeline
For around $25,000, the best used pickup truck is the Ford F-150. We’d specifically look for a 2015 or later model to take advantage of the lighter weight and great capability offered by the aluminum-intensive construction Ford switched to starting that year. There are capable V6 engine options, up-level EcoBoost sixes in two sizes, and a durable 5.0-liter V8 engine to choose from. Naturally, buyers can pick between multiple cab and bed lengths, two- or four-wheel drive, and from all manner of trim levels that range from work truck-spec to full-zoot cowboy. If you’re on a budget, aim for an XLT model for a solid compromise between price and equipment levels.
The Toyota Tacoma is the best-selling midsize truck in America, and that means there are plenty to choose from. A redesign for the 2016 model year brought about welcome changes inside, out and underneath that make it a better truck than the models that came before. It’s known to be a reliable machine with legitimate off-road capabilities when properly equipped, but it’s not very comfortable. We’d suggest taking the Tacoma for an extended drive before signing on the dotted line, just to make sure you fit well in its low-slung cockpit and seats.
If we had to pick one smaller truck to drive every single day and didn’t need to tow more than 5,000 pounds or so, we’d go with the Honda Ridgeline. Unlike the similarly sized and priced Toyota Tacoma, the Honda Ridgeline uses a unibody chassis design that shares a lot of components with the Honda Pilot crossover. It’s a lot more comfortable and quite a bit more efficient than most other trucks, and it can do more work than some would-be buyers give it credit for. Well worth a look if you’re a casual pickup user.