10 Cars for $10K: The Best Used Cars for $10,000

Used_car_2

At Cars.com, we focus on new cars, but when it comes to overall car sales, used cars own the field. CNW Marketing Research reports shoppers bought more than 40 million of them in 2012, the highest total since 2007. For every new car sold, nearly three used cars changed hands.

Shoppers are still taking the used route despite near-record used-car prices, which soared so high that we suspended our $10,000 used-car recommendations — once a regular Cars.com feature — for two years. Blame the recession, which slashed new-car sales and the resulting supply of late-model used cars that are typically traded in for them.

Used-car prices are coming back to earth, according to Manheim's Used Vehicle Value Index, but that's not to say used-car prices are low again. They have ebbed enough to give $10K cars another go.

We looked at any cars from 2006 or later — more model years than we usually consider. Restricting the pool by another model year or two would have left us with very few candidates that meet our reliability and safety standards.

Here are 10 late-model used cars we recommend that you should be able to find for around $10,000. They’re listed alphabetically by manufacturer:

06Escape_17

2006 Ford Escape: If the original Escape seems ubiquitous, it's because Ford sold 1.05 million of the small SUV between 2000 and early 2007 — more than either the Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4. Ford's first-generation crossover had trucklike styling but car-based underpinnings, and the driving experience combined handling and ride comfort in a way that few car-based crossovers of the Escape's era — let alone any truck-based SUVs — could match. Nearly 70 cubic feet of maximum cargo room bolsters the Escape's utility, and available on-demand all-wheel drive should help drivers conquer light snow.
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08_Focus

2008 Ford Focus: Your teen driver may clamor for a Mustang, but this Ford is a far more sensible choice. Important safety features like side curtain airbags became standard in '08, and the Focus was also an early adopter in its class for Bluetooth and USB/iPod stereo integration. The slab-sided styling and button-strewn interior haven't aged well, but the car's sharp handling distinguished it from some of its compact rivals. Three trim levels and two body styles — a sedan and a coupe — should provide options for everyone.
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07_Freestyle

2007 Ford Freestyle: Need a budget family hauler? The Freestyle could be your ticket. The mid-decade styling suggested an oversized wagon, but clever packaging created unexpectedly spacious second and third rows. Seating maxes out at six or seven, depending on the second-row configuration, and folding those seats down opens up nearly 90 cubic feet of cargo room. All-wheel drive was optional on the Freestyle, and some versions built later in 2007 added standard side-impact and curtain airbags, which were optional on early-build '07s.
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07_Ford_Fusion

2007 Ford Fusion: A responsive V-6 engine option and decent handling chops distinguished Ford's midsize family car. So did trunk room, which remains spacious even by today's family-car standards. All-wheel drive was optional, and like the Freestyle, the Fusion got standard side-impact and curtain airbags midway through the 2007 model year. (Early 2007 builds offered them as an option.) Check the build date, typically on the driver's doorjamb: Fusions built after January 2007 had changes made to the door trim to help earn it better side-impact crash test ratings.
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2006_Civic_Sedan

2006 Honda Civic: When Honda unveiled a redesigned 2012 Civic, people praised the prior car, which Honda built from 2006 to 2011. (Honda's emergency refresh of the 2012 thankfully made some amends.) This is the beloved eighth-generation Civic, whose interior quality, fuel efficiency and overall drivability impressed so much that they still hold up today. Coupes and sedans come in a range of trims, and all versions have standard antilock brakes and six airbags.
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06_Azera

2006 Hyundai Azera: If you're looking for a full-size sedan, the Azera is a better choice than other similarly priced boats of the era. A full-size sedan with upscale creature comforts, the Azera packed a comfortable, if floaty, ride. Big engine, big backseat? Check, check. It's hardly a looker, but the Azera married Hyundai's characteristic value with decent quality. The geezers might think you're one of them, but the Azera need not come with an AARP membership; it's a decent choice.
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07_Sonata

2007 Hyundai Sonata: A competitor to the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, the last Sonata documented Hyundai's meteoric rise. It's easy to see why. Between 2005 and 2010, the Korean brand's market share rose 73% as shoppers ate up its value proposition and bought cars like the Sonata — a family sedan with roominess, safety features and value in spades. Years later, a used example should still suit you well. Find one with the optional 3.3-liter V-6 for muscular passing power.
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08_Optima

2008 Kia Optima: Kia is a Hyundai sibling, and the Optima is a cousin to the Hyundai Sonata. Kia's version had more available luxury features but blend-in styling and a smaller V-6. Skip that engine, which doesn't lend much extra oomph versus the adequate four-cylinder. A roomy backseat and decent standard safety features round out a car whose successor won Cars.com's Best of 2011 award. The old Optima fell well short of the honor, but it's a lot of used car for the money.
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08_Versa

2008 Nissan Versa: Nissan's unexpectedly roomy Versa slips into tight city parking spots like any proper subcompact should. A responsive continuously variable automatic transmission combined with a larger four-cylinder than most competitors' engines to provide sprightly stoplight power, albeit with some loss of gas mileage. Cargo room was decent, but for such a small car the Versa shined in seating space, which remains impressive even today.
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07SciontC_72

2007 Scion tC: After years of marketing funky hatchbacks, Toyota's youth-oriented division introduced a sleek coupe to replace the automaker's front-drive Celica. We liked the original tC better than its cost-cutting successor. Strengths included rich cabin materials and a responsive four-cylinder engine; look for the available five-speed manual for more fun. This is a tuner's paradise, too, with untold modifications available through the aftermarket or through Toyota's TRD performance division.
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Editor's Notes
The used-car market is unpredictable, so you may be able to negotiate a better deal for one of these cars or get a better-equipped model for the same price. Of course, all prices may be above or below $10,000 depending on the condition of the car and where you live. Remember, too, that today's $10,000 car won't be the same price weeks or months from this publish date.

We looked at Cars.com listings for cars that had sufficient examples in our national inventory. You may be able to bargain down a listed price by $1,000 or more, but plan for the customary fees associated with buying any car, including sales tax, license, title and registration, plus any financing costs. Factor in the cost of an independent mechanic's inspection. To make our list, the cars we considered had to pass crash tests and come with standard safety features; available safety features should be easily found in your search. We also analyzed reliability, drivability and practicality.

Keep in mind that buying a used car is going to rely a great deal on the stewardship of the car’s previous owners. While these cars met our criteria, every previous owner is different. Some owners baby their cars; others destroy theirs through abuse, neglect or misuse. Make sure you get your car checked out before you agree to any deal.

Sources for safety equipment and crash-test scores include the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and automaker data. Information on vehicle features comes from automaker data, and reliability scores come from Consumer Reports and J.D. Power and Associates' Vehicle Dependability Study. Used-car prices come from Cars.com data, and availability of various safety features comes from surveying national used-car listings.

Related
Used Cars Still Expensive, But Prices Are Falling
More Used Car News
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Comments 

The 2006 Honda Civic and the 2007 Scion TC are the best choice of the list that worth the money. The Ford Fusion is a nice and comfortable sedan too.

Wow, its hard to imagine these cars for sale at such a low price.

skippydog

Pretty sure the Sonata and Optima of that generation had the exact same engines so not sure why you would recommend the 4 in one and the 6 in the other.

I would also add the 1st gen toyota highlander to this list.

Manuel Override

I've become aware that Escapes have a tendency to eat transmissions. I choked and then chuckled to see one at the top of your list. Had 3 of various years through my shop in the past quarter year for this affliction. Caveat Emptor!

Lance

@skippydog,
No, the 2008 Optima had a 2.7L v6 that had about 50 less HP than the 3.3L v6 in the Sonata and got less MPG to boot.

Jay Reynolds

All of the cars that are listed seem to be good options, but I think that the Scion TC has the best value. Just remember it is important to have a game plan before you go into the dealership. Here are some tip for purchasing a used car . Which of the 10 cars on this list do you prefer?

Angel Tinev

Not even one car with rear wheel drive? :(

Gary

All are good recommendations except the Escape. As another poster noted a lot of them tend to eat transmissions as two of my neighbors got burned. At roughly $3k to fix it ain't cheap and likely why my neighbors dumped their Escape's for Mazda and Honda.

I would also like to add the Hyundai Accent and Toyota Corolla to the list. Both of them are great performers and value-for-money cars.

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RealGomer

When we came back from Tanzania in 2010 we rented a Fusion and took the scenic route from Washington DC to NE Ohio and then to Cincinnati. We loved every mile in it.

Bill W

Remember when you had the choice of buying a base model new car? My '76 Mustang II, brand new, had a V-6, AM-FM radio and 4 spd trans. That's all. It was a wonderful car and I enjoyed it immensely. Who needs A/C, Power windows and brakes or power steering? Not to mention all the electronic and computer crap that just raises the price.

Mikefox

Thanks for sharing! Nice share!

I was looking at the usedcars.com ratings of cars under 410k (http://www.usedcars.com/advice/best-car-ratings/best-used-cars-under-10000/)and noticed you have a very similar list. The Kia Optima is what I have been looking at, but I hear the Ford Focus is a pretty reliable vehicle as well.

I'm curious - does anyone have a preference between the two? I'm not usually a Ford fan, but not that familiar with Kias enough to really make a solid decision.

Servius

"Shoppers are still taking the used route despite near-record used-car prices, which soared so high that we suspended our $10,000 used-car recommendations — once a regular Cars.com feature — for two years. Blame the recession, which slashed new-car sales and the resulting supply of late-model used cars that are typically traded in for them. "

Actually, blame the Cash For Clunkers program that whisked a large chunk of the used car supply away.

Bull

" blame the Cash For Clunkers program..." Indeed. So obviously a main reason for the spike in used car prices, but folks who edit Cars.com didn't learn basic economics (cost = supply vs demand) in public school.

Some blame also goes to significant cuts in interest rates (thanks to the Fed) and easy money policies that meant any knucklehead could get a 7 year contract on a $50k Lincoln Navigator that would be worth a tenth of that price when only half of that note was paid off.

Lily

.I need a car that is small, has a sunroof, doesn't eat gas, is reliable, and comfortable. I have a number of chronic illnesses and degenerative diseases that cause constant pain,and of course I am poor.

Does anyone have any suggestions for me? I should have around 10k to spend on a car come Spring.

THANKS VERY MUCH in advance!

Kyle W

Lily, I'd recommend the Scion TC to you. It's a small car with relatively good fuel economy, and they all come standard with a power sunroof. Plus, they are extra reliable! I almost bought one earlier this year but decided not to because the previous owner(s) had abused it...which is something that could happen to any car and should always be taken into consideration before making a purchase.

Katie Wang

Glad to see at least one Toyota here on the list (but I think there should be more)!

The thing is - when u drive Toyota vehicles, you drive quality. I've been driving my Avalon for a few years now... I got mine in a steal from CarMax (15k), but if I knew how well it would drive and how little I would need to repair/maintain it, I wouldn't think price about paying a few thousand more for it.

Also, the insurance is cheap.. I've been driving it for 3 years now and routinely change my insurance carriers to keep my rates low (to avoid rate increases). I'm usually able to get rates around the $25 to $30 a month range (I use Insurance Panda). The Avalon is more than three times as cheap as my brother's Escalade is to insure. Could not be happier with it.

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