Looking for a great used car but have a limited budget? You’re not alone. Cars and trucks are getting pricier with every passing year, and a limited inventory following the ongoing coronavirus pandemic hasn’t helped. If you can manage to stretch your budget to $10,000, there are some solid options to choose from in the used marketplace.
We challenged the Autoblog editors to find a great, versatile used car — note, this list is specifically for cars, not trucks or SUVs — for $10,000 or less, and this is what we came up with. When there are specific models or options to look for, we’ll try to explain why it matters. Each entry includes a link to our classified ads, where you can narrow down your choices using your location and sliders for price and mileage. Pay attention to the deal rating to make sure you’re getting the best price possible.
If your tastes run closer to the fringe of the automotive segment, take a look at our Used Vehicle Spotlight series where we highlight interesting and sometimes forgotten cars from the past. For the rest of us who prefer to stay closer to the mainstream, the options below all boast at least average expected reliability scores (in most cases better-than-average) and were sold in enough numbers that there should be several options near you.
2009-2014 Acura TSX
We’re kicking the list off with the 2009-2014 Acura TSX simply because we figured alphabetic order is as good as anything else. Our recommendation would be to stick with a four-cylinder engine to maximize practicality and reliability. Honda, which is Acura’s parent company, makes excellent four-cylinder engines, and the K24Z3-coded powerplant in the TSX is no exception. The 2.4-liter spins out 201 horsepower and revs very freely, delivering more driving engagement than many of its competitors. It’s available with a sweet-shifting manual transmission or, much more commonly, a five-speed automatic.
2006-2011 BMW 3 Series
The BMW 3 Series enjoys a well-earned reputation as the class leader in the small sporty luxury car segment. It’s important to be aware that repair and maintenance costs will be higher for a BMW than less premium brands, and it’s likely that lower-end models without some desirable bells and whistles may offer a bit more long-term reliability than the higher-end versions. BMW started selling this generation of the 3 Series, internally known as the E90, in 2006 here in the States. Many were sold in sedan and coupe styles along with a smaller number of wagons, and all versions are desirable. A nicely maintained model with BMW‘s lauded naturally aspirated (non-turbocharged) inline-six engines should fall into the sweet spot.
2014-2015 Chevy Volt
There are a lot of solid practical reasons to consider a used Chevy Volt. First and foremost, it’s economical to operate. Drivers who can keep their lead feet in check can expect to get between 25 and 50 miles of all-electric range from GM’s Voltec drivetrain, which pairs a gasoline-fueled engine with a powerful electric motor and a battery pack that runs down the center of the vehicle. The EPA rates this version of the Volt at 38 miles of EV driving, and we’ve managed to beat that figure numerous times. The Volt is quiet and comfortable for four passengers, and there’s a decent amount of cargo space behind the back seats. On the downside, while Volt batteries have generally proven quite durable over the years, if one module does go bad, replacement costs can be very expensive.
2013-2016 Ford Fusion
Sedans have fallen out of favor with American buyers as crossovers and SUVs gain popularity. This is reflected in Ford’s lineup of vehicles in its home market — sedans and hatchbacks like the Fiesta, Focus and Fusion are no longer offered. Still, Ford sold hundreds of thousands of these attractive midsize sedans over the course of a couple of decades, and their low purchase prices mean they make desirable used vehicles. The second-generation model seen above went on sale for the 2013 model year and ran until production ended in 2020. The Titanium trim level offers pretty much all the goodies a modern driver will expect, and the available 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine’s 240 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque makes it feel reasonably fun and peppy to drive. The Fusion has average expected reliability, but repair costs should be reasonable for the American automaker.
2008-2012 Honda Accord
You’re not likely to come across a best-used-car-buys list and not see an Accord. Honda’s stalwart midsize sedan is a fixture on such lists because it’s been such a solid vehicle for so many years, and the Accords that fall into this price range were built between 2008 and 2012. If you can find a newer example, it’s likely a reasonable choice, too. The sedan is most common, but the Accord Coupe is the enthusiasts’ choice, particularly when equipped with Honda’s sweet-shifting six-speed manual transmission.
2009-2013 Honda Fit
The second Honda on our list is the automaker’s smallest, the Fit. We’re not skipping the Honda Civic intentionally, it’s an excellent choice. But the Fit offers a surprisingly large cabin due to its unique Magic Seat arrangement, is fun to drive and gets stellar fuel economy. Like most Hondas, it’s reliable and feels especially good with its revvy four-cylinder engine paired with a manual transmission. But even with the power-sapping automatic, the Fit remains an excellent choice for someone looking for a small car that’s easy to park nearly anywhere.
2007-2010 Lexus GS 350
The Lexus lineup is full of solid options for a used-car buyer looking for a comfortable and reliable vehicle under $10,000. The ES sedan shares a lot of its hard parts with the Toyota Camry and Avalon, including its V6 engines and automatic transmissions. The GS we’re suggesting is a different and more interesting animal, with a dedicated platform and a range of six- and eight-cylinder engines powering the rear (or all four on some models) wheels. We’re calling out the 2007-2010 GS 350 specifically, but the V8-powered GS 460 (which can do 0-60 in 5.5 seconds) is also a solidly reliable choice. Either way, the solid chassis, luxurious interior (though with an oddly tight rear seat) and quiet ride are all major bonuses at this price range.
2006-2012 Mazda Miata
Surely you’re not surprised to see the Miata on this list. Mazda’s long-running little sports car is a blast to drive, can be found at reasonable prices all across the United States and is solidly reliable. We’re highlighting the third-generation NC model here, but older versions of the car are equally fun to drive, so feel free to cast a wide net when searching for the perfect example. Naturally, a small two-seat convertible isn’t going to work as primary transportation for everyone, but if it works for you, expect to have lots of fun behind the wheel.
2014-2015 Nissan Leaf
The Nissan Leaf is the only fully electric vehicle on this list, but it’s a good one for a lot of buyers. It doesn’t boast the kind of electrified performance that sets Tesla apart from most of its peers, and its 80-something-mile range won’t work for everyone. But if the majority of your driving consists of a daily commute to work with some around-town errands along the way, the Leaf could very well serve your needs with mileage to spare. If you do find yourself shopping for a Leaf, make sure to take it for a test drive and take note of the estimated mileage available with a full battery. Nissan fitted its mass-market EV with a sort of battery health monitor with a series of bars to indicate how much capacity is available, and vehicles treated as kindly as possible may have healthier batteries than cars regularly driven in harsher environments or conditions.