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Shopping for Used Cars Under 15k? Here are Our Top Picks

A close up of used cars in a row at a dealership that sells used cars under 15k

 

There are a lot of good options for used cars under 15k to accommodate both your wants and needs. Since 2010 car companies, across the board, have dramatically improved in overall quality and reliability. Before you purchase a “new” used car, determine your needs: what is the primary use of the vehicle? How many people are in your household? What kind of weather and terrain do you typically encounter? How much are you willing to pay for gas and maintenance? The following is a list of car brands and models that are more than adequate for satisfying the needs of each individual, and a few that you might want to avoid.

Economy Cars

Front-wheel drive, four cylinders, and four doors are not likely to get you too excited. Though that can be a very good thing since breaking down or running out of gas in rush-hour traffic is a thrill most would like to avoid. Economy cars are meant to be practical and reliable daily drivers and often don’t offer nearly all the bells and whistles of premium or luxury models.

More parts and electronic gadgets are extra expenses that will have to be replaced in the future. An economy car makes do with the basics and is ideal for someone who is going to have one car that does it all for them and not fail them in crucial moments. A budget of $15,000 will go further here in this category of used cars than any other.

Toyota Corolla

Having sold more than 44 million units since its inception, the Toyota Corolla is the number one selling car in the world with the VW Beetle coming in second. It is not by accident that this practical econobox has dominated the market in its segment. Day-in-day-out, consistent reliability cuts the drama out of your life, at least when it comes to your car.

Honda Civic

A blue 2015 Honda Civic, which is a popular used car under 15k, is driving on highway.

Much like the Corolla, the Civic is a reliable econobox, but with an overly hyped reputation for performance. The sports model Si with VTEC is a good performer without eschewing its practical daily driver roots. In general, these cars tend to be driven harder than Corollas and are subjected to unnecessary abuse. However, overall, Civics are a good option, and you likely won’t go wrong, but get a Carfax report, a mechanic inspection, and avoid ones with modifications with non-OEM parts (this is applicable to Corollas as well).

Subaru Impreza

Do you want a reliable economy-car with all-wheel drive as a standard option? A base model Subaru Impreza is likely going to be your best bet. You can buy a performance model WRX or the even faster STI model, but they come equipped with turbochargers that have a reputation for poor reliability and high maintenance costs. A base model Impreza, with regular basic maintenance, will give you years of confidence to tackle all road conditions imaginable. Five-star safety ratings on all Subaru models is undoubtedly an additional positive.

Luxury Cars

You can find good used cars under 15k in the luxury category if you are willing to buy nearly a decade or older models. Unfortunately, you probably won’t have access to all the newest tech, but at least you will have a sophisticated leather interior that is sure to satisfy discerning buyers. Luxury cars can be a gamble with certain brands, and maintenance costs will be automatically more expensive just because of that badge on your hood. Extra electronics and specialized parts will add up quickly when they break and need to be replaced. This is a big reason why you should not buy a luxury car outside of warranty, but if you insist, there are safe options that will mitigate the risks without compromising on style.

Lexus ES

Based on the Toyota Camry, the Lexus ES adds style and luxury without compromising on reliability. You can find a 2013 Lexus ES 350 for 15k or less, you can find less expensive, though older, Lexus ES 300 for roughly half the price. Lexus has received the most awards for luxury car reliability and quality in its applicable segments since the LS 400 debut in the 1990s.

Acura TSX

When you take the reliable platform of the Honda Accord and reappoint it with leather and sleek exterior, you get a reliable luxury car. The TSX ended production in 2014, but good deals are available for used cars under 15k. Though not technically a luxury car, the Honda Accord is well-appointed and has optional leather seats; you will also save on repair costs just because of the Honda badge versus the more expensive Acura badge.

A grey 2010 Acura TSX is parked in a empty parking lot next to a bridge.

Sports Cars

You won’t find a reliable exotic for under 15k. Sure, you could find a Porsche, an AMG, or a BMW M car within budget, but unless you’re a mechanic, be prepared to spend a substantial sum just to attempt a reversal of damages caused by previous owners. Sports cars get driven hard, and you will inherit problems if the vehicle was neglected. However, some brands and models are solid performers utilizing more of an economy car ethos for easy and low-cost maintenance when it is necessary. You should get a Carfax report and have a mechanic inspection whenever you purchase a used car, but this is especially true for sports cars.

Mazda MX-5 Miata

The MX-5, better known as the Miata, has been a staple in the car community both as the most sold sports car ever (700,000+) and as the butt of many jokes. The Miata has a winning formula of sports car enthusiasm with everyday practicality. Drop the top and enjoy the sun with a standard equipped convertible. Have a roll cage installed, and you can go Spec-Miata racing, one of the most popular and affordable ways to get into track racing.

Trucks and SUVs

The truck and SUV craze is in full swing. Ford is canceling all cars to focus on selling more trucks and SUVs; the only car they still make is the Mustang, which they plan to make a cross-over SUV out of its bones. So, if you have many kids or routinely haul large objects, a truck or an SUV is indeed a good choice.

Toyota 4Runner

Rugged and dependable, the Toyota 4Runner is an ideal full-sized SUV for a big family. Two rows of seats will accommodate a total of seven passengers (including the front passenger seat). All-wheel drive will take you to remote campsites; Toyota reliability will ensure you are able to return home without issue.

Toyota Tacoma

Toyota makes the most reliable trucks. They can withstand a ludicrous amount of neglect and damage and still work dependably. The original Top Gear trio (Clarkson, May, Hammond) tested the limits of what a Toyota Hilux can withstand by blowing up a derelict building with the truck on top; incredibly, the truck fired right up, though admittedly it was undrivable as the cabin was crushed. A Toyota truck will last decades with minimal upkeep. It’s no wonder why the UN uses these Toyota trucks in the most remote areas for humanitarian aid over all the other truck manufacturers.

 

Shopping for Used Cars

No matter what your needs or desires are, you are sure to find what you’re looking for eventually. Take your time, be honest with yourself with what you need, and research if there were any recalls. When you find the one that’s right for you, get a Carfax report, and have an independent mechanic inspect it.

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