You want the trifecta when shopping for a used car: low price, reliability and reassuring safety scores.
Now that the coronavirus pandemic has torpedoed the concept of normal and made finances seem shakier than a straw hut on the San Andreas fault, you naturally think of a good used car as an asset. You might want to sell your new-ish car that's still nicking your budget for payments that now seem too big and head for the used-car lot.
Or you might be between cars and think it's smarter to buy used.
Use the AARP Auto Buying Program for a hassle-free purchase experience
Used cars are a better fit in many budgets. And you should be able to get a nicely appointed used machine for the same as, or even less than, you would pay for a low-end new vehicle.
The database experts at iSeeCars sorted and searched for AARP and came up with cars, minivans, pickup trucks and SUVs, ranging from electric and hybrids to luxury sedans and get-'er-done workhorses. All are priced at $15,000 or less, enjoy good reliability scores and did well in safety tests.
Keep in mind that to fit the budget, some vehicles are perhaps older than you would prefer. One reason: They held their value well and took longer to drop into our price range. According to iSeeCars, its multi-million-car database shows these vehicles were considered reliable when new and continue to give dependable service.
We're looking at the categories in alphabetical order, but be aware that in the new-vehicle market, SUVs have nearly replaced ordinary sedans. The easy-in-and-out seat height is one lure; another is the improved view ahead and around because you sit higher.
Buying a car with minimal human contact
You can't buy a vehicle entirely online without seeing an employee in person, but you can come close.
• The web is a start. Some local dealerships and large franchises such as Carvana, which really does have car vending machines and can arrange for contact-free delivery if you live near one, as well as CarsDirect, let you set up the deal online. That includes financing and perhaps a connection to CarFax reports that tell you much, but not all, about a vehicle's service and repair history.
• Vehicle history reports might have holes. All cars that have been in accidents or floods aren't part of one central database. If repairs or damage aren't reported, they won't be part of a CarFax report.
• A return means a restocking fee. Carvana charges for delivery if you live outside certain areas. It provides a seven-day return policy, but you have to pay a different delivery fee to send the car back.
• Paperwork still exchanges hands. When your new-to-you vehicle arrives, you might be able to maintain some anti-virus distance with the worker delivering it. But somehow you still must show your driver's license, insurance papers and the signed paperwork.
• No test drive is included. Without a hands-on session somewhere along the line, you won't have had a trial run or a close-up explanation of the vehicle's features. But you won't get those when a pizza is delivered either.
You have to decide whether you're willing to take the risk on something that costs 1,500 times more than Domino's. After all, your car will still be around after dinner.
If you do decide on a minimum- or no-contact car purchase based on your extensive research, you'll be trusting a variety of experts who have no stake in your transaction to assure you that you made a good choice.