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.
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.
2017 Toyota Corolla
Our take: This Corolla is the newest of any vehicle in this list, which means it's more likely to seem modern, or new-ish, than some of the others. But drawing from more than 25 years of test driving, it's a bit tepid. A sportier-feeling alternative is the 2015 Honda Civic for $13,973. Its scores are similar to the Corolla's, except for J.D. Power's consumer satisfaction score of 73.
Price, based on iSeeCars most recent data: $14,601
Miles per gallon (MPG), combined city/highway, from Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) testing: 30 to 34, depending on trim level; the manual transmission, often thought of as a fuel saver, isn't
Yearly fuel cost, from the EPA: $950 to $1,050
Crash rating, overall, from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: 5 stars, the top rating
Consumer Reports’ reliability rating: 5, the top score; also one of the magazine's recommended models
J.D. Power overall consumer satisfaction rating: 84 out of 100
2014 Chevrolet Volt
Our take: Yes, you can get an electric car for less than $15,000. The Volt has a gasoline engine, but it's designed to kick on at about 38 miles or so and run a generator that keeps the batteries charged and adds another 300 miles or so of electric range.
MPG equivalent: 98 for those first 38 miles, 37 using premium gas for the rest
Yearly fuel cost: $850
Crash rating: 5 stars, the top rating
Consumer Reports’ rating: 5, the top score
J.D. Power rating: 70 out of 100
2014 Toyota Camry hybrid
Our take: The hybrid version of the Camry's 2012 redo was a gem. By the time of the 2015 update, it had turned pretty sour and unpleasant to drive. Make up your own mind with a personal test drive.
MPG: 39 to 40, depending on trim level
Yearly fuel cost: $800
Crash rating: 5 stars, the top rating
Consumer Reports’ rating: Not available. The magazine didn't rate the hybrid individually but gave all Camrys a 5, the top score, and also considered the lineup one of the magazine's recommended models. Its test drive of the Camry hybrid was a thumbs-up.
J.D. Power rating: 82 out of 100
2014 Toyota Prius
Our take: Introduced in the U.S. in 2000 and now so ubiquitous it's almost a synonym for “hybrid,” the Prius has been pleasant if not stunning in our test drives. Another one you should try before you buy.
Yearly fuel cost: $650
Crash rating: 4 of 5 stars
Consumer Reports’ rating: 5, the top score; also one of the magazine's recommended models
J.D. Power rating: 74 out of 100; also a Dependability Award winner with the fewest problems at three years old