Our experts share their best used car picks under $20K (2023)

$20,000 is a big budget for a used car, so there are a lot of options out there

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Published Apr 30, 2015Last updated May 15, 20216 minute read

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Our experts share their best used car picks under $20K (1)

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We asked our Driving experts whichused vehicle they would buy today with a budget of no more than $20,000. Here’s what they told us:

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I would buy a three-or so-year-old Volkswagen Passat TDI – manual transmission if I could get it. These are great cars with lots of room inside and amazing fuel economy with the time-tested diesel engines. They get great reviews and have all the luxury options anyone would want. The rear seat is exceptionally roomy for passengers and I’m sure the car would be trouble free for as long as I needed it to be.

Our experts share their best used car picks under $20K (2)

Andrew McCredie

That’s quite a budget for a used vehicle, and all this talk about classic cars got me checking out Kijijito see what I could come up with. Didn’t take long for me to find one: a red 1970 Chevrolet El Camino SS. Kills two birds with one stone: my wife is always saying how great it would be to have a pickup, and I’m always happy to put a muscle car in my driveway. And with a 454 big block, and Edelbrock intake and carburetor, this thing’s on steroids. Asking price is $15,000 so even some money left over after tax for insurance.

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Learn more about the cars

  1. 2023 Toyota Corolla MSRP $22,690 to $30,390
  2. 2023 Subaru Outback MSRP $32,695 to $46,395
Our experts share their best used car picks under $20K (5)

Brendan McAleer

As a father of a two-year-old with another on the way, the answer to this is easy: absolutely a track-prepped Miata with a supercharger.


Ow – my wife just threw some Duplo at my head.

OK, then, something a bit more realistic. A little bit of sleuthing turned up a manual transmission-equipped Subaru Outback from the previous generation, one with under 100,000 km on the clock. No, Subarus don’t have the nicest interiors, but they’re safe, practical, and with two kids under three, it’s all going to be cheerios and vomit anyway. Happy days.

Also read: The best-kept secret of buying a used car

Our experts share their best used car picks under $20K (6)

Brian Harper

I am going to fudge on this question a bit.I would love to get a Honda S2000 for $20,000 or less. (And, yes, I am looking for one.) As to whether I can get one without going over 20 grand is another matter. Keep in mind, I have a number of criteria that have to be met before I fork over the dough from my secret stash — complete service records, no track time, no modifications and accident-free. And that’s just for starters. As to why I want a sports car in general and an S2000 specifically, the answers are simple: 1. I’ve reached that point in my life where I can. 2. Honda’s zippy, lightweight, two-seat droptop has one of the most engaging powertrains of any non-exotic I have ever driven — especially its six-speed manual, which is the literal definition of precision. Honda should be praised for building this (once) high-tech delight in the first place, starting in 1999 — and castigated for leaving enthusiasts everywhere with empty hearts after dropping it 10 years later without a replacement.

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Our experts share their best used car picks under $20K (7)

David Booth

That’s easy! A certified one, as in Certified Pre Owned, complete with factory-backed warranty and financing. Probably Japanese (though I would certainly include some recent General Motors products in the mix), the exact model matters little, as long as it was a Toyota, Honda, Mazda, Nissan or Subaru. They’re interchangeable enough that I’d just go for the one with the lowest mileage. I’d avoid German cars like the plague and, were I looking to resell it after I’ve abused it for a few years, I’d make it a plain old four-door sedan or baby SUV.

Derek McNaughton

2013 Volkswagen Golf GTI. OK, it might require every last nickel of that $20k, but I’m an optimist – and a decent negotiator, so $22,000 asking should come close to the assigned limit for what I would argue is the most sporty, exciting current car you can buy for $20,000, and one that won’t require a second mortgage for repairs.

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The 2013 GTIs don’t have the chronic cooling problems seen in older models, though body integrity issues might creep up. Of course, it would have to have Jackie Stewart plaid seats and a six speed, and it would need to be a five-door hatch so it could be used for family duty as much as early-morning rips along the parkway. To get one close our price, it might have a few kilometres on it, but they’ll no doubt have been loved ones.

Our experts share their best used car picks under $20K (8)

Graeme Fletcher

Honda, Toyota Or Mazda? All represent excellent value-for-money propositions, reliability and are readily serviced. As to which, well, make mine a totally bland Corolla. Yes, it’s as boring as a rice diet, but it is the Energizer bunny of the car world — it just keeps going and going without costing a fortune. It is also way less than the limit specified here, so I have coin to keep it on the road for many years to come. While I do lust after a European ride — and many fall below the price cap — it usually takes the same amount of money as the purchase price to keep it on the road for the next five years. As they say, nothing beats a Euro ride, but then again nothing beats the cost of keeping a Euro ride on the road. Faced with this ugly proposition, the shine comes off the apple pretty quick.

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Our experts share their best used car picks under $20K (9)

John LeBlanc

I like rear-wheel-drive. I like straight-six gas engines. I like to shift gears on my own. And I like the anonymity of a three-box sedan bodystyle. I did the math, and the under-$20,000 used vehicle I would buy today would be a first-gen 1988 BMW M5.

Only sold for one year in North America before the E34 5 Series showed up, the E28 M5 — the ür M5 — came with a 256 horsepower 3.5-litre straight-six inherited from the German automaker’s M1 super car and hand-assembled by BMW’s Motorsport wizards.

You could only get a Getrag five-speed stick in an ‘88 M5. So that left the poseurs at the curb. And you could only buy it in black, which matched its stoically business-like interior, with its distinct lack of iDrive. In other words, a perfect sleeper car for less than the price of a new Corolla. Sold!

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Our experts share their best used car picks under $20K (10)

Lesley Wimbush

For me, the queen of Ebay and want ads, $20,000 is a veritable fortune with unlimited possibilities. A casual perusal of my favourite online classified site produced a 2009 Honda Fit Sport with 126,000 km, 5-speed manual transmission and a set of Michelin X-Ice Winter tires for only $9,750. The remaining $10,000 could be funnelled into making my beater Mazda 323 a little more presentable, put my Dodge Pickup truck back on the road, and pay the entry fee for a lapping day or two at Mosport with my MX3 KLZE.

Or, for $18,900, I could fulfil one of my automotive fantasies by becoming a Porsche owner. A 1999 Porsche 911 966 with 6-speed manual transmission and 199,700 km would put a lasting sparkle in my eye – and a permanent dent in my pocket book.

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Our experts share their best used car picks under $20K (11)

Lorraine Sommerfeld

I think these “best used” questions should be tagged with “other than Honda or Toyota.” They’ve earned their high resale reputations, but in the stampede to do what everybody else is doing, some rock-steady competitors get overlooked.

Sport: 2009 or ’10 Mazda MX5, or an older one that’s been babied. And that’s likely: Miata owners are their own breed and you can find remarkably well-maintained cars here. The new redesign is for 2015 is beautiful, but it’s had a well preserved line-up of cars for 25 years.

SUV/CUV: Need rough and tough? Go 2011 Subaru Outback. Though I’ll also acknowledge if you’re OKwith more upscale maintenance costs, a 2008 or 09 Lexus RX350 is lovely. I know, it’s Toyotaland, but this is an excellent price point to grab yourself some luxury.

Our experts share their best used car picks under $20K (12)

Our experts share their best used car picks under $20K (13)


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How old of a used car is the best deal? ›

What's the “Sweet Spot” for Used Car Age? In retaining “like new” quality and inheriting a slower depreciation rate, the best used car age for buying is 2-3 years. In fact, Americans are saving up to $14,000 on a 3-year-old vehicle.

What is the most sought after used car? ›

Here Are the 10 Best-Selling Used Vehicles from 2022
  • Chevrolet Silverado 1500. % of Total Used Car Sales: 2.8% ...
  • Ram 1500. % of Total Used Car Sales: 2.3% ...
  • Chevrolet Equinox. % of Total Used Car Sales: 2.2% ...
  • Honda Civic. % of Total Used Car Sales: 1.8% ...
  • Toyota Camry. ...
  • Toyota RAV4. ...
  • Nissan Rogue. ...
  • Ford Escape.
Jan 12, 2023

What kind of car can I get for 20k? ›

Prices are based on the Kelley Blue Book Fair Purchase Price range.
  • 2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata. ...
  • 2020 Kia Soul. ...
  • 2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback. ...
  • 2021 Mazda3. ...
  • 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer. ...
  • 2021 Volkswagen Jetta. ...
  • 2021 Hyundai Veloster. ...
  • 2021 Subaru Impreza.
Jul 29, 2022

What website pays the most for used cars? ›

Regardless of the age of the vehicle, we again found that Carmax is the best bet for a seller looking to get top dollar. The difference in offers is particularly pronounced for vehicles produced in the last six years, as well as those from 2009 and earlier.

How many miles is too high for a used car? ›

What is considered high mileage on a car? Often, 100,000 miles is considered a cut-off point for used cars because older vehicles often start requiring more expensive and frequent maintenance when mileage exceeds 100,000.

What age is the sweet spot used car? ›

What Is the Used-Car Sweet Spot? It's the period after the vehicle's first — and most significant — depreciation and the second steep depreciation, which comes around the fourth year. This pattern is fairly consistent across all vehicles.

What used cars hold their value the best? ›

The top three cars that have held the most value over the last five years are the Jeep Wrangler, which showed the least depreciation (7%), followed by the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited (8.7%) and the Porsche 911 (14.6%), according to the iSeeCars analysis.

What used cars will last the longest? ›

Among the models with the greatest potential lifespan, Toyota Sequoia topped the list, with the ability to travel nearly 300,000 miles, followed by the Land Cruiser, according to a recent iSeeCars study, which analyzed more than 2 million cars over the past 20 years to see which vehicles could last the longest.

Which car holds its value the longest? ›

The Toyota Tacoma takes the top spot as the vehicle that holds its value the most, with a 21.93% depreciation rate over three years.
Cars that hold their value the most.
Car ModelToyota Tacoma
List Price$28,545
Average Value After 3 Years$22,286
Average Value Lost$6,259
9 more columns
Jun 23, 2022

How much should I spend on a car if I make 20k? ›

Personal finance is personal, but everyone wants a rule to follow. So, when pressed, I would say spend up to 35% of your annual income on a car. This covers most bases. If you only earn $20,000 a year, it gives you a budget of $7,000.

What is the down payment on a 20k car? ›

If your credit score isn't good, however, you're typically required to make a down payment of at least $1,000 or 10% of the vehicle's selling price. This varies by lender, and some may accept the lesser amount. On a $20,000 car, that would be up to $2,000 down.

What credit score do I need to buy a $20000 car? ›

What Is the Minimum Score Needed to Buy a Car? In general, lenders look for borrowers in the prime range or better, so you will need a score of 661 or higher to qualify for most conventional car loans.

Who pays more CarMax or Carvana? ›

Key findings. Carmax offered the highest prices for used cars among its competitors, nearly $1,000 more than both Carvana and Vroom. Between Carmax, Vroom, and Carvana, Carmax offered the highest amount for used vehicles 63% of the time.

Is Carvana or CarMax better? ›

Which Is Better: Carvana or CarMax? Carvana is a better option if you look for convenience and ease of use in your purchases and trades. On the other hand, CarMax is ideal for people who want to test drive the car beforehand and who do not mind going to their nearest CarMax location to do it.

What website will give you the fair price value for your car? ›

Since 1926, Kelley Blue Book has been one of the most trusted names in the auto industry. You might say we literally "wrote the book on car values". And today there's no better place to find the value of your current car than KBB.com.

Is a 10-year-old car too old? ›

When buying a used car that's 10-years-old or older, your primary concerns are purchase price and reliability. Don't pay more than that 10-year-old car is worth. And, pick a car with a solid reputation for dependability. No car is really too old if you follow those rules.

What is more important car age or mileage? ›

While it's a good idea to consider the age of a vehicle and the number on its odometer, it's more important to look at how well the owner maintained the car. A 10-year-old car with 100,000 miles may have received more TLC than a five-year-old model with 50,000 miles.

How many miles should a 10-year-old car have? ›

A wary buyer should use as a general rule of thumb that most cars are driven 12,000-15,000 miles per year. If a vehicle is 10 years of age, it should have between 120,000 miles and 150,000 miles on the odometer.

What age is a collectors car? ›

Classic vehicles might range in age from 10 to 50+ years old, and the term "classic car" may include vintage, antique, and collector vehicles. Ultimately, it depends on the classic car definition used by your state, insurer, or car collecting club — each may have its own age rules.

What happens with cars in Kars4Kids? ›

Most cars that are donated to Kars4Kids are sold in order to generate funds for the charity. In all cases, the proceeds from each sale are then used for Kars4Kids' charity programs. You'll be informed of where we're sending your car, and then we'll arrange a pickup at a time that's convenient for you.

What is the sweet spot to sell a car? ›

30,000-40,000 miles: Most manufacturers' general warranties expire in that range, and the first major maintenance is usually due. Selling before reaching those benchmarks may get you the best price for your car.

Which car brand is best value for money? ›

The winners: Cars
  • 2023 Honda Civic. Best Compact Car. Finalists: Mazda Mazda3, Toyota Corolla.
  • 2023 Chevrolet Bolt. Best Electric Car.
  • 2023 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid. Best Hybrid Car. Finalists: Toyota Camry Hybrid.
  • 2023 Kia K5. Best Midsize Car. Finalists: Toyota Camry.
  • 2023 Kia Rio. Best Subcompact Car.

What make of used car is most reliable? ›

5 of the Most Reliable Used Cars You Can Find
  1. Honda Civic. They're sporty, they're simple, and they're one of the most reliable compact cars on the market: there's a reason the Honda Civic is one of the most popular used cars in America! ...
  2. Toyota Corolla. ...
  3. Chevrolet Silverado 1500. ...
  4. Mazda3. ...
  5. Honda CR-V.
Apr 29, 2022

What vehicle has the lowest resale value? ›

Vehicles That Depreciated the Least in 3 years
Top 10 Vehicles with the Lowest Three-Year Depreciation - iSeeCars Study
RankModelAvg $ Difference from MSRP
1Mercedes-Benz G-Class$980
2Honda Civic$352
3Subaru Crosstrek$545
8 more rows
Nov 8, 2022

What car brand has least problems? ›

The report found that Lexus and Toyota make the most reliable cars, while Jeep and Mercedes-Benz make the ones you can depend on least.

What not to do when buying a used car? ›

What to avoid when buying a used car
  1. Not test-driving the car thoroughly. ...
  2. Not looking at maintenance ratings. ...
  3. Not getting a mechanic to look at it. ...
  4. Not asking about the vehicle history. ...
  5. Not asking for the car you want. ...
  6. Not negotiating up from the dealer cost. ...
  7. Not reviewing the final sale paperwork carefully.

What year do cars lose most value? ›

Cars lose the most value in the first year, and depreciation continues for about five years. A car can lose up to 20% of its value in the first year, and over the first five years fall to around 40% from the original price. That means it loses about 15% of the value each year after the first year.

Which car manufacturer lasts the longest? ›

Toyota earns the top spot as the best automaker for dependability. Toyota vehicles are known for their longevity, and they are proven to last longer than any other brand. Toyotas are built so well they have below-average maintenance and repair costs, which helps contribute to why they remain on the road for so long.

What time of year are used cars cheapest? ›

If you're shopping for a used car, the early months of the year — January and February — are a good time to ship. You may see more vehicles on the market then as people sell their old vehicles after buying new ones over the holidays. That increased supply can lower prices, making it a good time to buy.

Is it better to buy a 3 year old car? ›

Even with the incredible rise in used-car values, it's still a wise financial move to buy a 3-year-old car instead of a brand-new one. That's because they have many of the same safety and comfort features found in brand-new cars.

Is it OK to buy a 10-year-old car? ›

When buying a used car that's 10-years-old or older, your primary concerns are purchase price and reliability. Don't pay more than that 10-year-old car is worth. And, pick a car with a solid reputation for dependability. No car is really too old if you follow those rules.

Is a 5 year old car too old? ›

New cars are so reliable that, on average, one could be expected to remain trouble free for years at a time. A five-year-old car may encounter a problem every three years. Even 10-year-old cars would only be expected to have a problem every 18 to 20 months on average.

What should you not say to a car salesman? ›

Things to Never Say to a Dealer
  • “I'm ready to buy now.” ...
  • “I can afford this much per month.” ...
  • “Yes, I have a trade-in.” ...
  • “I'm only buying the car with cash.” ...
  • “I'm not sure…which model do you think I need?” ...
  • “Oh, I've wanted one of these all my life.” ...
  • “I'll take whatever the popular options are.”

What day of the week is best to buy a car? ›

Three of the best times to buy a car
  • Mondays. Monday can be the best day of the week to buy a new car. ...
  • End of the year, month and model year. In terms of the best time of the year, October, November and December are safe bets. ...
  • Holidays. Holiday sales can also offer deep discounts.
4 days ago

Which used car is best to buy? ›

Recommended Cars
  • 2021 Renault KWID. 1.0 RXL. ...
  • 2019 Kia Seltos. GTX. ...
  • 2018 Hyundai Grand i10. 1.2 Kappa Magna BSIV. ...
  • 2019 Honda City. V CVT. ₹ 9,29,000. ...
  • 2021 Honda City. ZX CVT. ₹ 11,98,000. ...
  • 2021 Honda City. ZX CVT. ₹ 13,95,000. ...
  • 2019 Hyundai Verna. VTVT 1.6 AT SX Option. ₹ 10,70,000. ...
  • 2021 Ford Ecosport. 1.5 Petrol Titanium AT. ₹ 10,77,000.

What's more important age or mileage? ›

If you're looking for a car that you can keep for many years, then it's important to focus on the vehicle's mileage rather than its age. That's because a car with lower mileage is more likely to last longer and require less maintenance than a car with higher mileage.

Does mileage matter on a used car? ›

There's a general rule you'll want to stick to while looking at the mileage on a potential used car purchase. Lower is better. The average mileage a car accrues per year is 12,000 miles. Given that number, the average 10-year-old car should have roughly 120,000 miles on the odometer.

How many miles should a 3 year old car have? ›

Generally speaking, a used car with about 12,000-15,000 average miles per year on it is considered average. Consider cars that are three years old with about 40,000 miles on them, or cars five years old with about 60,000 miles on them.

What brand car lasts the longest? ›

Toyota Sequoia

How many miles should a 12 year old car have? ›

The average car in the U.S. is about 11 to 12 years old, which means most will have 132,000 miles to 144,000 miles on the odometer. Proper maintenance and care could help them hit 200,000 miles or even more.

What is the average life of a car? ›

A conventional car can last for 200,000 miles. Some well-maintained car models will reach 300,000 or more miles total. The average passenger car age is currently around 12 years in the United States. Choosing a well-built make and model can help extend your car's longevity.

How many miles should a 20 year old car have? ›

At a Glance: As a rule of thumb, a used car should have no more than 12,000 miles for each year since the car was originally bought.

What is the most reliable 5 year old car? ›

That all said and done, here is a summary of reliable 5-year-old midsized SUVs from the 2018 model year. CR States, “Fuel economy from the 3.5-liter V6 and nine-speed transmission is impressive at 21 mpg overall.”
Automotive Brands.
AcuraAlfa RomeoAston
10 more rows
Jan 25, 2023

How many miles should a 10 year old car have? ›

A wary buyer should use as a general rule of thumb that most cars are driven 12,000-15,000 miles per year. If a vehicle is 10 years of age, it should have between 120,000 miles and 150,000 miles on the odometer.


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