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Cars.com Announces Wallet-Friendly Wheels

Editors Identify Best Used-Cars for $10,000

Consumers searching for wallet-friendly wheels don't need to sacrifice safety, reliability and cabin comfort, according to Cars.com. Today, the site announced its list of the best late-model used cars shoppers can buy on a budget of $10,000.

A lot of people don't want to commit to five years of monthly payments for a brand-new car. With that in mind, Cars.com's experts crunched retail values for late-model used cars and factored in reliability ratings, safety equipment and crash-test scores. What began as a list of 215 contenders from 2002 models onward shrank to 40 finalists. To pare things further, criteria like gas mileage, cabin comfort and driving refinement were also taken into account. Finally, the team took a hard look at how many of these used cars had key safety features like side-impact airbags and antilock brakes installed.

"Whether it's a thrifty ride for a college student, a grocery-getter for the family or something for the daily commute, lots of shoppers seem to want the same thing: a late-model, low-mileage car that's reliable, safe and fuel-efficient," said Cars.com managing editor Patrick Olsen.

As always, Cars.com recommends having any used car inspected by a trusted mechanic before you buy.

These 10 cars top Cars.com's list of best used-cars for $10,000:

2005 Ford Focus
Why it made the list: The restyled 2005 Focus offers nimble handling with few of the equipment recalls that beset the early-2000s original. With a manual transmission, the Focus returns highway gas mileage in the 30s. Automatic versions drop into the high 20s. Frontal crash-test scores for the sedan are good, though we can't recommend the ZXW wagon, which hasn't been tested, or the ZX3 hatchback, whose side-impact scores give reason for concern. The sedan's optional antilock brakes and front-seat side airbags are well worth having, as this car's compact dimensions put it at a disadvantage in crashes. Nearly one-third of all '05 Focuses had ABS, while just 10 percent came with side airbags.
The numbers: Expect to pay around $10,500 for an entry-level ZX4 sedan with ABS, side airbags, a stick shift and 40,000 miles. Automatic transmissions add around $650. The Focus ST can cost upward of $13,000.

2003 Ford Taurus
Why it made the list: The Taurus is a sound used-car choice for families and sensible for young drivers. Both the wagon and sedan offer generous cabin and luggage space, not to mention top reliability and crash-test scores. Most drivers will find the base engine underwhelming; choose a model with the Duratec V-6, signaled by a "24V" emblem near the fenders. It provides ample power and returns nearly the same low-20s overall gas mileage. Antilock brakes and side airbags were both optional; 85 percent of '03 Tauruses came with ABS, and around 11 percent had the extra airbags.
The numbers: With ABS and side airbags, a Taurus sedan with 60,000 miles should cost between $8,000 and $12,000. Similarly equipped wagons range from $10,500 to $12,000. Expect to pay an extra $400 for the Duratec V-6.

2003 Mazda Protegé
Why it made the list: Those wary of Civic and Corolla homogeny should consider the Protegé. It's a fun little car, with Mazda's trademark steering precision and affable styling that has yet to grow old. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder is quicker than you would think, and highway gas mileage rates in the high 20s. The top, ES, trim level comes with stronger four-wheel-disc brakes, and ABS and side airbags are optional across the line. About one-fifth of all Protegés had both features. We like the Protegé's respectable marks for safety and reliability, though we can't recommend the Protegé5 hatchback, which hasn't been crash tested.
The numbers: With antilock brakes, side airbags and 60,000 miles, the no-frills DX trim should cost around $8,500 with a stick shift. The LX and ES models have more features and run between $9,500 and $10,500. Add around $600 if you want an automatic. The turbocharged Mazdaspeed Protegé commands close to $15,000.

2003 Mercury Sable
Why it made the list: The Taurus' upscale twin offers slightly better reliability ratings and the same stalwart crash-test scores. Factor in standard antilock brakes and available side airbags -- they were installed on nearly one-fifth of all '03 Sables -- and you have a solid commuter car. As with the Taurus, the stronger Duratec V-6 is well worth the upgrade.
The numbers: With antilock brakes, side airbags and 60,000 miles, prices range from $9,000 to $11,500 for the Sable sedan; wagons should sell for $10,000 to $13,000. The uplevel Sable LS includes the Duratec V-6, which is unavailable in the base GS. An LS sedan light on luxury options can be had for around $10,000.

2002 Buick LeSabre
Why it made the list: The LeSabre is a comfortable car for drivers young and old, and the '02 model came chock full of safety features: antilock brakes, side airbags and active head restraints were standard, and there was an optional electronic stability system -- a rare safety feature five years ago. Most models have a front bench seat, which expands capacity to six. Reliability and crash-test scores are impeccable, though the gas-conscious may want to consider something else, as GM's 3800 V-6 returns city mileage in the teens.
The numbers: With 70,000 miles, a LeSabre Custom runs around $9,000. A well-appointed LeSabre Limited should cost about $12,000.

2002 Chevrolet Impala
Why it made the list: The Impala is Chevy's workaday sedan, and the 2000-05 iteration arguably boasted sharper styling than its anonymous successor. Either of the two V-6s provides adequate grunt. There's no four-cylinder, however, so overall gas mileage maxes out in the low-20s. All the same, the roomy cabin, good reliability ratings and even better crash-test scores make the Impala a sound choice for budget-minded families. Antilock brakes and a side-impact airbag for the driver were standard on the uplevel Impala LS and optional on the base model; overall, about a third of all '02 Impalas had the side airbag and nearly 60 percent had ABS.
The numbers: Expect to pay around $9,000 for a base Impala with 70,000 miles, antilock brakes and the driver's side airbag. A fully loaded Impala LS is about $11,500.

2002 Ford Windstar
Why it made the list: Minivan lovers can fill the Windstar with up to seven people, and there are plenty of bells and whistles for those who want them - from power-sliding doors and rear parking sensors to power front seats and heated leather upholstery. Lower trim levels are relatively inexpensive, and all models make the grade for reliability and safety. Antilock brakes were standard, and the optional side airbags came installed on around 17 percent of '02 models.
The numbers: A base Windstar LX with 70,000 miles and side airbags should cost around $7,500. That's a steal, considering the standard ABS, air conditioning and power accessories. Better-equipped SE and SEL models run past $10,000, and a loaded Windstar Limited can cost upward of $15,000.

2002 Honda Accord
Why it made the list: The sixth generation, built from 1998 through 2002, delivered excellent reliability and respectable crash-test ratings. High-ticket safety options were widely incorporated: side airbags came on 46 percent of '02 Accords, and ABS made its way into nearly 60 percent. Combine the stick shift and four-cylinder for highway gas mileage in the high 20s; it drops to the mid-20s with the V-6 and automatic.
The numbers: A base DX sedan with 70,000 miles, a manual transmission, ABS and side airbags should run just under $10,000; better-equipped LX and EX models will cost between $11,500 and $13,000. Cars with an automatic go for an extra $700 or so, and the V-6 can add $850 to $1,500. Expect to pay at least $12,000 for an Accord coupe.

2002 Honda Civic
Why it made the list: The Civic combines thriftiness and refinement in a way few others can, making it an excellent choice for those who often drive solo. The pint-sized four-cylinder won't impress anyone with its performance, but it turns out highway gas mileage in the mid-30s. Crash-test scores are good, though reliability isn't quite as good as the Accord's. Pick the EX trim for standard antilock brakes. Given how the car's compact size would fare in a crash, look hard for a model with the optional side airbags. They made their way into about 15 percent of all '02 Civics, while ABS was included on more than 40 percent.
The numbers: With 70,000 miles, a basic DX sedan or coupe with side airbags, ABS and a stick shift should cost around $10,000. Better-equipped LX and EX models range from $11,000 to $12,000. Add about $550 if you want an automatic.

2002 Oldsmobile Aurora
Why it made the list: The Aurora is proof you can buy a used luxury car for around $10,000. The restyled early-2000s model earns high marks for reliability and crashworthiness. Most examples should have all the luxury you need; leather upholstery, a power driver's seat and automatic climate control came on all models, as did antilock brakes and side airbags. Eight-cylinder Auroras serve up potent passing power, along with a few more luxury features and an electronic stability system.
The numbers: With 70,000 miles, well-equipped V-6 models can be had for under $11,000. If you want the V-8 and a full host of luxury features, expect to pay $13,000 or more.

For more information about the best late model used-cars for $10,000, including information about Cars.com's recommendations for used SUVs and pick-up trucks on a budget, visit www.cars.com.

About cars.com

Partnered with more than 200 leading metro newspapers, television stations and their websites, Cars.com is the most comprehensive destination for those looking to buy or sell a new or used car. The site lists more than 2 million vehicles from 13,000 dealer customers, classified advertisers and private parties to offer consumers the best selection of new and used cars online, as well as the content, tools and advice to support their shopping experience. Recently selected by Forbes.com as a Best of the Web site for car shopping, Cars.com combines powerful inventory search tools and new-car configuration with pricing information, photo galleries, buying guides, side-by-side comparison tools, original editorial content and reviews to help millions of car shoppers connect with sellers each month.

Launched in June 1998, Cars.com is a division of Classified Ventures, LLC, which is owned by leading media companies, including Belo (NYSE: BLC), Gannett Co., Inc. (NYSE: GCI), The McClatchy Company (NYSE: MNI), Tribune Company (NYSE: TRB) and The Washington Post Company (NYSE: WPO).

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