NEWS

What Are the Best Used Cars for $10,000?

best-cars-under-10K.jpg 2013 Chevrolet Equinox | Cars.com graphic by Paul Dolan

It’s not an easy time to shop for a used car and even harder if you’re on a tight budget. Demand is up and supply is down, and that means prices have jumped. A federal inflation report in June showed vehicle prices up nearly 30% from the same period a year prior, with much of that increase coming in the past few months.

Related: What Are the Best Used Cars for $15,000?
Related: What Are the Best Used Cars for $20,000?

But this does not mean you can’t find a safe and reliable used car at a relatively modest price. Cars.com scoured its current vehicle listings and found good vehicles in different types and sizes with median list prices of around $10,000 as of June. That means half the listed prices for that vehicle are above the median and half are below, so you should be able to get one on a $10,000 budget. Unless otherwise specified, our calculations include all body styles and powertrains offered for the vehicle. Tap the link below each vehicle to find complete data by model year on the trim levels and features you might find during your shopping process.

But beyond price, we picked only vehicles that Cars.com editors continue to respect in their categories — no dogs. We avoided cars before the 2012 model year, as such examples are likely to have higher mileage, worse crashworthiness and more age-related mechanical problems. Within those boundaries, we chose vehicles that have respectable reliability scores in the U.S. Vehicle Dependability study by analytics company J.D. Power. And we picked only vehicles with high safety scores for these model years from Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash-testing.

We’ll detail some specs about each vehicle below its photo, but note that EPA fuel economy is based on current ratings adjusted in late 2016, so the figures shown may not match the original window-sticker numbers.

Here are our 10 picks that fall within that range, listed by type:

Subcompact Car

2014-15 Kia Soul

kia-soul-2014-exterior-side-profile-oem 2014 Kia Soul | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, five-seat hatchback
  • Median price: About $11,000-$12,000
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 26 mpg
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick (both years)

The Soul was redesigned for 2014 but remained a boxy SUVish hatchback, practicality speaking enough to work as a subcompact SUV if you don’t require all-wheel drive (which isn’t offered). The updates made it more refined in ride, noise abatement and cabin quality than in earlier model years. The backseat is compact-car roomy and upright, and cargo space is high, with a wide enough area to fit a good-sized child stroller without folding.

These Souls also offered more modern tech than you’ll find on some older vehicles on this list. That includes a backup camera, standard Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port and — on models with the optional UVO touchscreen — Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (Kia offered a software update to add it for these model years). Depending on the trim level, you might find examples with such features as heated seats and a panoramic moonroof. These model years offered a base 1.6-liter four-cylinder and a more satisfying 2.0-liter four-cylinder, with manual or automatic transmissions offered. Either engine, however, offers somewhat lower mileage ratings than comparable small sedans.

Research Kia Soul model years, details and reviews.

Compact Cars

2012-13 Chevrolet Volt

chevrolet-volt-2012-exterior-front-three-quarter-oem 2012 Chevrolet Volt | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, four-seat plug-in hybrid hatchback
  • Median price: About $9,500-$10,500
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 94-98 mpg-equivalent, with 37 mpg after 35-38 miles of all-electric range on a full battery charge
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick (both years)

If you’d like to do much of your daily driving on electric power, the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid could be for you. The Volt’s 149-horsepower electric motor drives the vehicle virtually all the time, drawing power off a battery pack or a generator driven by a small gasoline engine. Gas mileage with the generator still is very good, though premium gas is required. A full battery charge takes 10 to 12 hours on a 120-volt household outlet, or about four hours on a 240-volt outlet.

A relatively heavy car, the Volt feels substantial on the road, with a smooth ride and quiet cabin, though the gas engine-generator drones somewhat when in use. This first generation of Volt seats just four due to a tunnel dividing the rear seats that houses the battery. Cargo space is limited, even for a small car, at about 11 cubic feet (though the rear seats can fold for more). The car came well equipped for its day, including Bluetooth phone connectivity and a USB port; a backup camera was optional. The 2013 model got an upgraded touchscreen system that included Bluetooth streaming audio, a new battery-conserving driving mode and an increase in electric range from 35 to 38 miles.

The Volt has excellent reliability scores. Depending on your state, the battery warranty is eight years or 100,000 miles, or 10 years or 150,000 miles in states that follow California’s emissions mandates. That means some of these cars might even have some of their factory warranty left. 

As an added Volt benefit if you live in California, these Volts qualify for single-occupant access to high occupancy vehicle lanes so long as they have the low-emission package (denoted by an E, F, G or H in the fifth position of the vehicle identification number) that was released midway through the 2012 model year.

Research Chevrolet Volt model years, details and reviews.

2012-13 Mazda3

mazda3-2012-exterior-action-side-oem 2012 Mazda3 | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, five-seat sedan or hatchback
  • Median price: About $9,500-$11,000
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 21-32 mpg
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick (both body styles, both years)

Despite relatively unassuming styling in these years, the Mazda3 is a choice for driving fun with its crisp handling, firm ride (comfort-minded shoppers should beware) and a choice of engines. Mazda offered the compact car in many flavors — as a sedan or hatchback with four available four-cylinder engines, manual or automatic transmissions, and multiple trim levels, including a MazdaSpeed3 performance model. The sweet spot, however, is the 155-hp, 2.0-liter SkyActiv four-cylinder, which was newly available for 2012 on middle trim levels and more available in 2013; it has plenty of power and brought significantly better gas mileage than the Mazda3’s other engines. Interior room is a little tighter than some rivals, particularly in the backseat, but materials quality generally is a little higher. Something to note is that air conditioning was optional, not standard, until 2013.

Research Mazda3 model years, details and reviews.

2012-13 Toyota Corolla

toyota-corolla-2013-exterior-front-three-quarter-oem 2013 Toyota Corolla | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, five-seat sedan
  • Median price: About $10,000-$11,000
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 29 mpg
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick (both years)

Corollas of this vintage may seem older than they are because Toyota stood pat on this generation of its compact sedan while some rivals began offering more features for the money. The 2012-13 Corolla remains a solid sedan, but it has  a coarse-sounding 1.8-liter four-cylinder, and most examples you’ll find have an old-school (even for its time) four-speed automatic transmission. (A manual was also offered, though it’s likely to be rare.) Along with vague steering and brakes, this is not a driver’s car. A backup camera was not offered, Bluetooth was optional, and the bland interior has a lot of hard plastics and cheap-feeling cloth upholstery. The 2013 model added a new grille and standard touchscreen audio on higher trim levels but little else. That said, the primary reason to consider these Corollas is for their well-earned reputation for near bulletproof reliability. If you’re looking for a low-price commuter car, that could be all that matters. 

Research Toyota Corolla model years, details and reviews.

2012-13 Toyota Prius

toyota-prius-2013-exterior-front-three-quarter-oem 2013 Toyota Prius | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, five-seat hybrid or plug-in-hybrid hatchback
  • Median price: About $10,500-$12,500
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 48 mpg (hybrid); 95 mpg-e with 50 mpg after 11 miles of all-electric range on a full charge (plug-in hybrid)
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick (both years)

The Prius pioneered gas-electric hybrid cars, and the third-generation hatchback (redone for 2010) retained an eccentric design inside and out. Note that we’ve talking here about the Prius hatchback, including a limited-run plug-in version with 11 miles of electric range before the engine kicks in. In 2012, Toyota moved to expand the Prius brand into a line of vehicles, adding a new Prius v wagon and a subcompact car with Prius c badge. Neither is included here.

The 2012 model year saw multimedia updates, with the base model getting a touchscreen that included a USB media port and Bluetooth capability. Higher trim levels got Toyota’s then-new Entune system, which would be the one to get, as it added navigation, satellite radio, voice control and an integrated backup camera (a useful provision, given the Prius’ limited rear visibility). You also might find examples with a novel new option at the time: a sliding moonroof with a section of solar panels. The system can power a ventilation system that keeps the car cooler when parked in the sun. 

The interior is family-friendly, with roominess near that of a mid-size car. It also continued the unusual dashboard motif with a center-placed speedometer readout. But the Prius’ ride is firm and the cabin surprisingly noisy; tepid power, vague steering and numb regenerative brakes make it a car for buyers who care more about mileage than drivability.

The Prius has excellent reliability scores. The battery warranty is eight years/100,000 miles, or 10 years/150,000 miles in states that follow California emissions mandates. That means some of these cars might have some of their original warranty left. 

Research Toyota Prius model years, details and reviews.
Research Toyota Prius Plug-In model years, details and reviews.

Compact SUVs

2012-13 Chevrolet Equinox and 2012-13 GMC Terrain

gmc-terrain-2013-rear-three-quarter-oem 2013 GMC Terrain | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, five-seat SUV
  • Median price: About $10,000-$11,000 (Equinox) or $11,000-$12,000 (Terrain)
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 19-26 mpg
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick (both years)

If you really want a compact SUV and wonder if you can get one with good reliability and safety scores at this price, you can find one — two, in fact. They are the Equinox and Terrain, compact twins from parent company GM. Though they’re virtually identical under the skin, the SUVs feature very different in looks — if you like one, you may not care for the other. But both are solid; the 2011 Equinox won a Cars.com comparison test against eight other SUVs at the time.  

Both are large and roomy, as compact SUVs go, and notably quiet for their class. Both feature a standard sliding and reclining rear seat that lets you maximize people or cargo space as needed, though cargo volume overall is on the smaller end of the compact SUV category. Both SUVs also offered a power liftgate, which at the time was uncommon for small SUVs.

The Equinox and Terrain offered four-cylinder and V-6 engines with front- or all-wheel drive. The V-6 upgrade for the 2012 was a 3.0-liter, while 2013 brought a new and more powerful 3.6-liter V-6; it’s a substantial improvement if a V-6 is what you’re looking for. The 2013 model year also brought newly intuitive and more capable touchscreen availability for higher trim levels. A backup camera and Bluetooth were available or standard on most trim levels of the pair. Maximum towing capacity when properly equipped is 1,500 pounds with the four-cylinder and a useful 3,500 pounds with the V-6s.

Research Chevrolet Equinox model years, details and reviews.
Research GMC Terrain model years, details and reviews.

Mid-Size Cars

2012 Buick LaCrosse

buick-lacrosse-2012-exterior-side-profile-oem 2012 Buick LaCrosse | Manufacturer image
    • Type: Four-door, five-seat sedan
    • Median price: $12,000
    • EPA combined fuel economy: 20-28 mpg
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick

The premium LaCrosse is a “tweener” in size, not quite as big as most mainstream full-size sedans of its time but more urban-friendly and substantial than the typical mid-size car. It has a good-looking, quiet interior with quality materials and details like stitched dashboard padding and fabric-wrapped roof pillars. And comfort is king, with big front seats and an adequate (if low to the floor) backseat for adults. Buick has been known for a smooth ride, and the LaCrosse does not disappoint there.  

A new, 2.4-liter mild-hybrid four-cylinder became the base powertrain for 2012, bringing impressive gas mileage but tepid performance. The 3.6-liter V-6 included on most trim levels seems more compatible with the LaCrosse. The mild-hybrid’s battery also robs trunk space, but an EPA-rated 28 mpg combined in a car this large is impressive if that’s a priority. All-wheel drive was offered on higher trim levels with the V-6, and various trims offered many upscale options. Available and worth looking for is Buick’s then-new IntelliLink touchscreen, which has Bluetooth connectivity and a USB port. 

Research Buick LaCrosse model years, details and reviews.

2012-13 Buick Regal

buick-regal-2012-exterior-front-oem 2012 Buick Regal | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, five-seat sedan
  • Median price: About $10,000-$12,000
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 22-29 mpg 
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick (both years)

Smaller than the LaCrosse but not quite compact, the Regal is a comfortable, classy mid-size sedan with a European feel that’s a step up from mainstream sedans. That’s no accident, since these Regals hailed from a platform sourced from GM’s former German subsidiary Opel. The ride is Euro taut, though the handling doesn’t quite live up to the same billing. The 2012 model year brought a new, higher-mileage 2.4-liter mild-hybrid four-cylinder that saw 28-29 mpg overall, along with the conventional turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder. A new GS performance model (stick-shift only) also joined the line. The mild-hybrid became the standard engine for 2013, though the Regal continued to offer the turbo 2.0-liter as a power upgrade.

The Regal is smallish for a mid-size sedan, with a just-adequate backseat. Space for the mild-hybrid battery limits trunk space for models thus equipped. Newly standard for 2013 was a more capable Buick IntelliLink media system with a 7-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port and steering wheel audio controls.

Research Buick Regal model years, details and reviews.

2013 Ford Fusion

ford-fusion-2013-exterior-action-front-three-quarter-oem 2013 Ford Fusion | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, five-seat sedan
  • Median price: About $11,000
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 25-29 mpg (gas-only); 41 mpg (hybrid); 88 mpg-e with 38 mpg after 20 miles of all-electric range on a full charge (plug-in hybrid)
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus (cars built after December 2012)

The Fusion got a full redesign for 2013, bringing classy styling, a high-quality interior and updated tech features while retaining the sedan’s excellent ride and above-average handling. Ford also offered a high-mileage Fusion Hybrid, as well as a plug-in hybrid dubbed the Fusion Energi. The 2013 model got a new touchscreen option with a backup camera.

Powertrains include a base 2.5-liter four-cylinder, a turbocharged 1.6-liter four (the mileage leader for any gas-only Fusion) and a turbocharged 2.0-liter that replaced the former V-6 option and was offered with front- or all-wheel drive. (All the rest were front-drive only.) The Fusion Hybrid pairs a 2.0-liter gas engine with an electric motor, but its battery means a smaller trunk than the gas versions, though the backseat still folds for more space.

Of note: Crash-test ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety apply to 2013 model-year Fusions built after December 2012, when Ford made structural improvements to improve performance in IIHS then-new small overlap test. You can typically find the build date on a label in the driver’s door or an adjacent pillar.

Research Ford Fusion model years, details and reviews.
Research Ford Fusion Hybrid model years, details and reviews.
Research Ford Fusion Energi model years, details and reviews.

2012-13 Mazda6

mazda6-2013-exterior-front-three-quarter-oem 2013 Mazda6 | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, five-seat sedan
  • Median price: About $8,000-$10,000
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 2125 mpg

The Mazda6 is a sporty choice among mid-size sedans, with nimbler handling and sharper steering, as well as more stylish looks than the blander competition of its time. It offers a well-trimmed, roomy interior and above-average trunk volume for its class.

Mainstream models have a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that combines adequate power, competent road manners and a comfortable ride. An available 3.7-liter V-6 pairs more zip with a sport-tuned chassis, though it comes at some expense in ride comfort and gas mileage.

Some trim levels include Bluetooth connectivity and a USB port. A backup camera was optional, as was a blind spot warning system. The Mazda6 missed earning an IIHS Top Safety pick award but had good or acceptable scores in all crash tests except head restraints and seats, where it was rated marginal. Still, we deemed it good enough — especially because it fared acceptably in IIHS’ small overlap test — to include here.

Research Mazda6 model years, details and reviews.

More From Cars.com:

Cars.com’s Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with Cars.com’s long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don’t accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of Cars.com’s advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.

Latest expert reviews