What's the Best Car for an Uber Driver?

CARS.COM — If you catch rides frequently with the reigning champs of ride-hailing, Uber and Lyft, you might hear a common refrain while chatting up your drivers about their car: "I bought it just to do this," they'll often say. Which got us to thinking: If you're gonna buy a new set of wheels just to drive for Uber, which cars are your best bet?

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While we originally perceived such smartphone-era, sharing-economy services to be something people did to make a little extra scratch in their spare time using the cars they already owned, it's easy to see why the presumption has changed. Median income estimates for an Uber driver have been reported at as much as $90,000 a year — more than a lot of people were making when their jobs became casualties of the economic recession just as Uber was coming into play.

And thus the Uber-era "micro-entrepreneur" was born. However, a couple of problems with that career plan have become clearer in the seven years since the San Francisco-based company hung its ride-hailing shingle:

A.) Self-driving cars could replace human Uber drivers in as few as five years, according to projections — and in Pittsburgh already have to a small degree.

B.) Uber drivers in many cases are lucky to pull down half of that sexy 90-grand figure.

According to an in-depth study of Uber drivers' incomes reported by BuzzFeed in November 2014, more typical annual earnings for a driver, less some expenses, are closer to $35,000. That's depending, of course, on how many hours they work, at which times, how many times a week, where, whether the driver owns his or her car, insurance costs, tolls, gas prices, etc.

As the objective for aspiring Uber drivers is to make money with their car, price has to be a top, if not the top, consideration. According to personal-finance website Bankrate.com, car buyers should observe the 20/4/10 rule — meaning a 20 percent down payment, a four-year loan term and principal, interest and insurance payments not to exceed 10 percent of the buyer's monthly gross income.

With insurance-info website Insure.com reporting the national average for full auto coverage at $1,325 a year, and personal-finance site NerdWallet.com reporting a ride-sharing insurance policy from Geico for $150 a year more than a traditional personal policy, we worked off of an annual insurance cost of $1,500, or $125 a month. That's the same figure the Buzzfeed study factored into its drivers' income for insurance to reach the $35,000 annual salary estimate.

While the average price of a car these days is pushing $34,000, a four-year loan at $292 a month (10 percent of a $35,000 gross annual salary), assuming a 20 percent down payment, comes to just $17,500. Since that's not particularly realistic, we'll use a more typical five-year loan term for a total purchase price of about $22,000, including interest. That'll at least get us in the ballpark to buy our new car for our new gig.

Assuming vital factors such as price, automatic transmission, combined EPA fuel economy rating and reliability per J.D. Power Dependability Ratings (as well as general popularity, practicality and a just a little bit of voodoo), here are the best new cars for an aspiring Uber driver:

10. 2016 Toyota Camry

  • Purchase price: $23,935
  • Fuel economy: 28 mpg
  • Reliability: 5 out of 5 on J.D. Power's Power Circle scale

9. 2016 Kia Optima

  • Purchase price: $22,990
  • Fuel economy: 32 mpg
  • Reliability: 3 Power Circles

8. 2016 Hyundai Elantra

  • Purchase price: $20,535
  • Fuel economy: 32 mpg
  • Reliability: 3 Power Circles

7. 2016 Chevrolet Cruze

  • Purchase price: $19,995
  • Fuel economy: 35 mpg
  • Reliability rating: 3 Power Circles

6. 2016 Honda Accord

  • Purchase price: $23,840
  • Fuel economy: 31 mpg
  • Reliability rating: 4 Power Circles

5. 2016 Kia Forte

  • Purchase price: $20,840
  • Fuel economy: 31 mpg
  • Reliability rating: 4 Power Circles

4. 2016 Hyundai Sonata

  • Purchase price: $22,135
  • Fuel economy: 32 mpg
  • Reliability rating: 5 Power Circles

3. 2016 Toyota Corolla

  • Purchase price: $19,600
  • Fuel economy: 32 mpg
  • Reliability rating: 5 Power Circles

2. 2016 Honda Civic

  • Purchase price: $21,875
  • Fuel economy: 35 mpg
  • Reliability rating: 4 Power Circles

1. 2016 Toyota Prius

  • Purchase price: $25,065*
  • Fuel economy: 52 mpg
  • Reliability rating: 4 Power Circles

*Assuming a gas savings of $50 a month for a total of $3,000 over five years compared with the average car's fuel economy, the Prius' purchase price before interest effectively drops to $22,065.

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