How to Buy the Best Used Car Under $20,000


You are on a budget, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need a certain size and style of vehicle.  We’ve put together which used cars under $20,000 that you should consider buying.  First, we’ll explain how to search for the best used car. Then we’ll make some solid recommendations in a variety of categories. 

Do Your Research Every Time

When you are actively shopping for a car, it could be easy to get swept away.This may be from excitement, or it may be from anxiety because you need a better ride.  Either way, you need to slow down and be deliberate in your search.

Whether shopping online or in person, you can simply enter key car information to search and you may find where people are talking about that year/make/model. The biggest rule of thumb when researching a vehicle is to look at the source of the information.  If the business is selling cars, its reviews are going to be skewed.  

If it is three years or old, that year/model/make has been ranked in a massive survey by JD Power. This will tell you how dependable the vehicle is.  U.S. News and World Report car reviews go back years, and they are updated to reflect whether a model is still a good buy as a used car. 

Also, if you are wondering how much is my trade in worth, you can’t rely on what you see in the used car ads.  The best idea is to use Kelley Blue Book to value your car.  

Check Out These Models

If you look back about three years or more, you’ll find some deals that are under $20,000.  Here are some we recommend based on the vehicle’s reputation.  Keep in mind that this is specific to that year.  A different model year can yield different results in many cases.

Sports Cars

The 2017 Ford Mustang has been shown to be very reliable.  Since the original entry level model was around $25,000, you should be able to find one under $20,000.  You can go back to a 2015 and get most of what’s good on the 2017.  The base 300-horsepower Mustang is fun, but the better value is the 310-horsepower Ecoboost Mustang.  

Another fun choice that you may be able to find under $20,000 is the 2017 Mazda Miata.  Of course, this car only seats two, but if you don’t have a family, that doesn’t matter much.  This is another car that debuted at $25,000, and you could find a deal on it.  

Commuter Cars

If your emphasis is speed not style, you could go for the 2015 Volkswagen GTI.   These VWs are well made, and the powertrain generates 210 or 220 horsepower.  If you can get a 2016 or 2017 GTI for under $20,000, that’s definitely a good buy.

See also: What to Check for When Buying a Used Car?

Honda isn’t making the Fit anymore, but that was an economic decision. It is, in fact, an extremely reliable small car . Choosing from 2015 to 2017, you’ll find a good amount of interior space for its class. Helping you move stuff as well as people, the car has the Honda Magic Seat and a decent sized cargo hold.  

Green Cars

The 2017 Nisan Leaf has good scores from JD Power.  It was the last year of this generation, and the electric range is 84 miles with the basic battery.  The most desirable is the SV or SL with the 107-mile range battery.  

Small SUVs

The 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan got a remake, but the 2015 – 2017 years were pretty good, too.  Since the entry level Tiguans were offered at $23,000 or $25,000, there’s a good chance you can find on under $20,000 that will take care of your needs.  

The 2017 Chevrolet Equinox represents a leap forward for this SUV.  The brand has a good reliability record, including this exact model.  If you are shopping for these used SUVs, you definitely want to look for the LS or LT and skip the poorly equipped entry level L trim.

Midsize SUVs

To find what you need under $20,000, you’ll have to go back a bit further.  A good buy would the 2013 Buick Enclave. It has third-row seats, and the premium materials with which it was made are certainly standing the test of time.  

The 2015 Toyota Venza, and models dating back to 2010, maybe a good buy. If you don’t recognize the name, it’s because this midsize ride was discontinued. However, it was well made, and it has Toyota’s longevity on its side.  The 2015 models offered touch screens and other infotainment features before some rivals.  You’ll want the V6 rather than the four-cylinder if you have a choice.

Please remember these are just recommendations based on what we see in the marketplace right now.  By being vigilant and looking up the background of each model, you will find out the good, the bad and the ugly.  This should help you decide whether the offered price is really fair or not.  

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