You’ll find some unbeatable bargains in the used car market these days. Late-model examples are plentiful and affordable. This is due to a large percentage of vehicles being leased over the last several years that are returning to the market. We’ve culled various sources to come up with a short list of used cars under $15,000.
All of our picks are five years old or newer. That means that all of these cars come with critical safety features. These include electronic stability control to help prevent losing control under sudden or emergency handling situations, and side-impact airbags that add an extra layer of protection in a collision. You’ll find newer models, usually in higher trim levels, fitted with high-tech safety features like forward auto-braking and a blind-spot monitor.
What’s more, each of the seven cars on our list received top marks for safety in crash tests when new, and are rated as being average or better in long-term reliability surveys. They’re all reasonably fuel-efficient as well.
1. 2013-2015 Ford Fusion
The midsize Ford Fusion sedan is an excellent choice among family cars. It was redesigned for the 2013 model year, and comes powered by one of three four-cylinder engine choices. You’ll find some used Fusions equipped with all-wheel-drive and a few of the latest high-tech safety systems.
2. 2013-2015 Honda Civic
Available as either a sedan or coupe, the compact Honda Civic was refreshed for 2013 with styling updates and suspension and steering improvements. It’s a lively and reliable used car. It’s fun to drive, though the sporty Si versions are priced beyond our $15,000 limit. Standard features include a Bluetooth phone interface and a backup camera.
3. 2013-2015 Hyundai Elantra
The sleekly styled Hyundai Elantra compact sedan still looks as fresh today as when it was a new car. It’s powered by a peppy four-cylinder engine that gets good fuel economy. Most include an automatic transmission. A six-speed manual transmission was also offered. Higher trims can be found with luxury features like push-button start, heated front seats and a navigation system.
4. 2013-2015 Kia Optima
The midsize Kia Optima is handsome and roomy, and makes a great alternative to a Toyota Camry as a family car. A four-cylinder engine is standard, and should be sufficient for most drivers. You’ll also find some equipped with a quicker turbocharged four-cylinder. Higher trims usually come with optional luxury features. These include heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats and a voice-activated navigation system.
5. 2013-2015 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport
The Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is a pleasant and affordable subcompact crossover SUV. It received a refresh for 2013 that included styling and suspension updates. You’ll find most with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, though a modestly quicker 2.4-liter four-cylinder was offered for 2015.
6. 2013-2015 Subaru Impreza
The Subaru Impreza is a solid choice among small cars. It comes as either a sedan or an especially practical wagon. It comes standard with all-wheel-drive for added grip over wet or snowy roads. A four-cylinder engine can be found mated to either a five-speed manual transmission or a gearless CVT automatic.
7. 2013-2014 Subaru Legacy
The midsize Subaru Legacy is a roomy and capable sedan that comes standard with all-wheel-drive. You’ll find versions equipped with either a four- or six-cylinder engine, though the latter remains costly, even as a pre-owned model. Look for versions equipped with the automaker’s EyeSight options bundle to obtain pre-collision braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane-departure warning systems.
Let Us Help You Find a Great Used Car
Of course, buying a used car involves a certain element of risk, especially since many are sold “as is” without a warranty. Choose a vehicle with the fewest number of miles on the odometer that’s in the best physical condition you can find. Be sure to give any used vehicle you’re considering a thorough test drive. Even better, insist on taking it to a trusted mechanic to have it fully checked out. Additionally, it’s a good idea to obtain a CARFAX Vehicle History Report before signing a bill of sale. This will help you verify ownership and the last reported number of miles on the odometer. It can also document how well a vehicle has been maintained and indicate if it’s been in a wreck, flooded or salvaged.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in June 2015. It has been completely updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.