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

best-cars-under-10K.jpg 2013 Chevrolet Equinox | 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. Used-car prices skyrocketed as a result of the inventory shortage, and despite the promising trends of rising inventory and falling used-car prices, the average price of a pre-owned car remains elevated. data shows median used-car prices are up nearly 35% from January 2020.

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

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

But this doesn’t mean you won’t be able to find a safe and reliable used car at a relatively modest price today. scoured its current vehicle listings and found good vehicles across a variety of body styles and sizes with median list prices ranging from $9,000 to $12,000 as of February. 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 for around $10,000. 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 on its trim levels and features.

Beyond price, we only included vehicles that editors continue to respect in their categories. We avoided any cars older than 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 been found to be safe and reliable: Each vehicle must earn a respectable reliability score in the U.S. Vehicle Dependability study by analytics company J.D. Power. We also only included vehicles with high safety scores for their respective model years from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

You’ll find the key specs for 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 meet all the criteria and fall within the $10,000 range, listed by vehicle type:

Subcompact Car

2014 Kia Soul

kia-soul-2014-exterior-side-profile-oem 2014 Kia Soul | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, five-seat hatchback
  • Median price: About $11,500
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 26 mpg
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick

The Soul was redesigned for 2014 but remained a boxy SUV-like 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 upright and roomy for a compact car, and cargo space is high, with a wide enough area to fit a child stroller without folding.

The 2014 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.

The 2014 Soul is powered by a base 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine paired with a six-speed manual transmission, and a more satisfying 2.0-liter four-cylinder paired with a six-speed automatic is standard on higher trims. Either engine, however, offers somewhat lower fuel-economy ratings than comparable small sedans.

Research Kia Soul model years, details and reviews.

Compact Cars

2012 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 $10,500
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 94 mpg-equivalent, with 37 mpg after 35-38 miles of all-electric range on a full battery charge
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick

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 from 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. The first-generation Volt seats just four due to how the vehicle’s battery placement divides the rear seats. 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 Volt has excellent reliability scores, and 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 used Volts might still be covered under the factory warranty.

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 $10,500-$12,000
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 23-32 mpg
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick (both body styles, both years)

Despite relatively unassuming styling, the 2012-13 Mazda3 is a good 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 some trim levels and became 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 is generally a little higher. Something to note is that air conditioning was optional, not standard, until 2013.

Research Mazda3 model years, details and reviews.

2012 Toyota Corolla

toyota-corolla-2013-exterior-front-three-quarter-oem 2013 Toyota Corolla | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, five-seat sedan
  • Median price: About $12,000
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 29 mpg
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick

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 Corolla remains a solid sedan, but it has a coarse-sounding 1.8-liter four-cylinder, and in most examples, you’ll find an old-school (even for its time) four-speed automatic transmission. A manual was also offered, though it’s likely to be rare. With its vague steering and brakes, this is not a driver’s car.

As for available features, a backup camera was not offered, Bluetooth was optional, and the bland interior has a lot of hard plastics and cheap-feeling cloth upholstery. That said, the 2012 Corolla has some redeeming qualities, including a well-earned reputation for near-bulletproof reliability and solid safety ratings — 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 Volvo S60

38750_Volvo_S60 2012 Volvo S60 | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, five-seat sedan
  • Median price: About $11,000
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 21-23 mpg
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick

Shoppers may be surprised to find a luxury sports sedan like the Volvo S60 on the $10,000 used-car list. The 2012 S60 offers an upscale interior, advanced safety features, a trio of turbocharged engine options and a modest price tag. The base S60 T5 is powered by a 250-hp, turbocharged 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine. Meanwhile, the standard T6 brings more power via a 300-hp, turbo 3.0-liter six-cylinder, and the range-topping T6 R-Design boosts horsepower to 325; both can be found only with AWD. Even though the T6 brings a notable power upgrade, editors noted that even the standard T5’s 2.5-liter engine brings plentiful power while offering a more composed and comfortable ride than its T6 counterpart.

The S60 sports a classy interior with premium materials and a surprisingly spacious backseat for a compact sedan. It is also chock-full of standard or available driver-assist and safety features, including City Safety, which detects when the driver is approaching an obstacle or vehicle too quickly and automatically applies the brakes when necessary; some drivers may find this sensor-based system to be overly sensitive, however. Collision warning with pedestrian detection, which swaps sensors for cameras and radar, is optional, along with blind-spot monitoring.

Research Volvo S60 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 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, sibling SUVs from parent company GM. Though they’re virtually identical under the skin, the SUVs are very different in looks — if you like one, you may not care for the other. But the pair is solid; the 2011 Equinox won a comparison test against eight other SUVs at the time.

Both are large and roomy, as compact SUVs go, and notably quiet for their class. They also 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 offer a power liftgate, which at the time was uncommon for small SUVs.

The Equinox and Terrain offer four-cylinder and V-6 engines with front- or all-wheel drive. The V-6 upgrade for 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 a newly intuitive and more capable touchscreen available on higher trim levels, and 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 Regal

buick-regal-2012-exterior-front-oem 2012 Buick Regal | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, five-seat sedan
  • Median price: About $11,000
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 22-28 mpg
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick

The Regal is a comfortable, classy mid-size sedan with a European feel that’s a step up from its mainstream counterparts. That’s no accident since the 2012 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 with 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 Regal is on the small side for a mid-size sedan, with a just-adequate backseat, and space for the mild-hybrid battery limits trunk space for models thus equipped.

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 (PHEV)
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus (cars built after December 2012)

The Fusion got a full redesign for the 2013 model year, 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 PHEV dubbed the Fusion Energi. The 2013 model got a new touchscreen option with a backup camera.

Powertrain options include a base 2.5-liter four-cylinder; a turbocharged 1.6-liter four (the most fuel-efficient of any gas-only Fusion); and a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that replaced the former V-6 option and was offered with FWD or AWD. (The other two were front-drive only.) The Fusion Hybrid pairs a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gas engine with an electric motor, but its battery shrinks trunk space compared to gas versions, though the backseat still folds for more space.

Of note: IIHS crash-test ratings apply to 2013 model-year Fusions built after December 2012, when Ford made structural improvements to improve performance in the agency’s 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 $9,000-$11,000
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 21–25 mpg

Mazda recently ended production of the Mazda6, but shoppers can still get their hands on a used variant for around $10,000. The Mazda6 is a sporty choice among mid-size sedans, with nimbler handling, sharper steering and 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 competent road manners and a comfortable ride, as well as a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that provides adequate power. An available 3.7-liter V-6 pairs more zip with a sport-tuned chassis, though it comes at the expense of 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 to include here — especially because it fared acceptably in IIHS’ small overlap test.

Research Mazda6 model years, details and reviews.

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Former D.C. Bureau Chief Fred Meier, who lives every day with Washington gridlock, has an un-American love of small wagons and hatchbacks. Email Fred Meier

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