The best used cars you can buy for under $15,000

The best used cars in every category still rock, but for a whole lot less

best used cars under 15000 dt of 150

Not everyone can afford to buy a new car, but that’s not necessarily a problem. The six listed here are the best used cars you can buy — and they were among the best in their respective categories when they were released. Now that they’ve racked up a few miles, they can be had for less than $15,000. See, depreciation isn’t so bad!

How did we pick? We determined which cars met our pricing criteria based on the fair market range for dealer prices listed by Kelley Blue Book (KBB). From there, we looked at Consumer Reports reliability scores to see how these cars are likely to hold up in daily use. Finally, we considered factors like safety, performance, practicality, and style to see which cars were genuinely worth buying.

2014 Mazda 3

The best

best used cars under 15000 2014mazda3

Why should you buy this: It covers all the bases, and then some

Who’s it for: Anyone looking for a practical, fun car

How much will it cost: $8,603 to $15,270 (Kelley Blue Book)

Why we picked the 2014 Mazda 3:

Mazda’s compact 3 is a practical vehicle and a sensible used-car buy, but it will also add a bit of fun to your life. Because even if you’re on a budget, you shouldn’t settle for something you can’t enjoy.

The 2014 Mazda3 received generally high reliability ratings from Consumer Reports when it was new, along with good crash test scores from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Available as a sedan or hatchback, it’s decently roomy inside, but still small enough on the outside to be easy to park.

In addition to being reliable, safe, and practical, the Mazda 3 is also one of the best sedans to drive. While it’s not an overt performance machine, the 3 is appreciably sportier than most other compacts, with a well-tuned chassis and willing engine from Mazda’s SkyActiv line. It’s also a bit more stylish, breaking out of the econo-car box with streamlined headlights and sleek, flowing lines.

The Mazda 3 proves mainstream cars don’t have to be boring, and that makes it a great used vehicle purchase.

2013 Subaru Forester

The best used SUV

best used cars under 15000 2013subaruforester

Why should you buy this: It’s rugged, reliable, and boasts standard all-wheel drive

Who’s it for: People who enjoy venturing off the beaten path

How much will it cost: $11,469 to $17,496 (KBB)

Why we picked the 2013 Subaru Forester:

The market is now flooded with car-based compact crossovers, but the Subaru Forester was one of the first. Subaru’s expertise in this category — and with all-wheel drive vehicles in general — is evident in the 2013 Forester. It’s a relatively simple, utilitarian vehicle that stands up well to hard use.

The Forester is also pretty nice to drive. Subaru’s boxer engines sit a bit lower in the chassis than conventional engines, which helps to lower the center of gravity a bit. This generation of Forester was also available with a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine pumping out 224 horsepower, although one of those models might break our $15,000 budget. It’s definitely worth keeping an eye out for, though, because the base models are anything but peppy.

Subaru has an overall great reputation for reliability, and the 2013 Forester scored well in IIHS crash tests as well. Unlike other crossovers touted as “lifestyle” vehicles or faux off-roaders, the Forester is an unpretentious choice that simply does what it was designed to do — haul people and their stuff through any kind of weather.

2012 Toyota Prius

The best used fuel-efficient car

best used cars under 15000 2012prius

Why should you buy this: It’s the best hybrid around, new or used

Who’s it for: People who are eco-friendly, but also budget conscious

How much will it cost: $9,224 to $12,607 (KBB)

Why we picked the 2012 Toyota Prius:

The most prolific hybrid ever is also among the best used-car buys in the category. The Toyota Prius combines impressive fuel economy (2012 models were rated at 48 mpg combined) with typical Toyota build quality and reliability. The sheer number of “Prii” sold means there should be plenty on the market to choose from, and that usually means a good deal.

The 2012 Prius was one of the most economical cars available when it was new, but it doesn’t sacrifice practicality to achieve that efficiency. Its five-door hatchback body offers plenty of space for passengers and cargo, meaning this fourth-gen Prius is a real car, not a science experiment like some earlier hybrids. The only thing unusual about it is the exterior styling, which admittedly isn’t for everyone.

Hybrid powertrain components have proven just as durable as any other car part, although replacement battery packs can be expensive if needed. The Prius is still a Toyota, though, and with that badge comes dependability. If you’re still unsure, consider that countless Prius taxis have racked up millions of miles all around the globe.

2008 Nissan 350Z

The best used performance car

best used cars under 15000 2008nissan350z actual

Why should you buy this: It’s one of Nissan’s legendary “Z” cars at an affordable price

Who’s it for: People who relish the thrill of driving.

How much will it cost: $10,215 to $13,968 (KBB)

Why we picked the 2008 Nissan 350Z:

The original Datsun 240Z helped revive the affordable sports car category in the 1970s, and its descendant in the early 2000s – the 350Z – carried on with that mission. The 350Z offered impressive performance at a relatively mainstream price when new, and that also makes it a great used buy.

Most entry-level sports cars trade power for simplicity and affordability, but not the 350Z. It came standard with a 3.5-liter V6 rated at 305 hp. In addition, the chassis design placed the engine relatively far back behind the front wheels for better weight distribution. All of that mechanical goodness is wrapped in styling that made the 350Z look like a concept car — and it still looks modern today.

This generation of Z enjoyed a fairly long production run, lasting from model years 2003 to 2008. That means there should be a decent number of them out there to choose from. Versions of the 350Z’s V6 were used in a variety of Nissan models, so it’s not some exotic item that will break down easily. As with all used performance cars, beware of modifications and abuse by previous owners.

2011 BMW 328i

The best used luxury car

best used cars under 15000 2011 bmw 328i front three quarters

Why should you buy this: It’s luxurious and sporty. What more could you want?

Who’s it for: People who want to have it all, even on a budget

How much will it cost: $9,377 to $11,324 (KBB)

Why we picked the 2011 BMW 328i:

The BMW 3 Series gets a ridiculous amount of praise from automotive journalists, but it’s more than just hype. Over the past three decades, BMW has simply built a better small luxury sedan than its competitors more often than not. The 2011 328i was one of the times when BMW was definitely on its game.

While the angular styling hasn’t aged very well, the 328i has everything a driver could want, including rear-wheel drive, a manual transmission, and a very special engine. This year of 328i still used a naturally aspirated inline-six, rather than the turbocharged four found in the current 328i. This smooth-running engine gives the older 3 Series model a completely different character.

A major perk of the 3 Series — new or used — is that it’s a smooth, upscale car that just happens to be fun to drive. You can find it in both four-door sedan and wagon body styles, and being a BMW, it features a well-appointed interior with plenty of toys.

2010 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab

The best used truck

Best used cars nissan frontier crew cab

Why should you buy this: It holds up well both on and off the road.

Who’s it for: Adventurous souls with something to tow or haul.

How much will it cost: $10,472 to $15,970 (KBB)

Why we picked the 2010 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab:

The Nissan Frontier is the kind of rugged, no-nonsense truck that will do anything you ask of it. Nissan designed it for work and play, so it’s equally at home on a construction site or towing a boat to the lake. And while it’s definitely showing its age, consider this — Nissan still makes it. You can buy a brand-new new one  that doesn’t look much different from a seven-year old model.

The Frontier is relatively comfortable on the road, and the Crew Cab’s four-door cabin offers more than enough space for you and four friends. Don’t expect to find amenities like adaptive cruise control or a digital instrument cluster inside, however. The 2010 Frontier limits itself to basic equipment like A/C, a CD player, and steering wheel-mounted radio controls.

Most Frontier trucks built in 2010 came with a 4.0-liter V6 that provides enough power for highway cruising, towing, or off-roading, depending on what the day’s agenda calls for. Powertrain options include rear- and four-wheel drive and a manual or an automatic transmission — it varies based on which trim level you select. Fuel economy isn’t its strong point, but even modern-day trucks struggle in that aspect.

How we test

The Digital Trends automotive team tests vehicles through a comprehensive process. We examine the qualities of the exterior and interior and judge them based on our expertise and experience in the context of the vehicle’s category and price range. Entertainment technology is thoroughly tested, as are most safety features that can be evaluated in controlled environments.

Test drivers spend extensive time behind the wheel of the vehicles, conducting real-world assessments, driving them on highways and backroads, as well as off-road and on race tracks when applicable.

Where to buy

Where you buy your used car can be an important factor. When shopping for a new-to-you ride, you’ll probably come across ads posted by both dealers and private sellers. Each type of seller offers some pros and cons, so here’s quick breakdown:

Private sellers: Buying a car from an individual does offer some advantages. Their situation may make them more likely to cut a deal. The seller could, for example, need to sell a car quickly to come up with money, or because they no longer have a place to store it. Since the private seller isn’t running a business with overhead, you’re also more likely to get a low price than with a dealer.

On the other hand, private sellers are less accountable than dealers. You never know exactly whom you’re talking to, after all. If you buy the car, you also have to take care of registration and other related paperwork yourself.

Dealers: Car dealers have a well-deserved reputation for obnoxious tactics, but the buying process can be more straightforward than going through a private seller. A dealer can potentially take your current car as a trade-in, and handle a lot of the paperwork needed to put your “new” vehicle on the road.

Going to a dealer usually involves haggling, but keep in mind that, because used cars have no fixed MSRP, you’ll probably be doing that no matter how you shop. Used cars sold through dealers tend to be a bit pricier, although dealers usually make some effort to clean them up and fix glaring issues before selling.

Dealers with certified pre-owned programs: Some dealers also offer certified pre-owned used cars, under programs backed by the manufacturer. The “certified” part means these cars have undergone a more thorough presale inspection and conditioning process, backed by an extended warranty.

Certified pre-owned cars tend to be higher quality, with lower mileage. That, along with the extra work put into conditioning them, means prices are often higher than other used cars. But having the backing of a manufacturer can offer peace of mind, assuming one of these cars falls into your price range.

Product Review

Bigger battery and folding top add appeal, but BMW’s i8 remains ultra-niche

Want a high-performance vehicle that's more than just a frightening driving experience? Desire the look and feel of a sports car with the road manners of a luxury commuter? The BMW i8 is for you.

Here are 20 portable tech gadgets you’ll want to use every day

If you're looking for portable tech to keep you charged up while on the go (or for some great small gift ideas), we've rounded up 20 must-have gadgets. You'll find everything from a mini gaming controller to a folding Bluetooth keyboard.

Your PlayStation 4 game library isn't complete without these games

Looking for the best PS4 games out there? Out of the massive crop of titles available, we selected the best you should buy. No matter what your genre of choice may be, there's something here for you.

The Polestar 2, Sweden’s answer to the Tesla Model 3, begins taking shape

Volvo sister company Polestar has released a teaser image to give us our first look at the 2, its second model. Polestar tells us the 2 will arrive as a four-door fastback with a 400-hp electric powertrain and about 300 miles of range.

2020 Kia Soul and Soul EV continue to think inside the box

The 2020 Kia Soul is the third generation of Kia's boxy curiosity. The Soul maintains its signature look, but gets tech and powertrain upgrades. The all-electric Soul EV returns as well.

Psychedelic Volkswagen Microbus from Woodstock returns for an encore

With its trippy paint scheme, the Volkswagen "Light" bus became a symbol of the 1969 Woodstock music festival. VW teamed up with the artist who created this rolling mural to stage a comeback in time for Woodstock's 50th anniversary.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Grow veggies indoors and shower more efficiently

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

Amazon plugs in with $700 million investment in electric pickup company Rivian

Amazon invested $700 million for a minority stake in U.S. all-electric truck maker Rivian, according to a joint release. The announcement follows a Reuters report that GM and Amazon might invest $1 billion to $2 billion in the company.

2019 RAM 1500 Classic Warlock special edition: Badass style without the whoop

If you like the looks of blacked-out badass trucks without the cost of a desert racer, FCA announced the 2019 Ram 1500 Classic Warlock, a special edition pickup that focuses on appearance with only a touch of additional off-road capability.
Product Review

Mercedes-Benz updates the timeless G-wagen for the modern world

For decades, the G-Class has been an outlier in the Mercedes-Benz portfolio, a body-on-frame brute with the soul – and driving manners – of an off-road pickup. With the all-new G550, Mercedes seeks to smooth out some of the rough edges.

2020 GMC Acadia toughens up on the outside, gets smarter on the inside

The 2020 GMC Acadia crossover gets styling updates and a more rugged AT4 trim level. Under the skin, the Acadia sports a new turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a wider array of tech features.

Nissan is using old Leaf batteries to power and connect off-the-grid campers

Nissan has teamed up with trailer manufacturer Opus to design a mobile, weatherproof power pack built with battery cells sourced from the first-generation Leaf. Called Roam, the pack stores enough electricity to power a camper for up to a…

Alfa Romeo’s latest Ferrari-powered F1 race car is ready to hit the track

Alfa Romeo is doubling down on Formula One racing after a decades-long hiatus. Now essentially a support team for Ferrari, its 2019 driver lineup includes a former world champion and a potential future star.

Researchers teach self-driving cars to predict pedestrians’ next moves

University of Michigan researchers are developing a system that teaches self-driving cars to predict pedestrian movement. Humans don't always act in their own best self-interest, so autonomous cars will need to practice protective driving.