The Most Reliable, Safest Cars under $15,000
Nobody wants to pay too much for a used car. Of course, when we talk about the cost of a used car, most people will think about the sticker price or their monthly payments. Very few people stop to think about the costs of repairs and maintenance that come with buying a used car. That’s why reliability is really important when shopping for used cars. You need to know how long this new car will last, what maintenance will be needed, and how much you can expect your maintenance to cost (the type of car you drive can dramatically affect that price).
How We Picked the Most Reliable Used Cars
Compare.com has put together a list of the most reliable used cars under $15,000 to help you make an informed decision when buying your next used car. We used a combination of J.D. Power and Associates Reliability Ratings as well as taking into account user reviews from sites such as Edmunds.com. In short, we took pains to make sure that the vehicles listed here were the most reliable we could find for the price point.
2008 Toyota RAV4
- Price: $11,000 to $15,000
- MPG: 21 City/ 27 Highway
- Engine: 269 horsepower V6
Toyota has made a name for themselves worldwide as being the leader in making reliable automobiles. The RAV4 is no exception. A mid-sized SUV with plenty of safety features and above-average fuel economy, a used RAV4 makes a fantastic family car. According to J.D. Power and Associates, the RAV4 does better than most in terms of dependability, with it’s only glaring weak spot being how well the interior features hold up over time. In this area it earned about the same rating as its competitors, whereas the RAV4 scored “Better than Most” in all categories except the body and interior. The RAV4’s powertrain was rated “Among the Best”. The 2008 RAV4 comes in a 269 horsepower V6 or a 166 horsepower 4-cylinder. Both of these come in automatic transmission only, but you do have the option to choose between front wheel drive or four wheel drive.
2007 Honda Accord
- Price: $8,000 to $14,000
- MPG: 26 City/ 34 Highway (5-speed Manual) ; 21 City/ 31 Highway (5-speed Automatic)
- Engine: 244 horsepower V6
At first glance, that price range might seem pretty wide—and it is. The reason for that is because the Honda Accord holds up to high mileage, which in turn can drive the price way down. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The 2007 Honda Accord scored similarly to the RAV4 in terms of reliability. Additionally, there were no major reported problems with any of the 2007 Honda Accord’s system, which earned it a top place on our list. The 2007 Accord comes with your choice of a 244 horsepower V6 or a 166 horsepower 4-cylinder. Both engines are available in either manual or automatic transmissions.
2010 Ford Fusion
- Price: $9,000 to $14,500
- MPG: 20 City/ 29 Highway
- Engine: 205 horsepower V6
In recent years Ford has been hard at work building vehicles that can make American manufacturing proud. The cars themselves have an excellent build quality, a respectable warranty, and the price of a used Ford Fusion is hard to beat when compared to other four door sedans. In terms of reliability the 2010 Ford Fusion outranked our previous two entries overall, according to their J.D. Power score. However, consumer reviews balanced out the ranking making it nearly a 3-way tie for the most reliable used car under $15,000. The 2010 Fusion comes in either a 160 horsepower 4-cylinder or a 205 horsepower V6. A manual transmission is only available with the 4-cylinder engine.
2008 Acura TL
- Price: $13,900 to $16,250
- MPG: 18 City / 26 Highway
- Engine: front-wheel drive V6 automatic
It may be at the top of our price range, but if you want something a bit more exciting to drive this is our pick. According to J.D. Power and Associates, the 2008 Acura TL excels at reliability in terms of its powertrain above all other features. This is great because it implies that this is a mechanically sound car. Consumer reviews also appear to back this up. The 2008 Acura TL received an “Above Average” rating for overall reliability, which is additionally reassuring. Previous years’ models did not receive as high a ranking. Based on reliability rankings for the 2007 model, it appears that Acura made some tweaks for the 2008 TL that improved the car’s reliability and durability. In terms of driving, the 2008 Acura TL comes standard as a front-wheel drive V6 automatic, but the S trim level offers a 5-speed manual and an extra 29 horsepower. Just be aware that the performance tires recommended for that package will cost you extra.
2008 Honda Ridgeline
- Price: $13,900 to $17,700
- MPG: 15 City / 20 Highway
- Engine: 247 horsepower V6
The 2008 Honda Ridgeline just barely squeezed its way onto our list, but we’re glad it did. The only full-sized pick-up truck produced by Honda, the 2008 Ridgeline was highly praised by critics following is release with the only significant criticism being aimed at the cost of a brand new model. Now that they are in the used car market, the 2008 Ridgeline has become a pretty good deal. The J.D. Power and Associates reliability review gave this model year high marks for both powertrain and feature and accessory reliability. The 2008 Ridgeline comes standard with an automatic transmission and a 247 horsepower V6 engine.
The Safest Family Cars under $15,000
Looking for something that’s reliable, but also suitable for a small (or growing) family? Look no further. We picked out four of the best cars for when your family’s safety is the primary concern.
When it comes to buying a new car, most of us want to get the newest model we can afford. Sometimes we want a newer car because we want the newer features or the more up-to-date look. In terms of car safety, newer models tend to have more features and have endured more thorough testing (For example, small overlap crash testing wasn’t implemented until 2012, so older cars will lack a safety rating for this test which happens to be one of the most common types of crashes in the U.S.). For that reason, we’re going to look at 2012 models only. This way, the cars we are comparing will be similar in terms of available technology and features, which makes the price point more relevant.
2012 Ford Focus Sedan
When it comes to four door family cars, the Ford Focus seems like an obvious pick. It’s very economical (both in sale price and in fuel consumption) and it’s a family car that doesn’t scream, “I’m on my way to soccer practice”. In fact, the 2012 Ford Focus was the first of a sporty, even aggressive new design that is more reminiscent of a sports car than a family car. Not that there’s anything wrong with family cars, but who doesn’t want to look stylish?
2012 Ford Focus Stats
- 2012 IIHS Top Safety Pick
- MPG: 26 City, 36 Highway
- Engine: 2.0 Liter, 160 HP, 4 Cylinder
- Kelley Blue Book Retail Value: $12, 250 – $17,500
- Features available: Self-parking, Shift-free manual transmission, heated side-view mirrors
2012 Kia Soul
The Kia Soul is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of car. It has a striking and dramatic design that can be very polarizing. That said, if you like the design, you’ll love this car’s versatility. It comes very well equipped, but the add-on features are especially nice. Depending on your trim package, you can get the 350-watt, 7 speaker Infinity stereo package plus steering wheel controls for the stereo and cruise control. Bluetooth connectivity is also available. In addition to the bells and whistles, the 2012 Kia Soul gets great fuel economy for its class and, if you need it, you can even get some pretty decent power based on your choice of engine. The 2012 Kia Soul also give car buyers the option to get noticeably better fuel economy by purchasing a Soul equipped with low rolling resistance tires and their new automatic transmissions which can improve city-driving gas mileage.
2012 Kia Soul Stats
- 2012 IIHS Top Safety Pick
- MPG: 26 City, 34 Highway or 27 / 35 depending on engine choice.
- Engine: Choice of 1.6 Liter, 138 HP 4-Cylinder or 2.0 Liter, 164 HP 4-Cylinder system, Steering wheel controls, ipod-ready.
2012 Volkswagen Passat
Generally speaking, the 2012 Volkswagen Passat needs no introduction. It’s been a staple of the German auto manufacturer for a long time now and has built a reputation for safety and dependability. The 2012 Volkswagen Passat took it up a notch, winning the 2012 Motor Trend Car of the Year award—a very high honor. What made it so great? No one saw it coming. The muted-yet-detailed design was employed as a means to appeal to a wider audience, but the German engineering and driving excitement remained. What we have is a fantastic family car that just makes it into the “under $15,000” category. The back seat is incredibly spacious, making it easier to move the kids in and out of the car. The front seats are also roomier than you’d expect. It also comes with innovative safety features that have given Volkswagen a reputation for safety. The 2012 Passat was the first of a new body design and the cars themselves were built in the U.S. from German-manufactured parts.
2012 Volkswagen Passat Stats
- 2012 IIHS Top Safety Pick
- MPG: 20 City, 28 Highway or 28 City, 43 Highway depending on engine choice.
- Engine: 140 HP, 2.0 Liter I4 Diesel; 280 HP, 3.6 Liter V-6
(Premium fuel only); 170 HP, 2.5 Liter I5 (regular gasoline)
- Kelley Blue Book: $13,650 -$24,600
- Features Available: Standard dual-zone automatic AC, Fender premium audio package, Sport shifting, automatic manual transmission
2012 Chevrolet Cruze
The 2012 Chevy Cruze fits nicely in the space between the Malibu and the Impala. It has many of the same great features, but comes in at a more family-friendly price point. The 2012 Chevy Cruze gets pretty phenomenal gas mileage considering it’s a mid-sized domestic family car. Of course, you won’t feel like you’re driving a sports car, but then, you weren’t meant to. The Cruze is designed to be a great-looking family car, and on that promise it delivers. User reviews seem to prefer the Malibu to the Cruze when it comes to steering response.
2012 Chevrolet Cruze Stats
- 2012 IIHS Top Safety Pick
- MPG: 25 City, 36 Highway or 28 City, 42 Highway depending on engine choice
- Engine: 1.8 Liter I4, or 1.4 Liter, both at 138 HP
- Kelley Blue Book: $14,150 – $17,300
- Features Available: Improved fuel economy, 1.8 Liter Turbo or 1.4 Liter Engines, 6-speaker stereo standard, 9 speaker stereo upgrade available.
2012 Hyundai Elantra
The Hyundai Elantra has a reputation as being a very reliable vehicle. Even if it wasn’t, the fantastic warranty that accompanies Hyundai vehicles really offers a strong incentive to choose this vehicle. As far as using it as a family car, it meets the basic criteria of having enough space and being economical in both price and fuel consumption. It’s also an elegant-looking car. Something that seems like it shouldn’t be a selling point, but at our given price point of $15,000, finding a car that meets these requirements without looking like an economy vehicle can be a challenge. Unlike the other cars we’ve listed, the 2012 Hyundai Elantra will nickel and dime you when it comes to options. Features such as auto-dimming rear view mirrors, which come standard on many vehicles, will cost you extra on the Elantra. This can be a pro or a con. You’re getting a lot of car for the price and if you have the ability to opt out of a feature you don’t need or won’t use, you stand to save a little bit of money by doing without.
2012 Hyundai Elantra Stats
- 2012 IIHS Top Safety Pick
- MPG: 28 City, 38 Highway
- Engine: 145 or 148 HP, 1.8 Liter 4-Cylinder Engine
(HP based on Manual vs. Automatic Transmission)
- Kelley Blue Book: $13,800 -$16,950
- Features Available: 6-speed manual or automatic transmission, sequential sport shifting, heated rear seats.
More Ways to Find the Perfect Used Car under $15,000
We don’t want you to think that these are your only options. These are simply our top picks for family cars under $15,000. We have plenty of other car buying guides to help you make the most informed decision possible when buying a car. Read more to find other potential vehicle matches for you and your family.