It’s expensive to buy and own a car — the American Automobile Association (AAA) pegs the cost of owning a vehicle at a whopping $8,469 a year, or more than $700 a month. But most of us need one to get around; in much of America, it’s just a fact of life.
Still, that doesn’t mean we need an expensive car. While AAA takes into account everything from car insurance and tires to gas and parking, the lion’s share of that annual expense comes from the depreciation of the vehicle (your car payment) and loan interest.
Buying a basic, reliable automobile — or better yet, a used version of the same — is a great way to meet your transportation needs while making a big dent in that yearly expense. After all, why pour so much money into something that, unlike a home or your retirement savings, is all but guaranteed to be a losing investment?
The Simple Dollar’s Best Used Cars for Getting From Point A to Point B: Updated for 2018
With that in mind, we’ve compiled our updated 2018 list of the best used cars for simply getting around. We placed a premium on reliability and fuel efficiency — you want to get where you’re going cheaply and without problems. We also considered safety ratings, but disregarded data related to design and performance. Finally, we divided each car’s raw score by its price to get a sense of which models will offer you the most reliable miles per buck.
We’ve focused only on 2014 and 2015 models. This is for two reasons:
First, there’s enough data to judge their reliability (in the form of JD Power & Associates’ 2018 Vehicle Dependability Study) and compare apples to apples, so to speak.
Second, buying a three- to four-year-old vehicle often makes the most sense financially — you won’t suffer the steep depreciation hit you experience with a new car, but the vehicle probably has many good years (and miles) ahead of it. In fact, some things may still be covered under warranty.
Dependability ratings are based on studies performed by JD Powers and Associates; prices are based on Kelley Blue Book’s fair purchase price for a base model with common options such as air conditioning and power windows. (Jump down for a full explanation of our methodology here.)
Best Used Cars Under $10,000
Because our rankings are weighted to reward reliability and fuel efficiency, the 2015 Nissan LEAF, Nissan’s plug-in electric vehicle (PEV), took top honors among all the other cars on this list — at any price. And that’s even after we included the anticipated $5,500 cost of a replacement battery, typically required after about eight years or 100,000 miles. That said, a fully electric plug-in certainly isn’t for everyone.
The LEAF shines for those who need a cheap, reliable way to go back and forth to work each day or run errands around town. You’ll never have to pay for gas again — nor for oil changes or a lot of other car maintenance costs you’ve come to expect. It could be the ideal commuter or second car.
But with a limited range of just 84 miles, it’s unlikely to replace the family sedan for road trips or weekend getaways — at least, not until electric charging stations grow more commonplace. (It’s also worth noting that federal tax credits don’t apply to the purchase of a used electric vehicle, according to Edmunds — and those same incentives can make buying a brand-new LEAF surprisingly cheap.)
2015 Nissan LEAF
Price: $9,578 ($15,078 including $5,500 replacement battery)
Overall score: 243.4