The average used-car purchase price in 2015 was around $18,000, but which are the best at that price point? To answer that, we compiled this list of used cars from the most popular vehicle segments, with extra attention paid to sedans and SUVs. We took into account their availability on dealership lots, the desirability of available vehicles at $18,000, their reliability ratings from several sources and, importantly, how our editors have rated them.
While there are certainly many other worthwhile choices to consider at this price point, these are the ones we would suggest checking out first.
Honda Civic (2014-'15)
This Honda Civic wasn't our top recommended compact sedan when it was new (see the next entry for our pick), but its well-rounded nature nevertheless made it highly desirable. In a way, however, it's become more appealing as a used car. It boasts one of the best reliability records of any car, period, and its generous array of standard features means you won't be short-changed on gadgets and gizmos because you bought a used car.
Mazda 3 (2014-'15)
At a price of $18,000, a compact car is bound to be newer than the other cars on this list. That means it'll have fewer miles, more modern smartphone-connection features and, especially if it's a certified pre-owned car, more warranty years left. This applies to a used Mazda 3 of this vintage, which is the same superior, Edmunds "A"-rated compact sedan and hatchback as the current new one. The reliability of past versions has been quite solid, and there should be enough around to provide a decent number of choices.
Honda Accord (2013)
The Honda Accord has a sterling reputation for reliability, which alone should make it worth consideration for any used-car shopper. That certainly applied to the generation produced for 2012 and the four years prior to that. It's easy to pick up such an Accord for $18,000, but we would recommend searching for one from 2013. It's the current-generation model that saw significant improvements to interior quality, refinement, performance and fuel economy. A smart used-car choice if there ever was one.
Hyundai Sonata (2013-'14)
As obvious a choice as the Accord might be, searching for a Hyundai Sonata will likely yield a car with lower miles, more equipment and a lower price. At the same time, the Sonata from these model years boasts a roomy interior, simple controls, ample features, an agreeable driving experience, good fuel economy and strong reliability. Plus, Hyundai's No.1-rated certified pre-owned program boasts an unmatched warranty.
Kia Soul (2014-'15)
As with our compact sedan choices, you should be able to find a well-equipped, recent model-year Kia Soul in our $18,000 price range. With its elevated seating height and generous interior space, the Soul is an alternative to the subcompact SUVs that have been introduced recently (and that haven't reached the used market yet). It also boasts abundant features, user-friendly controls and, quite obviously, funky style. There are also very few reliability complaints.
Honda CR-V (2012)
The current crop of compact SUVs is very impressive, but most have come out fairly recently, meaning that most used ones are less desirable previous-generation models (take the Subaru Forester or Toyota RAV4, for instance). The Honda CR-V from 2012, however, boasts the same general design, space-efficient cabin and well-balanced driving dynamics as the current model. Actually, a 2012 CR-V may be more appealing than those from later model years as the latter use a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with which many consumers have reported problems.
Subaru Outback (2010-'12)
Anyone searching for a compact SUV would be wise to consider the Subaru Outback, which generally boasts more interior space, better refinement, greater ground clearance and standard all-wheel drive. It's a veritable automotive Swiss Army knife. Outbacks from 2013 had a tendency to burn excess oil (they also might be out of our $18,000 price range), so we recommend those from 2010-'12, which boast excellent reliability, according to multiple sources.
Nissan Murano (2010-'13)
For those in search of more interior comfort, quiet and overall refinement than the previous two utility entries offer, a midsize SUV might be in order. Of the used choices available, the Nissan Murano is a good way to go. Since 2010, this sleekly styled five-seater has been impressively resilient and reliable, according to multiple sources. Its comfortable, composed road manners and luxurious interior set it apart from rivals, while not being significantly inferior to the succeeding generation, which is currently on sale.
Ford Flex (2010-'12)
The Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander are available in abundance and boast strong reliability ratings, but those models available for $18,000 were never our top recommended picks for a variety of reasons. The Ford Flex, on the other hand, is one of those top picks for its space-efficient cabin that can fit adults in all three rows, a carlike driving experience, ample feature content and distinctive styling. Reliability ratings are also perfectly respectable. The fact that it's less popular than the Pilot and Highlander may yield better-equipped vehicles and lower mileage for the money.
Mazda CX-9 (2010-'13)
Another smart alternative to the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander is the Mazda CX-9, a three-row crossover that proves a family hauler doesn't have to be dreary to drive. Indeed, if you're transitioning into an SUV from a smaller, nimbler car, the CX-9 should be at the top of your test-drive list. At the same time, it has one of the most spacious cabins for both people and cargo (especially compared to the Highlander). Like the Flex, the CX-9 reportedly isn't as reliable as its Honda and Toyota rivals (premature brake wear can be a problem area), but it's better than most others.
Toyota Prius (2011-'14)
If you're looking for a hybrid, the Toyota Prius is by far the most efficient and reliable one to be found. It also has a surprisingly spacious cabin, and despite it being the vehicle of choice for many taxi companies, there should be an abundance of cars to choose from. There weren't many significant changes during these model years, apart from the availability of certain features, so the longer remaining warranty should be the main reason to get a Prius from a more recent year.
Toyota Sienna (2011-'12)
There are really only two used minivans we would recommend: the Honda Odyssey and the Toyota Sienna. Simply put, they are superior to their competitors in virtually every area. Picking between the two can be a coin flip in most respects: They were even both redesigned for 2011, meaning one was never at a disadvantage in terms of modernity. We chose the Sienna, however, for its slight edge in terms of reliability. Odysseys from these model years suffered from brake issues. They weren't severe, but the Sienna, by comparison, represents smoother sailing. Both vans from the preceding generation are also worth considering.
Ford F-150 (2006-'10)
While our editors chose the Dodge Ram 1500 as our top-recommended truck when it was new (2009 and later) and multiple sources have shown the Toyota Tundra to be the most reliable full-size pickup, we nevertheless think the Ford F-150 is the best used truck for $18,000. First, it does enjoy a well-earned reputation for being a long-lasting, dependable workhorse, with much better reliability ratings and fewer owner complaints than the Ram. Plus, as the best-selling vehicle on the planet year after year, the sheer number of Ford F-150s available on dealer lots means you'll have considerably more choices.
Infiniti G Sedan (2010-'13)
Many entry-level luxury sedans in this price range are older, sparsely equipped and/or prone to frequent, costly repair trips. Not so the Infiniti G sedan. When new, it was a tremendous value, with ample feature content, a powerful engine (G37), sharp handling and a price of entry lower than its top competitors. All of that also applies to used examples, which have, to this point, been as trouble-free as a luxury car can get.
Lexus RX 350 (2007-'09)
Truth be told, any used Lexus RX 350 you find is likely to be of an older model year than other vehicles on this list and/or is likely to have more miles on the odometer. Still, this definitive midsize luxury SUV is so reliable, with sterling ratings and a scarcity of owner complaints, that it's one of the safest bets in terms of an older, higher-mileage used car. Although it was never the most engaging to drive nor desirable to behold, this RX 350 was roomy, quiet, comfortable and meticulously constructed. There's also the RX 450h hybrid, but it sold in lower numbers and will be harder to find at this price.