25 Used Cars Under $20K With Consumer Reports Approval

If you want to know why people trust the Consumer Reports auto team so much, just take a minute exploring how the nonprofit agency works. Unlike basically every other reviewer, the organization:

  • Buys the cars they test (some $2.1 million spent in 2016)
  • Accepts no advertising (donation and memberships only)
  • Has testers run the cars through 50 evaluations over several thousand miles

While you shop for the highest rated used cars, you will have a hard time finding a more unbiased perspective. From our point of view, the nonprofit has no match when it comes to reliability ratings. In the latest round of surveys and road tests, Consumer Reports identified a few dozen cars, trucks, and SUVs that are worth buying yet cost less than $20,000 pre-owned.

Here are 25 used models that got the green light for consumers in 2017.

1. Buick Encore

Buick Encore

2014 Buick Encore | General Motors

For several years running, the Buick Encore small crossover has posted strong reliability ratings and solid owner satisfaction scores in Consumer Reports surveys. In 2017, it ranked third among entry-level luxury SUVs. New models can run consumers up to $30,000, but for a better deal look to a 2014 Encore. This edition scored above average in the key testing areas and sells for around $16,000 in front-wheel drive configuration. All-wheel drive editions push closer to $20,000.

2. 2010 Toyota Highlander

Toyota Highlander '10

2010 Toyota Highlander | Toyota

When search engine iSeeCars.com checked which cars owners were keeping 10 years or more, Toyota Highlander and its hybrid variant took two of the top three spots. The high reliability ratings from Consumer Reports over the past decade suggest why. Beginning with the 2010 model year, you can find used Highlanders for as low as $15,000. Some 2011 models hover around the same price. The V6 Highlander features the best performance of the bunch.

3. 2014 Honda Accord

2014 Honda Accord

2014 Honda Accord | Honda

You can hardly go wrong with a late-model Honda Accord. The midsize sedan stalwart always scores high marks in reliability and owner satisfaction, and the 2014 model was as close to perfect as a car gets. From engine and transmission functionality to the electrical system and infotainment, the ’14 proved a winner in Consumer Reports testing. Look for a V6 model for the sportiest version priced below $20,000 used.

4. 2013 Mazda Miata

MX-5 Miata '13

2013 Mazda Miata | Mazda

In terms of performance and styling, the Mazda MX-5 Miata created quite a legacy with models spanning back over 25 years. Not only is the Miata fun to drive, but it also brought reliability to two-seat roadsters. You could get a cool Fiat 124 before Miata came along. The thing was, you were never sure if it would start. Miata reversed that curse and established a terrific record in Consumer Reports testing. Look to 2013 models and earlier for prices ranging from $15,000 to $20,000.

5. 2013 Subaru Forester

Subaru '13 Forester

2013 Subaru Forester | Subaru

Whatever reliability issues Forester had before 2011, Subaru worked out the kinks in later models. Since 2012, this model has scored well above average in transmission, brakes, electrical system, and just about every other department. Likewise, owner satisfaction for Forester beat Mazda CX-5 and Toyota RAV4 scores for 2013. Look to this year and the 2014 edition for four-wheel drive utility starting around $16,000.

6. 2011 Lexus ES

Lexus ES sedan '11

2011 Lexus ES | Lexus

In the Consumer Reports brand rankings, you will find Lexus at the top of the list almost every year. The ES sedan is one of the automaker’s top performers, and its 2011 model was way above the average luxury car in reliability and owner satisfaction. With the passage of time, a car that retails for about $40,000 new comes in as low as $16,000 for an ’11 edition. ES scored much higher than BMW 5 Series and even Mercedes E-Class sedans from the same year. 

7. 2012 Toyota RAV4

RAV4 2012-2013

Toyota RAV4 | Toyota

The 2012 Toyota RAV4 boasts elite reliability ratings coupled with owner satisfaction stats that rival the best. Studies have shown nearly 25% of RAV4 owners holding onto their vehicles for over 10 years, so Toyota obviously earned the trust of the car-buying public with this model. Several low-mileage models from 2012 sell for around $15,000, with V6 editions hitting a higher price point.

8. 2009 Honda Ridgeline

Ridgeline pickup 2009

2009 Honda Ridgeline | Honda

Honda Ridgeline was a surprise winner in Consumer Reports 2017 testing. It does not have the towing capacity or off-road capability of competitors, but it does offer comfort and utility combined with reliability. That tradition extends back a full decade. Ridgeline’s owner satisfaction rating blew away Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier, and Chevy Colorado for 2009. You can pick up a used Ridgeline from that era for less than $15,000.

9. 2015 Toyota Prius

Prius Two-Three-Four '15

2015 Toyota Prius | Toyota

While you have to travel back in time a bit to find low prices on recommended models, used car shoppers can pick up a standard 2015 Toyota Prius for well below the entry price of a ’17 edition ($23,475). Of course, the ’15 does not have the superstar economy that arrived in 2016, but the previous edition of Prius does manage 50 mpg in the city and sells for $16,000 used. Meanwhile, this generation (2010-15) is among the most reliable cars ever made and one of the surest bets to hit 300,000 miles.

10. 2013 Acura TSX

Acura TSX sedan '13

2013 Acura TSX | Acura

The now-discontinued Acura TSX sells as a smaller version of the Honda Accord overseas, but this model sold for over $30,000 new in America. Because of its reliable engine, transmission, brakes, and interior controls, the 2013 TSX scored very high marks in Consumer Reports testing. Owners did report the paint and trim turning rough around the edges over time, but if you want a premium-badged sedan built to run for the long haul, this model dropped below $20,000 in 2017.

11. 2014 Toyota Camry

Toyota Camry XL '14

2014 Toyota Camry | Toyota

While the Camry nameplate has been one of the most reliable sedans of the 21st century, the model redesign in 2012 pushed it closer to perfection. Toyota’s midsize stalwart ranked far above the average in every category tested by Consumer Reports. This model makes it easy on consumers shopping the used market. If you see one with fairly low miles priced around $15,000, feel safe trusting it for the coming 5-10 years.

12. 2015 Buick Verano

Buick Verano sedan '15

2015 Buick Verano | General Motors

Folks who resent cars with premium badges and budget-brand parts will not like the Buick Verano, as this compact sedan is little more than a Chevrolet Cruze underneath the upscale exterior. On the other hand, when an original Verano owner chooses the “convenience equipment group” and lists it below $15,000 for a 2015 model, you have a deal on your hands. Buicks are often among the cars you are better off buying pre-owned, and the ’15 Verano is a perfect example.

13. 2013 Honda CR-V

Honda CR-V '13

2013 Honda CR-V | Honda

The Honda CR-V joined the most reliable cars on the U.S. market following the 2012 redesign, and 2013 models were close to flawless in Consumer Reports testing. However, the compact SUV now retails for over $24,000 in the base trim. If you hope to land a model with high utility and solid fuel economy, turn to a pre-owned edition. ’13 CR-Vs with less than 40,000 miles on the odometer started selling for $15,000 and below in spring 2017.

14. 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek

Subaru XV Crosstrek '13

2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek | Subaru

A Subaru XV Crosstrek may not rate as highly as Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4 on reliability, but it comes close. Consumer Reports noted a few minor engine issues and problems with the general body integrity of the Crosstrek during its battery of tests. Nonetheless, it remains one of the agency’s recommended vehicles on the used market, especially when priced close to $16,000. For those planning to splurge on a new ($21,595) model, that’s also a safe bet given Crosstrek’s remarkably low depreciation.

15. 2010 Toyota 4Runner

Toyota 4Runner '10

2010 Toyota 4Runner | Toyota

A new 2017 Toyota 4Runner starts at $34,210, but studies show that it’s an investment that tends to be worth it. The latest iSeeCars survey of vehicles reaching 200,000 miles had 4Runner near the top, and Consumer Reports reliability ratings showed it well above average. For these reasons, you have to go back to the 2010 model year — the last time it was redesigned — to find an example of this rugged SUV below $20,000 used.

16. 2010 Lexus RX

Lexus RX 350 '10

2010 Lexus RX | Lexus

Though it is normal to see Consumer Reports passing on the first year of a redesign, testers found nothing awry in the 2010 Lexus RX. In fact, the luxury SUV showed improvements in drive system, brakes, and body integrity compared to the ’09 models. But you cannot go wrong with either version. The ’09 model began selling for less than $15,000 in spring 2017, but the updated ’10 edition also landed well below $20,000 for examples featuring fewer than 50,000 miles.

17. 2008 Toyota Tundra

Toyota Tundra full-size pickup '08

2008 Toyota Tundra | Toyota

Growing construction businesses may not have the funds to purchase a brand new Ford F-150 or Chevy Silverado, but there are used models worth your consideration. Take the Toyota Tundra, which sports sky-high reliability and owner satisfaction ratings between 2008 and 2016. To find the lowest prices — down to $15,000 — look for ’08 and ’09 editions, but there are many available from 2010 and later that dipped below $20,000 as of early 2017.

18. 2010 Acura TL

Acura TL sedan '10

2010 Acura TL sedan | Acura

The fourth generation Acura TL (2009 through 2014) was the last, and Consumer Reports calls many of them great bets on the used market. Using our standard of models under $20,000, the 2010 model, at $15,000 or less, should make it onto your radar. That year’s edition featured very high reliability marks that improved upon the redesigned model’s early flaws. Later recommended models like the ’13 may fall below $20,000 as well.

19. 2012 Toyota Avalon

Toyota Avalon '12

2012 Toyota Avalon | Toyota

Toyota’s full-size Avalon constantly turns up on the list of cars that last forever, and its excellent Consumer Reports reliability ratings suggest the reason behind it. With any Avalon from the 2011 model year on, used car buyers get a shot at a sedan built for the long haul at prices as low as $15,000 for a ’12 edition. Redesigned models appearing in 2013 or later confirmed Avalon’s sterling reputation.

20. 2012 Lexus CT 200h

Lexus CT 200h hybrid sedan '12

2012 Lexus CT 200h | Toyota

The huge, obvious advantage of starting out with the Toyota Prius platform is stellar fuel economy. Lexus CT 200h brings over 40 mpg and top-shelf reliability with a premium badge, and you can find examples from ’12 and ’13 for less than $17,000. Its negatives, which include cabin noise and a stiff ride, may limit this model’s appeal for repeat Lexus buyers.

21. 2013 Toyota Prius V

Toyota Prius V hybrid wagon '13

2013 Toyota Prius V | Toyota

Most discussions of the Toyota Prius refer to the Two, Three, and Four “liftback” models. However, there are three other options, including the smaller c, the larger V, and the new Prime plug-in hybrid EV.  As for the spacious Prius V, used car shoppers can get a comfortable wagon returning 42 mpg at used car prices averaging $16,600 for the 2013 model year. Given the car’s incredible reliability ratings, V would serve as an ideal taxi or ride-hail vehicle.

22. 2016 Honda Fit

Honda Fit '16

2016 Honda Fit | Honda

You might be wondering why Honda Fit made this list when a brand-new ’17 model starts at $16,090. That’s a valid point, and you would need to opt for the top Fit trim, EX-L, to find a model that exceeded our price point ($20,365). However, bear in mind that a used Fit could go for as little as $15,000, and there are models from 2012 and 2013 that fall below that mark. Choose a model from 2011, the first when ESC became standard, and you could score one priced below $10,000.

23. 2010 Lexus IS

Lexus IS 350 sedan '10

2010 Lexus IS | Lexus

The second generation Lexus IS landed well above average reliability ratings from 2010 through the 2012 model year, and there are IS 250 editions from the era selling for less than $18,000. Compared to BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-Class, and Audi A4 from the same period, IS scored way above the pack on reliability and remained competitive in owner satisfaction. 

24. 2011 Toyota Venza

Toyota Venza wagon '11

2011 Toyota Venza | Toyota

The discontinued Toyota Venza crossover left behind a legacy of exceptional reliability that extended across the model’s only generation on the U.S. market (2009-15). Among the best values for used models, consumers can pick up a 2011 edition for $15,000 or less. Consumer Reports found no weak spots in this vehicle between 2010 and 2012.

25. 2008 Lexus GS

Lexus GS 350 sedan '08

2008 Lexus GS | Lexus

Rounding out a list that includes 14 models from Toyota or its Lexus division, Consumer Reports called the 2008 Lexus GS a solid bet for used buyers. Featuring the same top-notch reliability as other models from the brand, GS sedans from ’08 and ’09 dipped below $16,000 for buyers hoping to make a premium buy for the long haul. Owner satisfaction ratings for GS during this era topped both Mercedes E-Class and BMW 6 Series sedans.

Source: Consumer Reports

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