The Best Cheap Cars You Can Find On The Market
Hanna Kielar8 minute read
PUBLISHED: December 27, 2021 | UPDATED: December 12, 2022
If you’re looking for affordable cars, you’re most likely looking at used cars, given that new ones tend to depreciate 20% in their first year alone. If you’re OK with driving a car that was once owned by someone else and acknowledge that there are certain unknowns, buying used is a smart financial decision whether you’re buying for best value or best in luxury.
Be sure to look beyond the ticket price and consider odometer reading, fuel efficiency, car insurance rates, maintenance costs and the overall 5-year ownership cost, which is different for every vehicle and includes depreciation, interest on your loan, and taxes and fees. We’ve compiled a list of the best cheap cars you can find that factor in all of these variables for every make, model and production year.
Buying Cheap Cars: Used Vs. New
In the new vs. used car debate, used cars win, hands down, when considering value. Used cars are affordable in both average price and depreciation rates compared to their new counterparts. As of September 2021, the average price of a new car is inching north of $45,000, while used cars sit at an average price of $24,710, according to a September 2021 iSeeCars study.
New vehicle owners pay for 9% – 11% of the depreciation value of the car within the first minute they drive it off the lot. At the average $45,000 price of a new vehicle, that’s nearly $5,000.
Used vehicles can also become the best cheap cars over time, so long as they’re properly maintained. Vehicles built in recent years are built to last much longer than those of the past. Nearly new vehicles, especially, will share similar safety features, fuel efficiency and technology as brand-new vehicles. You’re also less likely to deal with recalls, which typically occur in the first few model years of a vehicle line.
We took a look at some of the best affordable used cars you can find right now and ranked them across several variables that affect the total cost of ownership. Assuming you drive an average of 14,000 miles a year, we’ve calculated how the fuel economy, maintenance costs, insurance rates and average purchase price affect overall 5-year ownership costs.
Table Of Contents
10. Toyota Corolla
Best for: All-around value
MPG: 30 city | 38 highway
5-year ownership cost: $34,205
Average cost to insure: $106 per month
With more than 50 million units sold since 1966, the Toyota Corolla may just be the best bang for your used-car buck. It has a proven track record of reliability and is considered one of the most successful vehicles of the last several decades.
Depending on a variety of factors, most used Corollas sell in the $12,000 – $20,000 range, with a low initial investment, very low insurance costs, plenty of available spare parts and a frugal powertrain that includes an optional gas/electric hybrid model that can get up to 53 mpg in combined fuel economy. The Corolla has almost as many driver comfort options on the dash as its big brother, the Camry. The more luxurious option packages offer leather trim and heated seats.
With a proven track record and literally millions still on the road, the Toyota Corolla is an excellent place to begin searching for value in a used car.
9. Subaru Outback
Best for: Longevity
MPG: 26 city | 33 highway
5-year ownership cost: $34,538
Average cost to insure: $113 per month
Most daily driver used cars on the current market were manufactured within the last 15 years. These cars were built with advanced technology to exacting engineering specifications in a highly competitive global marketplace. Put another way, the used cars of today are better than ever so they can be expected to log more miles than ever. And among these, the Subaru Outback stands out as one of the top 10 cars most likely to go more than 200,000 miles over its lifespan, according to Consumer Reports. Some consumer reviews even note their Outback engine lasting up to 300,000 miles.
That said, Subaru customers tend to take these all-wheel drive (AWD) vehicles off the beaten path, subjecting them to wear and tear to the suspension and vital drivetrain components that are exposed beneath the body of the car. Make sure the previous owners have properly maintained the vehicle before you buy. Rest assured that repair costs remain affordable because the Outback hasn't significantly changed its mechanics for nearly a decade and replacement parts are relatively cheap and readily available.
8. Ford Taurus
Best for: Winter driving
MPG: 17 city | 24 highway
5-year ownership cost: $30,517
Average cost to insure: $151 per month
The Ford Taurus makes this list due to its relatively low 5-year ownership cost and capabilities for winter driving. All six Ford Taurus generations have stood the test of time since its launch in 1986. The seventh generation AWD Taurus introduced in 2016 offers a host of safety features that make it a good option for all-weather and winter-road drivers. The latest Taurus also has a number of luxury options and is large enough to be considered a true family car.
With a common list price in the $14,000 – $19,000 range, a used Taurus is unique on this list as an excellent full-sized sedan.
7. Nissan Rogue
Best for: Outdoor enthusiasts
MPG: 26 city | 33 highway
5-year ownership cost: $28,554
Average cost to insure: $125 per month
The second-generation Nissan Rogue sold well from 2013 – 2020 and a great number of those are now on the pre-owned vehicle market. With a standard all-wheel drive (AWD) drivetrain (and optional 4-wheel drive), the Rogue is a versatile vehicle for adventurers, campers and busy families.
Apart from a cosmetic facelift in 2017 and the introduction of a few consumer electronics for entertainment and driver assist features, generation-2 Rogues have been consistent in their reliable AWD and minimal performance and maintenance issues. The gas/electric hybrid model uses a 2.0-liter inline-4 engine that's mated to a decently powerful lithium-ion battery to deliver good performance over rough roads and rutted trails.
6. Ford Fiesta
Best for: Commuters
MPG: 27 city | 37 highway
5-year ownership cost: $17,995
Average cost to insure: $122 per month
The Ford Fiesta seems almost custom-built for commutes in urban areas. Whether it's half an hour on the freeway each morning, darting in and out of traffic or just trying to find a parking space, the Fiesta eats it up with compact dimensions and a sporty engine that sips fuel in stop-and-go traffic.
The Fiesta has just enough room in the back for a single shopping trip at the big box store, while the stubby profile and slim side dimensions are great for squeezing into tight parking spaces on the street or in crowded lots. Excellent fuel economy and an abundance of spare parts for maintaining an older Fiesta makes this car a good bet for urban living.
5. Jeep Renegade
Best for: Combined road and trail use
MPG: 22 city | 30 highway
5-year ownership cost: $24,908
Average cost to insure: $123 per month
A used all-wheel-drive Jeep Renegade is ideal for budget-conscious adventurers who need a practical ride for daily highway driving and also want to venture off-road. For a vehicle designated as a subcompact SUV, the Renegade’s all-wheel-drive drivetrain, 180-hp inline 4 engine, and a suspension designed by European off-road champion Fiat make it a great choice for leaving the highway behind and cruising over dirt trails for camping and hiking. Be aware, however, that even in the optional 4-wheel-drive configuration, the Renegade does not have the power, suspension, or ground clearance to handle rock climbing or off-roading in extreme terrain.
4. Toyota Prius
Best for: Lowest maintenance cost
MPG: 51 city | 47 highway
5-year ownership cost: $30,436
Average cost to insure: $147 per month
The Prius has done a lot to further Toyota's reputation for being one of the most reliable cars on the road. Since its introduction in 1997, the Prius has consistently ranked near the top of lists for trouble-free performance and low-cost maintenance.
The used Prius earned the number one spot on Consumer Reports' list of the 10 Most Reliable Cars of 2020, and the 2021 models have so far only slipped to number two.
3. Toyota Camry Hybrid
Best for: Fuel economy
MPG: 51 city | 53 highway
5-year ownership cost: $34,794
Average cost to insure: $102 per month
The Toyota Camry gas/electric hybrid models from 2016 onward have been exceptionally good all-around cars, available in multiple trim levels that run from economy to luxury and sport. These vehicles earned a reputation for being one of the most fuel-efficient full-size sedans you can buy.
Late-model Camry Hybrids can get as much as 52 mpg combined economy in the efficient LE trim package, which is powered by a 2.5-liter inline-4 that runs exclusively on 87 octane fuel.
2. Toyota Scion XD
Best for: Cheapest 4-door
MPG: 27 city | 33 highway
5-year ownership cost: $6,400
Average cost to insure: $74 per month
Still near the bottom of the used car price scale, the subcompact SUV Toyota Scion XD challenges the Smart car in affordability without sacrificing the back seats and the convenience of four doors.
For three- and four-member families on a strict budget, a used Scion XD offers versatility, good fuel economy, and a very low 5-year ownership cost without sacrificing Toyota’s renowned reliability. For even better value and typically a lower price, search for a manual transmission model.
1. smart fortwo
Best for: Lowest upfront costs
MPG: 31 city | 39 highway
5-year ownership cost: $11,011
Average cost to insure: $127 per month
The entire run of smart fortwo cars, which are fun, sporty little subcompacts made under license by an American subsidiary of Mercedes Benz, are available on the used car market at extremely affordable prices.
Even when they were new, the earlier smarts had an MSRP of $15,000 or less. Commonly listed at sub-$10,000 prices for loaded models with low mileage, used smart cars can be found in the $5,000 – $7,000 range. As a two-door, two-seat car (there is no back seat), the smart fortwo is a lively little get-around coupe that has plenty of space inside for two adults, can park almost anywhere and gets a nice 35 mpg combined fuel economy.
The Bottom Line: Find The Best Cheap Cars That Hold Their Value
There has never been a better time to buy an affordable used car. Modern engineering and technology, spurred on by tremendous global competition, are now producing extremely reliable, long-lasting vehicles in every class and price point. The best manufacturers are building cars that can easily surpass 150,000 miles on the road when properly maintained. The best new cars from just a few years ago have aged into dependable used cars with all of the advances in safety, comfort and performance that were available then, made affordable now.
Of course, any time you decide to look for the best cheap cars you can buy on a budget, it's important to do some research on availability of parts, the average longevity of a vehicle and the cost of ownership beyond the sticker price.
Skip The Negotiations
Viewing 1 - 3 of 3
How To Buy A Used Car: A Step-By-Step Guide
Buying a used car can be an exciting and smart way to obtain a reliable vehicle. Here are some steps to buying a used car.
How To Buy A Car Online: What To Know Before You Shop
Buying a car online is easier than you think. Find out everything you need to know to purchase a car from the comfort of your living room.