11 Affordable Used Cars Most Buyers Overlook

2008 Scion tC

2008 Scion tC by JOHN LLOYD (CC BY)

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2008 Scion tC
2008 Scion tC by JOHN LLOYD (CC BY)

Underappreciated Autos

After a global microchip shortage led to fewer new cars and higher prices, buyers poured into the pre-owned market looking for deals. That perfect storm led to an inflated used market in which some old vehicles are selling for more than MSRP. So hold onto your 15-year-old clunker until the wheels fall off, because it’s a terrible time to buy. That said, if you need a daily driver in this crummy market, it might be worth pursuing a reliable yet underrated make and model to avoid paying $25,000 for a pre-owned Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla. Here are affordable (and reliable) cars that fly under the radar. Do you know others you’d recommend? Let us know in the comments.

Related: Questions to Ask Before Buying a Used Car

Pontiac Vibe 2010
Pontiac Vibe 2010 by Mr.choppers (CC BY-SA)

Pontiac Vibe

Model Years: 2003-2010

This defunct U.S. brand hasn’t been known for its reliability, but the Vibe is an exception because, well, it’s basically a Toyota Matrix. From 2002 to 2010, General Motors partnered with Toyota to bring consumers the Vibe and Matrix, two affordable, compact, and nearly identical hatchbacks. With the Vibe, you get a Japanese car without paying the “Toyota tax.”

Related: These Cars Depreciate the Least (and Most)

2014 Mazda6
2014 Mazda6 by Brett Levin (CC BY)

Mazda Mazda6

Model Years: 2002-present

Everyone knows about the Mazda3, which competes directly with Civics and Corollas. But the slightly beefier and more luxurious Mazda6 is just as worthy of attention. Don’t take our word for it. Car and Driver has named it an Editor’s Choice every year since 2017, crowning it the king of fun-to-drive midsize sedans.

Looking to buy?  Go to Edmunds.com for reviews, cost calculators, and to search inventories at dealers near you. 

Related: Signs The Car Dealership Is Ripping You Off

Nissan Leaf Urban Chrome 2021
Nissan Leaf Urban Chrome 2021 by Kazyakuruma (None)

Nissan Leaf

Model Years: 2011-present

Compared with other Japanese automakers, Nissan has a bad rap when it comes to reliability and quality. But the all-electric Nissan Leaf is an exception. Since Consumer Reports published its first Nissan Leaf review, the Leaf has impressed consistently with its build quality, earning either a 4/5 or 5/5 on reliability. Its limited range and sluggish acceleration mean that it's really only for city dwellers, though.

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Scion iA 2016
Scion iA 2016 by BlueCrabRedCrab (None)

Scion iA

Model Year: 2016

The Scion iA is a true hidden gem. Sold for just one year by Toyota’s now-discontinued sub-brand Scion, the iA is just a repackaged Mazda2. That means it boasts top-tier reliability, handling, and fuel economy — all without sporting the expensive Toyota or Mazda badges. Unfortunately, people have caught on to iA, and given its limited supply, prices continue to rise.

Scion iM 2016
Scion iM 2016 by crudmucosa (CC BY)

Scion iM

Model Year: 2016

Like the iA, the iM is just another car repackaged as a Scion. In this case, the iM shares its platform with the older Toyota Corolla hatchback, meaning it’s a reliable, cheap-to-own compact car that’s a bit of a snoozefest to drive.

2008 Scion tC
2008 Scion tC by JOHN LLOYD (CC BY)

Scion tC

Model Years: 2004-2016

With the Scion tC, you get a stylish, Toyota-made car that has earned high marks for its reliability, nimble handling, and spacious back seat. The main downside is that the tC burns fuel faster than competitors in its class.

Volkswagen Jetta TDI
Volkswagen Jetta TDI by Alexander-93 (CC BY-SA)

Volkswagen Jetta TDI (Diesel)

Model Years: 1980-present (all models)

U.S. regulators discovered that hundreds of thousands of Volkswagen’s diesel vehicles (such as the Jetta TDI) were sold with a “defeat device” used to skirt environmental protection regulations. That hasn’t been good for the Jetta TDI’s reputation — and yet, it’s still a reliable vehicle that gets killer highway MPG. Just be sure to buy a model that’s been retrofitted with Volkswagen’s emissions fix. Consumers can check using VW’s modification search.

Volkswagen Golf TDI
Volkswagen Golf TDI by M 93 (CC BY-SA)
2009 Ford Focus interior
2009 Ford Focus interior by Ford Motor Company (CC BY)

Ford Focus (Manual Transmission)

Model Years: 2000-present

In 2019, Ford landed in hot water after internal documents revealed the company knew about fatal flaws in its PowerShift automatic transmissions. So steer clear of automatic Fiestas and Focuses. A manual Focus, on the other hand, has proven to be a reliable and sporty daily driver.

1986 Lincoln Town Car
1986 Lincoln Town Car by Kevauto (CC BY-SA)

Lincoln Town Car

Model Years: 1981-2011

The Lincoln Town Car, a large, gas-guzzling luxury sedan, is reminiscent of the brand’s golden days when gas was cheap and cruisers were cool. True, it may be 10 years out of date, but this luxe cruiser is still known for its reliability, comfort, and steep depreciation (good for pre-owned buyers).

Lexus CT200h 2011
Lexus CT200h 2011 by Kirakiraouji (CC BY-SA)

Lexus CT200h

Model Years: 2011-2017

The Lexus CT200h isn’t an economy car (it’s a fancy Prius), but its combination of hybrid fuel economy, reliability, generous cargo space, and relatively unknown name makes it a good choice for used car shoppers looking for a posh interior.