By on October 3, 2018

In last week’s Part 1 of this three-part QOTD series, we asked you to scan through the old brain box and offer up good examples of used cars for the budget-minded motorist, keeping your purchase within a stringent $8,000 budget. Today you’ll get a more generous sum of money, but you’ll also find yourself subject to heightened buyer expectations.

Let’s pick out some really tremendous used cars.

As before, it’s not the best time to shop for a used car. Used values are on the rise, as 2018 lease return inventory has not been as abundant as expected. New cars are also more expensive than ever, meaning an average expenditure of over $36,000 for the new car customer. We’re shopping in the middle of the used market today, so our budget is not quite half of what a new car would cost: $15,000.

For our middle-money buyer, some qualities to consider:

  • General availability
  • Likely miles
  • Equipment level
  • Reliability/longevity
  • Fun factor

Like before, we’re seeking to hit the corners of the market where there’s more bang for the buck. That means those two names which are so easy to utter — Camry and Accord — are off limits. As we’ve got more money to work with now and can aim higher, we cut off two more budget motors. That’d be the Corolla and Civic.

Our list of body styles to consider grows with the budget:

  • Sedan
  • Full-size truck
  • V8 SUV
  • Luxury brand car
  • Sports car/convertible
  • Hybrid

This week’s buyer is not as desperate for wheels as the $8,000 customer, and will expect a nicer car for their greater cash outlay. Your choices shouldn’t be too old or worn out. No 180,000-mile 4Runner recommendations, please. Off to you!

[Image: General Motors]

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34 Comments on “QOTD: Can You Hit ’em Where They Ain’t? (Middle of the Market Edition, Pt. 2)...”

  • avatar

    2013 Mustang (likely just the V6 at this price point)
    2015 Mazda Miata (because Miata!)
    2013 BMW 1-Series (yes, I’d risk the ownership pitfalls of a clean, manual trans 1-Series)
    2015 VW GTi (because who doesn’t love plain interiors)

    For the family-oriented:
    2013 Infiniti G37 (I think this is an unsung and underappreciated car)
    2013 Lexus ES300 (for those who don’t want to worry about their comfy cars. Ever.)

    As for SUVs, I just can’t. I know there are tons of good ones, but they all make my soul die a little when I see one. Even the X1.

  • avatar

    ’15-’16 Charger SE (Pentastar, RWD, 8spd auto) should just about clip the $15k mark, just pick the least smoked-in ex-rental with a straight body. I think these really do drive fantastically: excellent ride on the smaller and fatter SE wheel/tire combo, great road holding and generally feels solid like a brick sh*thouse going down the road. Pentastar+8spd are a match made in heaven, smooth and plenty of power for most people, and even some very decent fuel economy.

    ’13-’14ish Avalon: not quite the soft riding pleasure cruisers they once were, but still an excellent way to get into a 2GR powered vehicle with a notably nicer and more interesting interior than a Camry. I think for $15k you’d be in the 70k mile range, just look carefully for previous accident history and abuse and it should be a solid bet.

    ’15-’16 Taurus SEL: will also likely be ex-fleet. I think the ergos in these things are really weird as far as where the seat puts you in relation to the B pillar, but my several rentals of these have impressed me with how easily they eat up miles and how comfortable and relaxing they are to drive. Massive trunk. 3.5L NA motor has plenty of spunk, AWD is widely available, although MPG especially with AWD seems to seriously lag the FCA 3.6+8spd combo

    Alternative idea: buy the most cared for LS430 you can find and set aside the balance of funds for some suspension refreshing.

    Corey check this one out:

    If I hadn’t gone the Audi route I’d be mighty tempted by this one. Sounds like an honest car with a long single ownership history.

    • 0 avatar

      Hmm the miles are a bit high, but it looks nice. I’m concerned there’s a chunk of the front bumper missing. It’s only visible in one picture, because the other ones at the front cut it off.

      • 0 avatar

        Hmm where is that missing bumper chunk? It definitely has its share of scrapes and missing paint on there. I think those miles are in the sweet spot for this age of car, assuming it truly has been maintained well and inevitable things like control arm bushings and power steering rack have already been done. But I suspect this one might be like my ES300 was: maintained, but some issues like suspension wear were just ignored. I also get the warm fuzzies when I see someone selling a car with a set of snow tires.

  • avatar

    My local Ford dealer offers “loaner” C-Maxes with under 2k miles for about $15k.
    Also used BMW i3 REx seems to be available in that price range with low miles.

  • avatar

    Hyundai Genesis 4.6L.

  • avatar

    Family Car: ’13-16 Chevy Equinox
    ’15-16 Dodge Caravan/Chrysler T&C

    Premium Car: ’14-’16 Buick Regal
    ’13-14 Acura TL
    ’12-’13 BMW 3 Series

    Sporty Car: ’14-’15 Mustang
    ’13-15 MK-5 Miata

    • 0 avatar

      “Family Car: ’13-16 Chevy Equinox”

      Run long and far from anything with the 2.4L that the PO foolishly followed GM’s 10k oil change interval on. My brother has diagnosed poor running 2.4Ls that needed their third timing chain at 110k miles, that’s some kind of accomplishment.

  • avatar

    I’m torn between the low mile toys that somebody bought, didn’t really drive except weekends, and now are a bit unloved outside of the enthusiast community.

    Like say the cleanest lowest mile manual transmission Miata I could find for that or the newest cleanest lowest mile Corvette that I could find.

    My other choice would be how much Suburban/Tahoe/Yukon for the money – hopefully a private party sale with a file folder of dealer receipts dating from the first oil change.

    • 0 avatar

      “My other choice would be how much Suburban/Tahoe/Yukon for the money – hopefully a private party sale with a file folder of dealer receipts dating from the first oil change.”

      IMO a lot of GMT900s are starting to age less than gracefully these days, with some AFM issues and various Chinesium secondary systems (think power window switch block, things like that) starting to rear their ugly heads. ’07-’09 era Rust belt trucks are starting to reach the age of body corrosion. Most of the truck is fundamentally sound, but enough things are coming about that a $15k truck (that’d be about 100k miles 7ish years old) might seem a whole lot less appealing than it is on paper. I’d rather track down the nicest 4wd GMT800 from somewhere down south that I could find and spend $8-10k with the balance left for a 4L60E/t-case or AFM-related engine work, or else use the $15k on a downpayment on either a used K2XX truck or maybe a used ’17+ Armada. The GMT900 was peak GM-climbing-out-of-bankruptcy, and Lutz even brags about how smart they were to save money by outsourcing a lot of parts to China in his “Car guys vs Beancounters” book.

      • 0 avatar

        Yep, last week I saw a very clean looking GMT900 Escalade, except for the tailgate. It had rust coming right through the paint along the left side at the lower end, where water had gathered over the years. Looked like it might have been where the metal seam/weld was on the interior side of the tailgate.

        It hadn’t been mistreated, because the rest of the thing was spotless.

      • 0 avatar

        I live in NM – rust is a non-issue, and we use gravel on the roads – not salt. The bigger thing was finding one that was say a garage queen in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Las Cruces and never went anywhere other than the paved road.

        Sine we have a fair number of retirees you may find one that has dealer receipts and has had the major issues (easily found in forums) already largely addressed.

        But this is an academic exercise for me. At this current point in my life I’d rather buy new or CPO.

  • avatar

    ’13-’15 Civic SI- Ahhhh, the joys of VTEC. Fun car to drive and should be reliable as a stone axe.

    ’13-’15 Miata Club- Pop quiz!! What is always the answer?? Again, fun and reliable. What a combination.

    ’14-’16 Mazda 6 Touring- Why the touring? Because I like the engagement that a manual transmission brings. The 6 is a good driver’s car. Ride wont be as plush as others in the segment but for the right person it’ll fit like a glove.

    ’10-’13 BMW 1 Series- Want more power go 135i. Less expensive upkeep and hopefully better reliability go 128i. Either way, you have an enjoyable experience. Just know that it might tap your wallet every now and then.

    ’12 Suzuki Equator- It’s a Nissan Frontier with Suzuki badges. Should do most of the trucky things and be cheap to own.

  • avatar

    Seems like brand new 2019 VW Jettas are offered for under $13000 these days. With the new VW warranty it seems to be a pretty good value proposition. Stick shift, too.

  • avatar

    You’d think something with BMW’s straight 6 may be on the table here.

  • avatar

    Forget a couple- the ST twins. Need more space pick up a Focus. You should be able to get a ’14 or ’15 with moderate miles for 15k. Want more nimbleness and frankly more fun, grab a Fiesta.

    You can surely get a ’16 for under 15k and it wouldn’t surprise me if some ’17s show up for that price.

  • avatar

    CUV: Kia Soul base 6MT
    Hybrid: Ford C-Max
    F/s Truck: Nissan Titan
    V-8 SUV: damn. All the good ones are too popular or too old/high mileage. Idk
    Sedan: Chrysler 300C
    Luxury car: Lincoln MKZ
    Sports car: Subaru BRZ 6MT

  • avatar

    I say last generation Saab 9-5 , easy to find in that price range, mostly GM parts, yes you are rolling the dice on body parts but they are cheap , ride well and safe.

    For a wagon I would go either Volvo xc 70 w or without 4wheel drive depending on needs.

    Sports car Miata the best one I can find for 15K

    Any Acura TL the beak is not great but they ride well or a gen 1 TSX wagon or sedan if you like your cars on the smaller size.

    • 0 avatar

      Can’t get behind last generation 9-5, for many reasons.

      -Used examples seem to fall apart too soon. Button quality, interior trim, pixels in dash, things like that.
      -The 9-5 was rushed to market by a company with no money, and built by irritated workers who were about to lose their jobs. That’s not what you want for your DD. My mechanic describes them as “half-baked.”
      -And while it does have lots of GM components, the things which will break are the Saab parts. They’ll be expensive and hard to replace.

      • 0 avatar

        I do not know Corey, I have a 11 9-5 that just past 100K , I bought in about 2 years ago and put 30 K on it, so far no issues, I have a 4 cyl , I know the 6 cyl which comes w AWD has some issues, but the car seems to be put together pretty well. I am rolling the dice w body parts of course, but I have not heard of any major headaches from the boards with the exception of taillight bulbs burning out and a down and dirty software patch to fix the NAV clock and memory of keeping address saved.

  • avatar

    Sedan – cheating and putting Focus ST. Fun, decently comfortable, and are proving to hold up well.

    Truck – without digging, I’m going to say get the nicest Ram 1500 possible. V6/8-speed combo would be fine for many people.

    V8 SUV – don’t think so chief

    Lux Sedan – 08-11 ES350, Acura TL (6-speeds are probably still over 15k!!), 300C

    Sport car – Will I get yelled at for S2000? Could find a decent one at 15k. If not, BRZ, Miata.

    Hybrid – Nissan Leaf for the full electric experience. Volt for regular plug-in Hybrid.

  • avatar

    I’ll cheat and say a 2017 XTS for $23,000 CAD (18,000 US$). How does it lose 50% of its value so quickly ?

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