Top 20 Best Used Cars Under 10K!~

Feb 23, 2003 (Updated Apr 6, 2008)

The Bottom Line There are so many vehicles out there for under $10,000, I feel the following are the best under $10K in each category listed.

I have driven many used cars in my lifetime, many best avoided, however equally as many worthy of purchasing. The following top twenty list is based on my driving experiences with used cars that can now be purchased for under $10,000. Each vehicle has been selected for my top twenty for their generous offerings of performance, style, accommodation, reliability, and many other attributes they offer to the consumer; taking price into major consideration (under $10,000). One should note that only production cars sold between 1989 and 2005 will be listed. Also, the years listed are models that I have been able to find under 10,000, i.e. I might list 1989-1999 of a certain model and not the 2000 model year simply because I have not found that year for under 10 grand yet.


Starting my list is the 1990-2003 Mazda Miata’s. The Miata is by far, the most fun 2 seater that can be purchased for under $10,000. The Miata is not only fun to drive, it gets good gas mileage (around 30 MPG), has a sturdy interior, offers adequate giddy-up from its 4-cylinder, and boasts great looks to boot. Many early models can be purchased for far less than $10,000. I have personally seen a 1992 Miata go for less than $2,000. The early models (up until '94) may be seem a little anemic to many consumers, however. If 116 bhp is not enough oomph, Mazda used a much more powerful 1.8 liter engine in post '94 models (133bhp) and increased power again in 1999 to 140 bhp, Read my review Reliability has also been very good with the Miata. Most owners rarely complain of having to do major engine work before the 150,000-mile mark. If you are in the market for a used 2-seater under 10 grand I highly suggest test driving a Miata.

#19. NISSAN 300ZX:

Whether it be a twin turbocharged model or a non turbocharged model, the 1990-1995 Nissan 300ZX's offer exhilarating performance, unbeatable style for the time period, and excellent reliability; thus comming in at #19. The 300ZX’s are a sure classic and should satisfy all your performance cravings. Once running between $28,000-$40,000 back in the '90s, the 300ZX can now be purchased for as low as $4,000 for a non turbocharged 1990 model with less than 100,000 miles. A twin-turbocharged model will be quite hard to find, though I have seen a few pre 1992 models for less than 10 grand. The 300ZX has had a decent reputation for reliability and should deliver around 25 MPG. My review

#18. Passat VR6:

Coming in at #18 are the 1995-2000 VW Passat’s equipped with the VR6 engine. The Passat makes for an awesome value on the used car market. The VW Passat is handsome, quick, comfortable, and comes standard with a ton of amenities. The Passat also can claim good handling manners, and a proven 2.8-liter V6 that has won over hundreds of thousands of VW fans. Most Passat’s between these years will run you about $10,000, however there is currently plenty 1995-1996 Passats on the market for less than $7,000. If you are looking for a good used car for your family, or just want a good car in general, a used 1995-1998 Passat is definitely your best bet under $10,000 in my book.

#17. Dodge/Plymouth/Chrysler Neon

Making the #17 spot is the Dodge Neon. While I don't recommend buying a Dodge Neon brand new, I do recommend buying a used 2000-2005 model. Thanks to horrible resale value, a 2000 model can be purchased for around 4,000 dollars. The Neon may not be the most refined or reliable car in the world, but it offers good gas mileage, better than average performance, is fun to drive on twisty roads, and amenities are plentiful on most trim levels; all for less than 10 grand.

#16. Acura Integra

Acura Integra's from the years 1995-1999 have always been some of my favorite cars to drive and that is why it makes my top 20 list at #16. The Integra’s in all trim levels, inclduing base, are fun to drive, offer decent gas mileage, have solid interiors, and have a reliability record that would put most sporty coupes to shame. The styling of these coupes is also a key reason why this car makes my list, its design is sleek and sporty; all for less than 10 grand.

#15. 1996-1999 Ford Taurus SHO

Making the #15 spot in an unlikely candidate; the Ford Taurus SHO. The SHO, unlike the base trim level Taurus’s, offers very good acceleration, a fully loaded interior, and a V8. The 240 horse 3.4 liter V8 is smooth and probably the most powerful engine you can get in a big sedan that originally retailed for over $30,000. Now, the Taurus SHO, like many used American made cars, have lost most of their value and can be had for less than $10,000; in some cases less than $5,000 with low mileage. If you are on the market for a used family car for less than 10,000 dollars I highly suggest looking for a SHO.

#14 Crown Victoria

Talk about value! The 1995-2000 Crown Victoria can be had for as low as 10% of what they ran for new. The Crown Victoria offers tons of room, excellent outright performance, and handsome looks. Fuel economy is also good which lands this big sedan at #14. The EPA rates the Crown Victoria at around 26 MPG. With not much competition here, the Crown Victoria didn't have to work very hard to make my top ten. A 1992 Crown Victoria can be had for as low as $2,000, while I have seen 1999 models go for as low as $9,999. My review on Crown Victoria

#13 Acura Legend

From 1989-1996 the Acura Legend offers a superior combination of performance, luxury, good looks, and awesome prices giving it the lucky #13 spot. From 1989 models being sold as low as $1,500 to 1996 models costing around $8,000, the Acura Legend is one luxury car that offers some major bang for your buck if you are in the market for a luxury car with attitude. Sure there might be better luxury cars out there, but at the prices the Legend's are being sold, it has made my top 20 list of cars that can be purchased under $10,000 with flying colors.

#12 Honda Accord

The 1994-2000 Honda Accord makes #12 because of its high levels of refinement. Though much more expensive on the used market than its American competition, the Accord is reliable, refined, well equipped, and ~gasp~ even fun to drive. Though a bit boring in appearance, I have always enjoyed driving the Accord; whether it be the 4-cylinder or the V6 models in latter years. If you are looking for a good family car for less than 10 grand, I highly suggest checking out the Honda Accord between the years of 1994-2000.

#11 Hyundai Elantra

What!?! The Elantra made a lower position than the Accord? Yep, with the 2002-2004 models now selling for less than $10,000, this current generation of the Elantra offers good acceleration (better than the Accord's base 4-cyl) and plenty of amenities for even the most picky of consumers. The Elantra doesn't hold a match to a 2004 Accord or even a 2004 Honda Civic in terms of quality, but for the price you can't beat a used Elantra if you are looking for an economical family car.

TOP 10

#10 Ford Focus

The Ford Focus tops my top 10 due to the amazingly low prices that these vehicles can be had for. For example, a 2000 Ford Focus can be had for as low as $5,000 and a 2005 model for around $10,000! Now that is a bargain! The Focus doesn't offer the best performance, in fact the car is only adequate when it comes to acceleration, but it's interior is solid, powertrain reliable, and it's simply adorable in hatchback versions. If you are going to choose a Ford Focus, I do recommend going with the 5-speed, as it helps utilize the Focus' 2.0 base engine and optional 2.0 Z-Tec much better than the somewhat frumpy automatic that Ford offers.

#9 Honda Civic:

The Honda Civic would have come in at a lower spot, but the prices are still fairly high for newer models. Nonetheless A 1992-2004 Honda Civic is a great buy, and many can be purchased at a very low cost (well below $10,000). After driving many economy cars, i.e. Ford Focus's, pre 2003 Toyota Corollas, Ford Escorts, Dodge Neon’s, etc. etc. the Honda Civic beats them all in overall performance and refinement. The Civic also holds its resale value better than most any car on the market, plus the Civic really doesn't feel like an economy car. The ride feels refined, the engine(s) provide more than enough oomph, and receives awesome fuel economy. In EX trim, with its 1.6 liter V-Tec engine, or in later years 1.7 liter engine, the Civic is a fun car to drive, especially equipped with a 5-speed manual. The Civic also offers plenty of amenities (more than your typical economy car), and has tons of potential in the aftermarket. I'm not listing the 89-91 Honda Civics in my 10 best due to the fact that the successor models are only a bit more money, yet offer a more refined ride, superior interior quality, stylish looks, and more power. A major factor with the Civic is reliability. Let’s face it, we buy economy cars to save money, not so we can dump a huge amount of cash into our car for repairs. The Civic holds true to its economical nature in the sense that it not only gets great fuel economy, but it's a car that is made to last through years of driving while keeping costly repairs to a minimum. I have seen many post '92 Civics with over 300,000 miles on the original powertrain. My review on 2002 Honda Civic

#8 Lincoln Mark VIII

The Lincoln Mark VIII between the year 1993-1998 makes my top 10 list due to their extremely low prices on the used car market. The Lincoln Mark VIII was once a 40,000-dollar car and now can be had for less than 10 grand. These cars offer the Luxury of a Lexus, the power of a Mustang Cobra, and the sophistication of many luxury cars of today. While the interior is a bit dated by today's standard, the Mark VIII makes for a great value on the used car market. If you are on the market for a large luxury car that still gets an EPA of around 20-MPG, I highly suggest checking out a Lincoln Mark VIII.

#7 Chevrolet Camaro/ Pontiac Firebird

Normally this car wouldn't be on my top 10 list, but since a 1998-2000 Z28 can be had for around 10,000 bucks it has landed a low position at #7. With 0-60 times in the 5-second category, 1/4th-mile times in the 13-second range this car is recommended for sheer straight-line performance. What other car can you buy with this type of performance for less than 10 grand? The Camaro might not be the most fun to drive on the twistys or even have a good interior, but its staggering performance in a straight line is worth the 10 grand. Even in V6 form, the Camaro offers good power and even better fuel economy than the already 26+ MPG of the 320 horse Z28.

#6 Geo/Chevrolet Prizm

The Geo and Chevrolet Prizim are one of those cars that have completely got lost in the crowd of economical compacts. This car, though, offers good performance, very good gas mileage (around 38 MPG with the 5-speed) and a well equipped interior for much less money than the Toyota Corolla that it’s based on. If you are looking for a good economical 4-door sedan that offers the reliability of a Toyota, I highly suggest checking out the Geo/Chevrolet Prizm.

#5 Mitsubishi Eclipse GS-T and GSX

The 1995-1999 Eclipse's are amazing little vehicles. For only a fraction of the price that they ran for originally, you can have one of these small 2+2 sport coupes. These cars offer great acceleration, a powerful 210-horse engine, and a decently equipped interior. I especially recommend the GSX, which combines its high horsepower with AWD so you stay planted to the pavement under full throttle take-offs.

Top 3

#3 Volkswagen Golf

The 1994-2001 Volkswagen Golfs, though expensive at one point, can now be had for far less than $10,000 in many instances. I especially recommend the GTI models which combine extreme performance and a fun factor that can't be beat in this market. Plus, the Golf offers utility with its hatchback which helps land it near the top of the totem pole at #3. Styling is also great. Despite having a hatch, VW has somehow made the Golf look adorable, not cheap in any way. VW has had some problems with reliability, but at these prices, I can look past the reliability issues just this one time.

#2 Audi A4

Coming in at the # 2 spot is the Audi A4 between the years 1996 and 1998. These cars were once priced at nearly $30,000, but can now be had for a remarkable $10,000 or less. The A4 offers high sophistication, decent reliability, good performance, and an interior to die for. The A4 is a remarkable automobile for 10 grand that shouldn't go unnoticed if you are on the market for a used entry level luxury sedan.

#1 Honda Prelude

Yes, the 1992- 1997 Preludes are by far the best value on the used car market. The Prelude is fun to drive, very stylish, gets nearly 30 MPG, and can scoot from 0-60 in only 6.9 seconds in latter years with its 2.2 liter 4-cylinder engine. The Prelude, while nearly 30 grand new (in latter models), can now be had for $5,000 for a 1992 model and only around 10,000 for a 1997 model. If you can afford the extra cash, I highly suggest going with the latest model possible, as these cars got to be so much fun before their demise in 2001.


These are my picks of top twenty vehicles to buy under $10,000. If you have any comments or suggestions, feel free to use the comment section.

-Thanks for reading!

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