Perhaps the trickiest part about shopping for a used car is that the seller isn’t going to hand you a sheet of its vital stats, and that means you need to do your research before you go. Sometimes, however, Autobytel editors will do your research for you. If you’re on a budget and shopping for a used car, dependability ratings are a great place to start. We used J.D. Power and Associates’ Dependability Study to find 10 of the most reliable and affordable used cars. J.D. Power studies cars’ dependability after they’re three years old, and scores them on a scale of 1 to 5. We verified pricing via online listings.
10 Most Reliable Used Cars under $10,000
Photo Credit: Ford
1) 2011 Ford Focus
According to J.D. Power and Associates, the 2011 Ford Focus hatchback is one of the most reliable used cars you can buy for under $10,000. On J.D. Power’s scale of 1 to 5, the Focus scores a 3.5. The Focus is also a smart choice because it earns high safety scores and has a lot of safety equipment. Budget-minded shoppers will like that its 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine provides good fuel economy. Finding a decent 2011 Focus on the used market should be a fairly easy score. Keep in mind that the 2012 model year marks a new generation of the Focus, which will affect used prices and possibly dependability.
2) 2009 Pontiac Vibe
Though the Pontiac brand was killed off shortly after this car hit the streets, that doesn’t mean the Pontiac Vibe is a bad car. In fact, far from it. This little hatch shares its mechanicals with the Toyota Matrix. It’s safe, thrifty, and came with the option of all-wheel drive. It’s also one of the most dependable models on our list of the most reliable used cars under $10,000, scoring an impressive 4.5 on the J.D. Power and Associates system. Although the 2010 Vibe is essentially the same as the 2009 model (and the last available before the car was discontinued), it suffers a full point drop on the J.D. Power scale. We’d recommend holding out for the 2009 model, in this case.
Photo Credit: Scion
3) 2010 Scion xB
We love the Scion xB for its safety and relatively frugal practicality, and it’s also one of the most reliable used cars you can buy for less than $10,000. Really. J.D. Power and Associates rates the 2010 Scion xB a full 5 on a 5-point dependability scale. Whether you want lots of passenger space or lots of room for cargo in your compact car, this boxy Scion is a smart choice that’s unlikely to let you down. The 158-horsepower xB isn’t one of the most fun used cars to drive—that much is certainly true—but it’s one of the mort responsible choices out there if you're on a budget of $10 grand or less.
Photo Credit: Ford
4) 2010 Ford Fusion
The 2010 Ford Fusion is an affordable midsize sedan that provides comfortable seating for five passengers and is an absolute bargain on the used market, according to recent listings. Dependability experts J.D. Power and Associates also say the Ford Fusion is one of the most dependable used cars available, and it’s another entry on this list that scores a full 5 points on their scale. The Fusion comes with a few different powertrain choices and also offers the option of all-wheel drive, so it’s a bit more upscale than some of the other models highlighted here. A 2010 Ford Fusion might take you right up to our $10,000 budget, but it would be money well spent.
Photo Credit: Hyundai
5) 2010 Hyundai Sonata
According to J.D. Power and Associates, the 2010 Hyundai Sonata is another entry on our list of the most affordable and reliable used cars with a perfect score in the company’s dependability study. The Hyundai Sonata isn’t just known for its reliability, though. This midsize sedan features good safety scores, and provides spacious accommodations for up to five passengers. Later Sonatas are much more stylish, we’ll admit, but there’s something to be said for this generation’s staid profile. If you’re in the market for a used Sonata, we recommend holding out for one with the available V6 engine—it’ll provide a much more pleasant driving experience than the base 4-cylinder model, and won’t cost much more in terms of fuel usage.
6) 2010 Mercury Milan
The 2010 Mercury Milan is another entry on our list of the 10 most reliable used cars under $10,000 that’s a relic of sorts—this was the last year of the midsize sedan, and Ford gave the Mercury brand its exit cue shortly after. The brand’s failure shouldn’t reflect poorly on this car, though—when it was new, critics liked the Mercury version of the Fusion very much. It was a little underpowered compared to the competition, but it was comfortable, upscale, and safe. Savvy shoppers might even find one of the all-wheel-drive examples under our price point. And the best part—and the reason we’re here—the 2010 Mercury Milan earns 4.5 points on J.D. Power’s reliability scale, making it an excellent option.
Photo Credit: Toyota
7) 2010 Toyota Prius
The Toyota Prius was redesigned for the 2010 model year—sometimes a sign to proceed with caution—yet it still scores a full 5 points on the J.D. Power and Associates reliability survey. If you can find one of these most reliable used cars for under $10,000, you’ll be rewarded with strong safety and excellent fuel economy, up to 51 MPG city and 48 MPG highway. If you’re new to a Prius, this hybrid takes a little getting used to, in terms of its bland driving dynamics and unusual style. However, most devoted Prius drivers out there would agree it’s well worth the effort. A used 2010 Toyota Prius at a bargain price is a smart way to join the fold.
8) 2009 Saturn Aura
It’s starting to seem like discontinued brands made some really decent cars in the late 2000s. Saturn was another nameplate from General Motors that met its end during the economic downturn, and the Aura was its bland, though solid, midsize sedan. Engine options were a 4-cylinder and a 3.6-liter V6, both of which earned good reviews from critics when the car was new. Aside from its decent performance, a used Aura won’t cause any excitement, but on the flip side, it probably won’t let you down, either, according to J.D. Power, which awards the 2009 Saturn Aura a full 5 stars for reliability. If you shop for (and buy) one of these forgotten but reliable Saturn sedans, you’ll probably come home with a decent chunk of your $10,000 left over.
9) 2010 Suzuki SX4
The Suzuki SX4 was less a victim of the recession and more a victim of its own maker—the brand made a couple of really interesting cars that it simply couldn’t support. Case in point: the very affordable SX4, a compact sedan or hatchback that had a deceptively large cargo hold and was available with all-wheel drive. While it should have been a slam dunk, the SX4 is sort of ugly, and at that point, so few people knew Suzuki was still attempting to sell cars Stateside that it didn’t really matter. The 2010 Suzuki SX4 has one more thing we like: a 5-star rating on the J.D. Power dependability scale. Although the Suzuki SX4 lasted until the 2013 model year, there was a lot of variation in reliability from year to year. If you’re intrigued by the possibilities of an SX4, do yourself a favor and stick with a 2010 model.
10) 2009 Toyota Yaris
It should be no surprise that Toyota scores another entry on our list of the 10 most reliable used cars under $10,000. We close out with the 2009 Toyota Yaris, which not only earns a perfect reliability score from J.D. Power, it should also be available in most markets for well under $10,000, considering that this little powerhouse didn’t cost much more than that when it was brand new on dealer lots. It’s not especially pretty or fun to drive, and your rear-seat passengers might get a little cranky on a long trip, but an older Yaris is a great fuel-efficient option. We especially recommend the Yaris for city dwellers or for someone who just needs a cheap and reliable car as soon as possible.