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Published February 03, 2022
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So you’re buying a car on a budget of $20,000 or less.
Looking at car prices, it may seem overwhelming to find one that fits your price range. But not to worry, you can find a great car for under $20K if you do a little research and ask the right questions.
Buying a car is probably the second biggest financial decision you’ll make next to buying a house, so price is a crucial element. You’ll need to consider how a car payment will fit into your monthly budget, along with the costs to insure and maintain it as well.
The great news is, you can find a reliable, budget-friendly used car for under $20,000. We’ll take a closer look at makes and models that fit the bill.
If you’re searching for a car on a smaller budget, value and reliability are two of the most important factors. You want to get the most for your money, and you want the car to stay on the road for as long as possible, so reliability is important. Check Consumer Reports or J.D. Power to see how the car you may buy is rated for reliability.
You’ll also want to consider how many miles are on the car, which can be an indicator of wear and tear. Ask the seller or dealership for a Carfax report, which can show if the car has been involved in an accident. Research whether the car you’re thinking about buying has any recalls on it that could affect its safety.
Fuel economy is one of the most important costs to consider when looking for the best value car. There’s little point buying a cheap car if it costs a lot in gas each month.
Think about any specific features you need from your next car, such as a tow bar, air conditioning and manual or automatic transmission. These features can affect the value of a new or used car.
Extras like an infotainment screen, rearview camera and other modern tech can bump up the price. However, paying a little more for the features you need may work out as more cost-effective than getting them added later, or realizing you’ll need a different car altogether.
Looking for the safest car on your budget? Take a look at crash test ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The Toyota Corolla grew in size for the 2017 model year, but it still remains a gas sipper, getting 27-28 mpg in the city and 35-36 mpg on the highway. The engine power can feel underwhelming, but that’s made up for with a spacious, quality cabin.
Newer models come standard with Toyota’s Safety Sense technologies, including pedestrian detection, pre-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control. The Corolla also ranks high for crash test safety and reliability.
Looking for a city friendly SUV? While its three- and four-cylinder engines can’t be described as peppy, the Ford EcoSport is maneuverable and easy to park, perfect for fitting into tight spaces. This subcompact SUV, introduced in the U.S. in 2018, boasts easy-to-use infotainment features, a stylish interior and lots of cargo space.
The EcoSport is being discontinued in 2022 but there are plenty of used Ford EcoSports on the market.
With a lengthy standard features list, roomy cabin, gentle ride and great fuel economy, the Hyundai is a great value in the compact car class.
It was redesigned in 2017, and again in 2021, giving it a longer, lower and wider body for a sportier look, according to U.S. News and World Report. The Elantra comfortably seats five, with room in the backseat for most adults, and has plenty of cargo space. Drivers may find power and handling to be lacking, especially when head to head with class rivals like the Honda Civic.
Are you looking for a roomy hatchback? The 5-door version was discontinued for 2021 but many used Hyundai Elantra GT models are available.
The fun-to-drive Ford Escape got an interior and styling refresh, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto made available in 2017, and it was completely redesigned for the 2020 model year, including a revamped engine lineup.
This popular, affordable compact SUV has plenty of room for passengers and cargo, and turbocharged engines. Front-wheel drive is standard; all-wheel drive is available as an option.
The Ford Escape has good safety ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Standard driver assistance features in 2020 models include lane-keep assist, rearview camera, forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, blind spot monitoring and more.
The 2018 Volkswagen Jetta is lauded for its large trunk, spacious second row and great fuel economy. Three engines are available, all turbo-charged, including the 150-horsepower, 1.4 -liter 4-cylinder base engine. Both manual and automatic transmissions offer above average gas mileage for a compact car. From 2017 on, a rearview camera is standard.
The Jetta was redesigned in 2019 and used models are available for just over $20,000. The newer version offers a smooth ride, supportive seats and an easy-to-use infotainment system. Two engine choices were added and fuel economy got even better for the 2019 Jetta, according to U.S. News and World Report.
The Kia Optima is a midsized sedan that’s a good option for families. It seats five comfortably, has a large trunk, a long list of standard features and some of the best safety scores in the class for the 2018 model. It also has an easy-to-use infotainment system, although drivers may find that it’s not as fun to drive as rivals, including the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.
The 2018 Optima gained a standard 7-inch touch-screen infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, along with additional active safety features, including blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and rear parking sensors.
The Optima was discontinued in 2021 and replaced with the new Kia K5.
Interested in a subcompact that’s a real bargain AND fun to drive? Consider the Ford Fiesta, especially the sporty 2018 ST hatchback, available only as a 6-speed manual transmission.
Manual transmission not for you? The Fiesta is also available as a sedan, with U.S. News and World Report suggesting the SE trim level as your best bet. It includes power windows, cruise control and available features such as voice-activated navigation system, the SYNC 3 infotainment system with a 6.5-inch touch screen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, heated front seats, automatic climate control and a moonroof.
Cons include cramped back seats and a small cargo hold.
The 2019 Nissan Sentra has a spacious cabin, large trunk and a straightforward infotainment system. The 2019 model received a larger touchscreen, from 5 inches to 7, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto became available.
This practical and affordable sedan gives a decent ride with good gas mileage. If you want to spend a little more than $20,000, you may want to consider a used 2020 Nissan Sentra, which got a redesign, gained a more powerful base engine and several new features became standard, including lane departure warning, driver drowsiness monitoring and blind spot monitoring.
Stand out in the crowd with a Kia Soul. Few cars can best this subcompact SUV’s stylish interior and cavernous cargo hold. It’s not the sportiest car in its class, but offers a gentle ride with engines that have ample power.
The Kia Soul + trim comes with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and a six-speed automatic transmission, UVO infotainment system with a 7-inch touch screen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, automatic climate control and remote keyless entry.
An all-electric powertrain is also available for the Soul. And if you want a manual transmission, a used Kia Soul is a good option, as the manual transmission was dropped for the 2022 model year.
If you have a growing family and want an affordable, roomy sedan, go with the Ford Fusion. Highlights of the 2018 model include peppy turbocharged engines, fun handling and smooth ride, lots of advanced standard safety features and available all-wheel drive.
The 2018 Ford Fusion Titanium and Platinum trims come standard with popular features like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a touch screen. They also have more get up and go, thanks to a turbocharged engine.
The midsize Fusion was discontinued in 2020, but it remains a popular used car.
Every used car for sale at EchoPark undergoes a 190-point inspection, so you can be assured it will remain on the road for years to come. Still haven’t decided on a used car that fits your budget? Talk to one of our Experience Guides today.