Based on trends from 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic, it's a buyer's market for cars right now.
The used-car market is currently much stronger than the new-car market because used cars typically offer better prices during an economic downturn.
Business Insider spoke with analysts and a car-buying expert to determine the best used cars for under $15,000.
For those currently shopping for a car, it's definitely a buyer's market right now. Despite a general downturn of new-car sales so far this year, the used-car market actually appears to be on the rebound.
In fact, used-car sales are surpassing new-vehicle deliveries, reports WardsAuto.
"'Used-vehicle sales in May were only 5% below pre-virus forecast' as compared with 20% for retailed new vehicles," Larry Dixon, J.D. Power's senior director-valuation services, told the outlet. "This is a stark improvement from April, and evidence that the used-vehicle market is in recovery."
Tyson Jominy, J.D. Power's vice president-data and analytics, said that a surge in used-car demand tracks with situations of economic duress. He said that new cars don't always come with the best incentives; therefore, buyers turn to pre-owned vehicles.
Tom Carney, a consultant for the National Automobile Dealers Association, said that it's mostly millennials in their 20s who are the "prime candidates" for buying a used car. "They are in the market for an $8,000 to $15,000 vehicle. It's a first car for many of them. They need transportation."
But whether or not you are a 20-something millennial, you might be thinking about buying a car, too. And a used car that's $15,000 or under is an attractive idea, as the average price of a new car in the US is $36,000.
Business Insider spoke with car-buying expert Tom McParland, who runs a service called Automatch Consulting that helps people buy cars, to find out which are the best ones.
"Obviously, there are a ton of used cars in this price range," McParland says. "But I wanted to focus on vehicles that were less than four years old and can be found fairly easily with under 60,000 miles."
McParland's key objective here was to focus on cars that may or may not be on the radar for buyers who are simply looking for "a used Honda or Toyota."
There are many quality cars out there with steeper depreciation curves — something that's good for you, the buyer — that would make for a better value instead of older, higher-mile cars.
Keep reading to see McParland's recommendations.
Hatchback: Toyota Corolla/Scion iM
Hatchbacks are popular with those who like a bit more utility from their vehicles. Because of its design, a hatchback tends to be able to fit more cargo in its trunk while also maintaining the size of a sedan.
McParland recommends the Toyota Corolla iM or the Scion iM — which are the same car, save for the badging. Scion was Toyota's now-defunct, youth-oriented brand and the Scion iM was based off the Corolla's platform. The Corolla is known for its reliability and the hatchback aspect of the iM only makes it all the more useful.
At this price, you can look at lightly used 2017 to 2018 Toyota Corolla iMs and 2016 Scion iMs.
Pickup truck: Nissan Frontier
"Buying a truck for cheap is never easy," says McParland, "but if you are honest with yourself as to what you actually need a truck for, a basic Frontier will likely get the job done."
The Nissan Frontier is a great alternative to the Toyota Tacoma. A comparable Tacoma in the same price range will likely be much older and have higher miles.
For under $15,000, your options of Nissan Frontiers range between 2010 to 2018. The price also depends on how many doors you want, trim, mileage, etc.
Sedan: Chevrolet Impala
Yes, most peoples' go-to sedan choices are the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry. Those are very good and fine cars! But another car you might want to consider is the Chevrolet Impala.
An Impala might remind you of the rental car parking lot outside of the airport, but there's a good reason why they're such popular fleet vehicles. Impalas are roomy, comfortable, and — most importantly — durable.
"Previous generations of the Impala have been used by police departments and taxi fleets," says McParland. "These cars can withstand years of tough driving, provided they are well-maintained." He's right; good maintenance is the secret to reliability.
Impalas that fall within this price range typically range from 2012 models to 2017 models.
Hybrid: Ford Fusion Hybrid
Most people think Toyota Prius when they think of a hybrid car, but there's also the Ford Fusion Hybrid to consider.
Admittedly, the Fusion Hybrid's mpg estimates aren't as good as the Prius's. But there are certainly more of them around. "Inventory is plentiful for lower-mile examples and some within this price range are also being sold with a Ford Certified PreOwned warranty," McParland says.
A certified pre-owned deal is one worth investigating. Most certified pre-owned cars are sold with a manufacturer-backed warranty and other benefits, are gently used, and have been inspected, according to U.S. News & World Report.
The Fusion Hybrid is also larger than the Toyota Prius. Being a mid-size sedan, it might be more practical for the buyer who wants something bigger that can also keep the fuel costs down.
2016 to 2017 Ford Fusion Hybrids, depending on the trim, are available in this price range.
Minivan: Kia Sedona
Minivans might not be as en vogue now as they used to be, but their utilitarian aspects are undeniable. McParland recommends the Kia Sedona to people interested in the classic family hauler.
Don't turn your nose up at the Kia, either; Korean cars are fast shedding their reputation as cheap and flimsy things. Cars today from Kia, Hyundai, and Genesis can all solidly compete with the likes of the Europeans and Japanese.
The good news is that you can actually get the current-generation Kia Sedona at this price range — Sedonas from 2016 to 2017, that is. The new Sedona is a sharp-looking, stylish van, with must-have features like leather seats and power sliding doors even at lower trim levels.
Crossover/SUV: Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
Behind pickup trucks, US buyers are throwing their money most at crossovers and SUVs. It's easy to simply reach for the Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V, but there's more out there to consider. McParland recommends the Hyundai Santa Fe in the Sport trim.
"It's easy to find a 'lifted hatchback' masquerading as a crossover within this price range, but if you need something that is comfortable for four [or five] people and their stuff, the Santa Fe Sport is a mid-size, two-row offering," he says.
You can get a 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport for about $15,000, which McParland notes is a solid pick, especially if you can find yourself a Hyundai-certified example. That can balance out to a 10-year/100,000-mile warranty.
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