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5 Safest Used Cars Under $20,000


Published August 16, 2018

Whatís the best way to choose a used car? Certainly, the total cost of ownership is one method. Itís when you calculate all operational costs for the time you plan on owning a vehicle, then doing the same for another vehicle youíre considering, so as to determine which will cost you less out of pocket over the long run.

A big factor in total ownership cost is depreciation, but by purchasing a used vehicle youíve avoided the worst of it. All cars continue to depreciate until theyíre either worth so little that they become a charitable donation, or, if youíre lucky, theyíve become a modern classic and the selling prices have risen through the roof (donít count on that one, BTW).
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Thereís another factor to consider outside of the total cost of ownership, and thatís safety. While 2018 models, for the most part, come pretty well-equipped, even a few years ago there were vehicles that didnít feature a full complement of safety features and scored poorly on the government-conducted crash test.

A very clever company that tracks resale prices decided to determine if there were any values in the used car market that also met stringent safety standards and offered above-average reliability. A tall order, indeed.

What they did was to identify all 2015 model cars that depreciated more than the average 35 percent for three-year-old vehicles. That, in essence, created a pool of potential candidates that could be purchased for much less than their original retail price, despite being as little as 36 months old.
Whatís interesting is that 35% depreciation figure is an average, and varies by the type of vehicle. For example, luxury cars average around a 43% depreciation loss, largely because so many of them have been leased for three years they flooded the market. On the other hand, pickup trucks hold their value best, depreciating an average of just 23 percent after three years because people who buy trucks tend to hold onto them longer, so a three-year-old truck is harder to find. But letís get back to cars.

So we have the list of cars that have experienced sharp depreciation that has brought them into an affordable used-car territory of $20,000 or less. Just as importantly, the list was limited to cars that earned the top Five Star rating in crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

OK, so we have depreciation factored in, safety factored in, but what about the total cost of ownership? The list was further reduced to cars that received an average or better reliability rating from Consumer Reports. In addition, Consumer Reports listed no serious problem with any individual component in the magazine's survey of subscribers who owned those particular vehicles.

So here are the five 2015 sedans that cleared all three of these hurdles. Whatís surprising is that the researcher didnít even have to come close to the self-imposed $20,000 limit, with the most expensive model coming in just 73% of the target maximum.

2015 Mazda6 $15,732

The only car on our list over $15,000, the 2015 Mazda6 is down 46 percent from its new-car price. As with most Mazda sedans, the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine provides energetic performance while the suspension rewards the driver who appreciates fine handling. The 2015 Mazda6 is rated at 28 mpg in city driving, 39 on the highway and 32 combined with the four-cylinder engine.

2015 Ford Fusion $14,920

Ford has made public its plans to stop selling the Fusion model and most other sedans in the U.S. within the next few years. Thatís too bad as car magazine reviewers praised the performance of this 2015 version, Like its midsize competitor Malibu, the Fusion has gas mileage ratings of 25 in the city, 36 on the highway and 29 combined. It gets a better-than-average rating as a used car from Consumer Reports.

2015 Volkswagen Passat $14,905


The Passat has the highest percentage of depreciation on this list Ė about half of the original retail price. As a new car, it already ranked well for the total cost of ownership. What really hurt the 2015 Passat resale value was an all-new model announced for the 2015 model year, which tends to decrease the value of the previous yearís model. The Passat's turbocharged four-cylinder engine is rated at 24 mpg in the city, 35 on the highway and 28 overall.

2015 Chevrolet Malibu $14,370

Chevroletís midsize four-door sedan ranked well not only for safety and reliability but also for the total cost of ownership, as determined by U.S. News and World Reports. Its rugged 2.5 L four-cylinder engine has an EPA fuel economy rating of 25 in the city, 36 on the highway and 29 combined.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta $13,157

When new, reviewers praised the 2015 Jetta for its handling and performance as well as its comfortable interior. Like its stable-mate the Passat, the Jetta received a redesign for 2016. Whatís not known is if public perception about the Volkswagen diesel scandal has kept buyers away or not.

What about SUVs?

If itís an SUV in which youíre interested, there are a few candidates for you. While closer to the $20,000 limit, check out the 2015 Buick Encore at $17,003 and the 2015 Kia Sorento at $17,939, both of which meet the same strict criteria as the cars listed above.
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