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Best cars under $20,000

Compare new and used models with budget-friendly price tags.

Finding a car under $20,000 isn’t a difficult task, but choosing one that really stands out can leave you browsing car websites for days. These new and used cars have the safety scores, reliability ratings and price tag to make the top of our list.

How did we choose these cars?

When choosing the new cars on this list, we focused on overall price, safety, reliability and fuel economy. We also took the features included with the base trim into account.

For the used cars on this list, we looked at each car’s overall qualities rather than a specific model year. Because prices will vary widely depending on where you live, whether you buy from a dealership or private seller and the car’s condition, we selected vehicles that had good fuel economy and decent ratings for model years ranging from 2014 to 2018.

Top 5 new cars under $20,000

These five cars earn top scores and have plenty of features included in the base trim.

2020 Toyota Corolla

  • MSRP: $19,600
  • MPG (city/highway): 30/38
  • NHTSA safety rating: 5 out of 5 stars
  • J.D. Power reliability rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The 2020 Toyota Corolla may be at the top of the $20,000 range, but it’s for good reason: fuel efficiency, safety and reliability are all some of the best in its class. But with a cramped rear seat and a base engine that lacks get-up-and-go power, it may not be the best choice if you plan on having a full backseat or zooming down the highway.

2019 Kia Soul

  • MSRP: $17,490
  • MPG (city/highway): 25/30
  • NHTSA safety rating: 5 out of 5 stars
  • J.D. Power reliability rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The Kia Soul often ranks well — and the 2019 model is no different, scoring first place on U.S. News and World Report’s best compact cars list. With a midrange price, high reliability and safety ratings and a top-of-the-line manufacturer warranty, it’s hard to beat the Soul when you’re looking at cars under $20,000. Add to that a strong engine and plenty of space, and it’s easy to see why the Kia Soul ranks so well.

2019 Chevrolet Sonic

  • MSRP: $15,420
  • MPG (city/highway): 28/37
  • NHTSA safety rating: 5 out of 5 stars
  • J.D. Power reliability rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

While the 2019 Chevrolet Sonic doesn’t have the best fuel economy on this list, it makes up for it with plenty of tech features and a spacious interior. But if you’re going for the base trim, keep in mind that power windows and cruise control don’t come standard.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta

  • MSRP: $18,745
  • MPG (city/highway): 30/40
  • NHTSA safety rating: 5 out of 5 stars
  • J.D. Power reliability rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

What the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta lacks in interior luxury and engine power, it makes up for with its great fuel economy. However, it also has one of the higher starting MSRPs and lower reliability ratings on our list.

2019 Nissan Versa

  • MSRP: $12,460
  • MPG (city/highway): 31/39
  • NHTSA safety rating: 4 out of 5 stars
  • J.D. Power reliability rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The 2019 Nissan Versa is extremely affordable, which is why it makes so many top lists. While its known for its roomy seats and high reliability, it comes with a lower-end interior compared to competitors. If you want more tech features or power, a similar subcompact car might be a better choice. Still, it’s hard to beat a new car that comes in under $13,000.

Top 5 used cars under $20,000

These used cars typically come in under $20,000, but you may find some newer models in your area with a higher price tag. Because every used car varies based on mileage, maintenance upkeep and other factors, you might want to read our guide to buying a used car so you know exactly what to look for when you’re ready to buy.

Toyota Camry

The Toyota Camry has consistently ranked as one of the best cars for the money since 2014. While older models don’t have the world’s best gas mileage, its spectacular safety and reliability ratings mean you’re unlikely to have to pay an arm and a leg to repair it every few months.

Honda Civic

Depending on the year, you might get a car that was ranked top of its class — or you could get one that was only so-so. Either way, the Honda Civic has consistently been named a decent car for the price. And you won’t be disappointed by its fuel efficiency, either.

Toyota Corolla

The Toyota Corolla sits a little above average when it comes to reliability, and its fuel efficiency is decent — especially for older models. Base trims had engines that left a lot to be desired for some drivers, though. If you’re thinking of getting a Corolla, it may be worth it to find a more expensive trim with a little more power.

Kia Soul

The Kia Soul is well known for its roomy cabin and has consistently ranked well when put up against other cars in its class. While every model year has subpar fuel efficiency, its reliability rating might make up for that.

Hyundai Sonata

Most of the recent Hyundai Sonata models have ranked near the top of the midsize car class, especially for drivers with families. While its fuel economy may not be the best, its high reliability makes it another strong contender for best used car under $20,000.

When is the best time to find a good deal on a used car?

When you’re looking to buy a used car, stick to the summer months. Dealerships often hold sales for each of the major summer holidays. And at the end of the season, manufacturers begin debuting cars for the next model year. This means you may be able to get a good deal on a new car from this year or an even better deal on a used car from the previous model year.

How to get a good deal on a car in the summer

What should I look for in a car under $20,000?

When you’re comparing your options, keep these five points in mind:

  • Safety features. Safety features like lane monitoring and parking assistance don’t come standard with most base trims, so it may be worth opting for a driver assistance package — or picking a better trim — if you want access to these.
  • High ratings. J.D. Power is a good source for reliability, but you should also keep the NHTSA and IIHS safety ratings in mind when picking a car.
  • Price. Just because a car has a higher price tag doesn’t mean it’s better. Check what features come included. You might find a better deal in a used car than you would with the basic trim of some new cars.
  • Engine specs. If you’re looking for a powerful engine, check out details on the manufacturer’s website as well as car magazine reviews. These can give you a good idea of how a car handles before deciding if it’s even worth a test drive.
  • User-friendly tech. Since most cars come standard with an infotainment system, you’ll want to test it out to ensure you’ll be able to find the settings you want easily. And of course, keep an eye out for basics — power windows don’t always come standard.

Compare car loans for models under $20,000

Name Product Filter Values Minimum credit score APR Loan term Requirements
PenFed Auto Loans
Starting at 1.79%
3 to 7 years
Active membership with PenFed
Low APR car loans from a well-known credit union.
No minimum credit score
3.9% to 27.9%
18+ years old, annual income of $4,000+, no active bankruptcies
Get pre-qualified for used car financing and receive competitive, personalized rates. Car Loans
Varies by network lender
Varies by lender
Must be a US citizen with a current US address and employed full-time or have guaranteed fixed income.
Apply with a simple online application to get paired with a local auto lender. No credit and bad credit accepted.
CarsDirect auto loans
No minimum credit score
Varies by network lender
Varies by network lender
Must provide proof of income, proof of residence, and proof of insurance.
Save time and effort with this lending service specializing in beginner-friendly or subprime car loan.
Auto Credit Express Car Loans
Must be employed full-time or have guaranteed fixed income of at least $1,500/month and be a current resident of the US or Canada.
Get connected with an auto lender near you, even if you have bad credit.
Monevo Auto Loans
3.99% to 35.99%
3 months to 12 years
Credit score of 500+, legal US resident and ages 18+.
Quickly compare multiple online lenders with competitive rates depending on your credit.
Good to excellent credit
Starting at 0.99%
Varies by lender
18+ years old, good to excellent credit, US citizen
Compare multiple financing options for auto refinance, new car purchase, used car purchase and lease buy out. Car Loans
Starting at 1.89%
550+ credit score, no open bankruptcies, $24,000+ annual income, US citizen or permanent resident, 18+ years old
Get up to four offers in minutes through one simple application. Multiple financing types available including new cars, used cars and refinancing.

Compare up to 4 providers

Bottom line

These cars represent the cream of the crop when it comes to a low price tag, but that doesn’t mean you should pay the full sticker price for them. Comparing your car loan options can help you figure out how much you can afford and give you an edge during negotiations.

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