Not everyone enjoys poring over used-car classified ads to find that hidden gem. Even our experts find the hunt through bad cars to be the worst part of the buying experience.

An easier solution: Simply determine your budget and choose a vehicle from our lists of the best used cars. We dug through years of test data and hundreds of thousands of survey responses, and cross-referenced those metrics with the availability of electronic stability control, a lifesaving safety feature.

The best of the best used car models are represented here. Each model performed well in our road tests when it was new and had above-average reliability for the model years shown. In addition, each vehicle offered ESC as a standard or optional feature.

We also included a list of used cars you should avoid considering because they proved to be particularly troublesome and unreliable.

Of course, even for used cars we recommend, there can be stinkers—due to a bad day at the factory or a former owner who didn’t care much for car maintenance. Before you buy, make sure to pay for a thorough inspection by a certified mechanic, so there are no surprises down the road.


A photo of the Hyundai Sonata, a model considered by Consumer Reports experts to be one of the best used cars available.

Less Than $10,000

Small cars (with available ESC)

The Focus delivers a steady ride, an interior that feels upscale for the price, and sporty handling. The Vibe is a reliable and spacious compact hatchback similar to the Toyota Matrix. The xB is a cargo box on wheels, ready to haul almost anything you can throw in or at it.

Sedans

You can stick to your budget and still get a reliable premium car if you choose the slick-handling Acura TL. The smaller TSX is a sportier alternative based on the European Honda Accord. The Hyundai Sonata is an accommodating alternative in a plain package. The sporty Mazda6 has a supple ride.

SUVs and Minivans

Standard ESC and curtain airbags, combined with acres of space, make the reliable CR-V a can't-miss prospect. For even more room, check out the eight-seat Pilot with its smooth V6 acceleration and carlike handling. Opt for the Sienna if you need the bountiful accommodations and flexibility of a minivan.


A photo of the Kia Soul, a model considered by Consumer Reports experts to be one of the best used cars available.

$10,000 to $15,000

Small Cars

The Fit is a bit noisy, but excellent fuel economy and a flexible interior make it a standout among subcompacts. The boxy yet stylish Soul has tons of features for a small car and expansive cargo space, making it a smart choice for recent grads. The Mazda3 has everything most shoppers want in a small car: reliability, fuel efficiency, a fun-to-drive attitude, an interior that feels upscale for the price, and seats that won't leave your back and tailbone screaming.

Sedans

The G35 is Exhibit A in how to blend sporty handling with interior refinement. For less of a race-car feel, the MKZ has available AWD and a supple ride. Look for a 2010 model, which has a quieter, more luxurious interior.

SUVs

The MDX's quiet interior and responsive handling put an enjoyable spin on family-friendly vehicles, showing why it's the standard for three-row crossover SUVs. The rock-solid, reliable Highlander is slightly smaller, but for some, it's a handier size. It's available with a third-row seat, and the hybrid version delivers the fuel economy of a small SUV.


A photo of the Mazda CX-5, a model considered by Consumer Reports experts to be one of the best used cars now available.

$15,000 to $20,000

Small Cars

The Prius has always proved that you don't have to give up space or ride comfort to get stellar gas mileage. And its standard electronic stability control is an added bonus. Lots of features for the money, a roomy backseat, and responsive handling make the Elantra a great deal. Go for a 2013 or newer Civic to get its much-needed upgrades in braking, suspension, and the interior.

Sedans

A cavernous backseat, Honda's typically responsive suspension and 25 mpg overall from the four-cylinder engine make the Accord a perennial winner. The Camry is also a no-brainer thanks to stellar reliability and ample space for five adults. The ES takes the Camry platform and adds luxury appointments, front seats worthy of a road trip, and a hushed cabin. 

SUVs

Mazda's CX-5 has very good fuel economy, crisp handling, and a generous rear seat. The RAV4 is available with four- and six-cylinder engines, both of which are quite fuel-efficient. Nimble, secure handling is a plus.


A photo of the Lexus RX, a model considered by Consumer Reports experts to be one of the best used cars available.

$20,000 to $25,000

Sedans

With its composed ride and European-style handling, the Fusion is a reliable, roomy sedan. The spacious and refined Legacy offers a wide variety of advanced safety features. Choose the Avalon if you want a commodious, luxurious sedan without the upscale price.

SUVs

The Murano has long been one of our favorite SUVs, with secure handling and a rich interior. The Subaru Forester has standard AWD, plentiful rear-seat accommodations, great visibility, and a comfortable ride. If you need a reliable SUV with seating for eight and strong towing capability, the Sequoia is a good choice. 

Luxury

The fun-to-drive and smooth-riding E-Class wraps its occupants in a first-class cabin. The Acura blends sporty handling and upscale accoutrements in a reliable small SUV package. The Lexus RX is the go-to upscale SUV for used-car buyers, with its bulletproof reliability, plush seats, and luxury ride. The hybrid version gets an impressive 26 mpg overall.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the April 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.