Buying a late-model used car
October 6, 2014 10:50 AM   Subscribe

Trying to find a good late-model used hatchback car for under $10,000 and feeling a bit overwhelmed by the research. Looking for advice both on specific models and on researching certified pre-owned cars.

I'm looking for a new (to me) car with some specific parameters. Even though I know what I want, the sheer amount of info out there, plus the fact that the used market is a bit harder to parse than the new market, is making this a bit overwhelming. I have three questions:

1. Right now I'm considering the Honda Fit, Nissan Versa, Mazda 2, and Honda Civic hatchback. Are there other cars meeting my specifications (below) that I should look at?

2. I'm planning to buy from a dealer through a certified pre-owned program. Is there any way to find out how much the dealer paid for it? seems to only show this for new cars.

3. This may be too much to ask but: is there any sort of online tool where I can input the features I want, my price point, and my zip code, and get a rough list of cars that meet those parameters, based on KBB or data?

Here's what I'm looking for in a car:

1. Hatchback.
2. Small footprint, for parking in the city, and good gas mileage.
3. Easy/inexpensive to repair, and good reputation for reliability. I'd like to have this car for a long time.
4. Standard features like power locks and windows (this is why I'm not considering the Yaris)
5. A late-model used car through a certified pre-owned program.


1. USB port (I will install a stereo with this if it doesn't have it, but would prefer to buy a car that already has one)
2. Fun to drive.
posted by lunasol to Shopping (16 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
You might want to check out the Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe twins (used Pontiac Vibes can be great as you get Toyota quality at used Pontiac prices).
posted by Cosine at 11:01 AM on October 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have the newish Subaru Impreza hatchback which I think meets your criteria. It's not really "fun to drive" but I don't think any of the cars on your list would fit that.
posted by H. Roark at 11:03 AM on October 6, 2014

Have you checked out this list?

I would check out the pontiac vibe/toyota matrix, as well as the ford focus hatchback.

I recently bought a used Pontiac Vibe, and am happy with it so far. My favorite alternatives were a Honda Fit or a Yaris but the Fit was 2-3K more and I couldn't find a Yaris with low km in my price range (I'm in Canada and I didn't want to pay more than 7K, I paid $6500 for a 2005 with less than 75 km on it).

Anyway the Vibe so far is fun to drive, I'm a 90% city driver, apparently it's noisy on highways so if you do a lot of high speed driving that's a mark against it. Only other marks against it are that the blind spot is a bit annoying (you can put those little circular mirrors in the sideviews to counter-act that a bit, and there's no arm-rest for the driver.
posted by lafemma at 11:18 AM on October 6, 2014

1. If subcompact hatchback is a must have then you might also consider the Kia Rio5 and Hyundai Accent hatchbacks.

2. Remember that you will pay more through a dealer vs private. Is there a way to know how much a random dealer paid to a random seller? No.

3. There isn't a perfect search engine but I tend to use Autotrader.

The Yaris has optional power windows, if the one you buy has them why would it matter that some Yaris' did not?

What did you want to use the USB port for? For charging? Music? Both? My Mazda3 has no USB port but I added one to the cigarette lighter for power and connect the headphone jack from my phone to the stereo input for music.

You would likely find the Mazda2 to be the most fun to drive, of the list you provided.
posted by Cosine at 11:18 AM on October 6, 2014

The Scion xD is another subcompact hatchback made by Toyota. It's related to the Yaris but has better standard features (and is only slightly more expensive). I've been driving its predecessor (the Scion xA) for almost 9 years and am very happy with the reliability and fuel efficiency.
posted by mbrubeck at 11:19 AM on October 6, 2014

Response by poster: The Yaris has optional power windows

Oh, I didn't realize that! That's really good to know. Also, didn't realize the Vibe was the same as the Matrix ...
posted by lunasol at 11:24 AM on October 6, 2014

The Hyundai Accent is great and compares really well to the other cars you listed. My boyfriend is driving a 2005 model and it has still had no problems.
posted by kate blank at 11:29 AM on October 6, 2014

My wife has a 2007 3-door Yaris with power locks and power windows. We love it! While there is a base model Yaris that doesn't come with power locks/windows most of the Yaris' we saw at Carmax had the power options.

I've driven the Versa and didn't really like it. My brother has the Fit and always talks about how great it is, but they tend to be a bit more expensive used than the other models you're looking at.
posted by Arbac at 11:44 AM on October 6, 2014

For question #3, have you looked at I don't think they have filters for repair expenses or reliability ratings, but should have everything else you're looking at.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 12:57 PM on October 6, 2014

Yes, I came to put in a plug for my trusty 2D Yaris. It definitely has power windows/locks and all modern conveniences, the footprint is tiny, it looks cool, and like all Toyotas it is almost impossible to damage even if you actively try to.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:34 PM on October 6, 2014

In a purely bang for the buck sense you can't beat the versa. Condition/miles to price they were regularly available from dealers for the price private parties wanted for crappier ones of the other cars on this list.

This was when i was car shopping at the end of the spring, so fairly recently. I was shocked at how much versa you could get for your money.

I ended up getting something else, but it was on my short list and I just kept tripping over good deals on them. The hatchback version seems harder to come across than the sedan, though. Kind of the opposite of the yaris and others.

There are absolutely power windows/locks versions too. I didn't see any hatchbacks that didn't have that, only sedans. The stereo also has a line in, and possibly USB. It seems like it's maybe the head unit from the sentra which I know does.

I as well do the cig lighter charger and line in thing. My dad's car I drive occasionally has a USB port, and I vaguely prefer it split up. That way I can charge my phone while a friend plays music, or charge my partners phone without futzing with the stereo(some will ONLY charge in USB aux mode, or with switching to it first), etc.

Out of all of these, the honda fit and the scion XD felt and looked like the nicest cars. Especially the fit, it just doesn't feel cheap. It feels like the escape pod from a big honda or Acura SUV. They also cost a lot more though, and used fits seem to sell almost as fast as they're listed.
posted by emptythought at 2:13 PM on October 6, 2014

For shopping used cars at dealerships in your area, try It gives you the average prices people have paid for vehicles, and also suggests what is a particularly good price for a given car.
posted by Aubergine at 3:05 PM on October 6, 2014

Scion XA if it's not too weird looking for you! It's Toyota make so it's pretty much like a Corolla with a weird little Scion shape. Great gas mileage. I also looked at the Pontiac Vibe and they are good cars. All the actual mechanical parts are the same make as a Toyota Matrix. Also it's both a hatchback and roomy and that is nice.
posted by mermily at 3:20 PM on October 6, 2014

Your best price/performance ratio is almost certainly the Versa. It's a cheap, decent car with the features you're asking for. My guess is you'll pay $3,000-$5,000 more for an equivalent year/mileage Fit or Civic, though those are probably more reliable if you're planning to keep the car for a decade. But your constraint seems to be money, and you're going to get a lot more Versa for your money than you will anything else.

The Versa isn't fun to drive, but it's got a huge amount of space and actually has a usable back seat, which several of the other cars don't.

The Mazda 2 is likely the most fun to drive. The newer Kia Rio and Hyundai Accent hatchbacks seem like really good little cars, though again, you're likely to pay significantly more.

You might consider Hertz Car Sales. We bought two cars from them and had a great experience. Go to one of the corporate locations if you have them nearby, and talk to the salespeople about which individual cars they like. They sell Versas and Mazda2s and possibly some others. Their pricing is $11,500 to $13,000, but you get a car still under factory warranty for that price.
posted by cnc at 3:42 PM on October 6, 2014

Is there any way to find out how much the dealer paid for it?

Buy the dealership. That's really about it. It doesn't matter anyways because it has almost nothing to do with what the car is worth which is driven by what other cars like it are selling for. In fact, if they got a really good deal on the car at the auction they'll set it's "book" value higher.

Let's say the car normally sells wholesale for $12,000 but they only paid $11,000, they'll enter the book value as $12,000 so that it looks like the dealership "owns" the car for $12,0000. They do this to keep everyone (mostly the sales manager) from being tempted to sell that specific car for less than others like ("I could sell it for $12k and it's still a huge commission!") and so that they only have pay commissions on the sale price minus BOOK value. The pay plans will specify that commissions are based on the book value rather than the actual cost for this reason.
posted by VTX at 3:55 PM on October 6, 2014

Response by poster: You might consider Hertz Car Sales.

Wow! I just spent an hour on their site and this may be the answer. Great deals, lots of small hatchbacks. My last used car was a former rental and it was perfect.
posted by lunasol at 9:28 AM on October 7, 2014

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