When buying a used car, there are so many considerations to factor in. It can also be difficult to get everything you want under your budget. Reliability and safety are often two of the most important factors when it comes to a used vehicle purchase.
Safety can be particularly important for parents of teen drivers getting their first car. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and Consumer Reports has compiled comprehensive lists of inexpensive cars with a high safety rating.
We have selected a few of the best available for under $15,000 and will run through the safety features & other specifications that make them great choices.
2015 Buick Encore
In 2015 the Buick Encore was selected as an IIHS Top Safety Pick. The Encore featured standard safety equipment like airbags and electronic stability control, as well as optional blind-spot detection and lane departure warning systems.
Aside from excellent safety ratings, the Buick Encore does include some luxury for less than $15,000. Leather seats, rear-view camera, and Bluetooth connectivity can be found on used models within the budget. The FWD Encore also delivers good fuel mileage for a small SUV up to 33 MPG highway, and AWD is also available.
Browse used 2015 Buick Encore listings here.
2016 Chevrolet Equinox
Chevy's offering in the midsize SUV category received a Top Safety Pick designation in 2016 and scored the highest Good rating in all crashworthiness categories. An optional Driver Confidence Package also included a forward collision alert system. The Equinox has a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission and has optional all-wheel drive.
Lower trims are widely available under budget, while top-tier LTZ trim with heated leather seats and other luxury items can be found with higher mileage. The GMC Terrain is largely similar and also delivers excellent safety, and should be considered by the safety-minded buyer, but currently sits slightly over budget.
Browse used 2016 Chevrolet Equinox listings here.
2010 Ford Taurus
The Ford Taurus received a Top Safety Pick award in 2010 and is a great option for buyers looking for a safe large car for under $15,000. Starting in the 2013 model year, the Taurus was redesigned to increase safety, with larger airbags, and improved small overlap crash ratings. The Taurus was also available with AWD for increased four-season safety and could be had with an optional adaptive cruise control system. For a sporty and safe large Sedan, consider the Taurus SHO, with its 365 horsepower twin-turbo V6.
For teen drivers, we would recommend either the naturally aspirated V6 or 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, which have less power and deliver improved gas mileage. All Taurus' offer a roomy and comfortable interior, and can easily be found within the budget.
Browse used 2010 Ford Taurus listings here.
2013 Honda Accord
The 2013 Honda Accord was awarded a Top Safety Pick+ designation in both the roomy sedan and sporty coupe configurations. The Accord received the highest Good rating across all crashworthiness tests and was available with an optional forward collision warning, which can alert the driver if the car senses a possible crash.
Four-cylinder Accords also offer excellent fuel economy of up to 36 MPG highway. 2013 to 2015 models should be readily available under $15,000 and the cost of ownership should be low, thanks to Honda's excellent reliability ratings.
Browse used 2013 Honda Accord listings here.
2016 Honda Civic
The 2016 Honda Civic sedan and hatchback both received IIHS Top Safety Pick+ honors. This high honor is thanks to an optional Honda Sensing Package which includes front crash prevention with automatic emergency braking. The 2016 model year also benefits from several updates to the ninth generation of Honda's compact car, which received rave reviews for correcting some of the cars' more glaring flaws. Definitely look for a 2016 or newer.
An available 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder provides more power than the base model's 2.0-liter naturally aspirated engine but also delivers stellar fuel economy of up to 42 MPG on the highway. A reasonable selection of Civics should be available under the $15,000 mark.
Browse used 2016 Honda Civic listings here.
2015 Honda CR-V
The Honda CR-V scored a Top Safety Pick+ award in 2015 from the IIHS. Optional safety tech includes Honda's Collision Mitigation Braking System, which can help avoid or lessen the speed of an accident. The CR-V also features a sturdy and ergonomic interior across all trim levels, which got great reviews for its quality at the time of its release. Look for an EX trim or higher to get a touchscreen infotainment system and lane departure warning.
Those who don't need quite the size of the CR-V should also consider the smaller Honda HR-V, which also received great safety ratings. Buyers should look for a 2017 or newer HR-V for a $15,000 price range.
Browse used 2015 Honda CR-V listings here.
2016 Honda Odyssey
Honda's minivan offers safety and seating for up to eight. The Odyssey was named an IIHS Top Safety Pick in 2016, when equipped with optional safety equipment, like blind-spot monitoring and land departure warning. It also has LATCH child seat mounting for up to five car seats.
The Honda Odyssey was offered with only one engine option, a 3.5-liter V6, which provides adequate power. In 2016 the Odyssey was well-reviewed for comfort, space, flexibility, and features, even in base trim. An Odyssey is a great option for a safe and livable family hauler under $15,000.
Browse used 2016 Honda Odyssey listings here.
2018 Hyundai Elantra GT
The Elantra GT is the hatchback version of Hyundai's offering in the small car category and was chosen as a Top Safety Pick in 2018. Available safety equipment included front crash prevention technology with automatic emergency braking. To get all of that tech, and much more, buyers will have to look for a Hyundai Elantra GT with the Ultimate Package.
If the Ultimate Package is not available under budget in your area, rest assured the Elantra also delivered excellent crash test results. Being a hatchback, the Elantra GT offers a roomy back seat for the segment and additional storage space behind those seats. It is a practical and affordable small car that is not lacking in safety. Hyundai also has an SUV offering for the budget and safety conscious. The 2018 Hyundai Tucson got good safety ratings and is also available for under $15,000.
Browse used 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT listings here.
2017 Kia Sportage
For the 2017 model year, the Kia Sportage was awarded as a Top Safety Pick by the IIHS. Kia's small crossover SUV featured available automatic emergency braking, as well as optional lane departure warning and blind-spot monitoring. The Kia delivers more than safety, it packs a lot of value. Look for a mid-trim EX model, which includes leather seats, and an economical 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. Buyers will probably be looking at a ride with at least 100,000 miles to get the Sportage at under $15,000. If you're looking for a smaller Kia with excellent safety features, consider a 2019 or newer Kia Niro.
The Niro is an attractive option but has not depreciated to the point of fitting our $15,000 budget. The larger Kia Sorento from 2017 or newer also gets excellent marks but is a little too expensive to qualify for this list. Buyers needing to move more people or stuff should consider the 2017 Kia Sedona minivan, which also received high safety ratings and can be had under the $15,000 budget.
Browse used 2017 Kia Sportage listings here.
2013 Lincoln MKZ
In 2013, the Lincoln MKZ was recognized as a Top Safety Pick+ and was available with optional blind-spot monitoring and active lane-keeping assist. The MKZ is the luxury cousin to the Ford Fusion, so buyers can expect a nice interior, and more features even at this low price point.
Available AWD makes the MKZ another good option for colder areas, and the standard 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine delivers both power and fuel efficiency. Under the $15,000 budget, buyers should be able to find an MKZ that is well equipped, with about 100,000 miles.
Browse used 2013 Lincoln MKZ listings here.
Among small cars, the Mazda3 is an all-around winner. It offers great fuel economy, it is fun to drive, and it received excellent safety ratings when new. The IIHS chose the Mazda 3 as a Top Safety Pick+, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration awarded it a five-star crash test rating in 2014. If safety is a priority, keep an eye out for the optional low-speed automatic braking, lane-keeping assist, and blind-spot detection.
Aside from an excellent safety rating, the Mazda 3 delivers up to 40 miles per gallon on the highway, has top-notch interior quality, and was available in both a sedan and hatchback. A 2014 to 2016 Mazda3 should fall easily under the $15,000 budget, even when well equipped. Mazda's smallest SUV, the Mazda CX-3, is also an excellent pick for both safety and value but is a few thousand dollars over budget.
Browse used 2014 Mazda3 listings here.
Like its smaller sibling, the Mazda3, the Mazda6 also delivers great safety in a slightly larger package. For the 2014 model year, the Mazda6 received an IIHA Top Safety Pick+ award. Optional safety equipment includes blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning, and automatic braking. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder combined with a six-speed transmission delivers 25 MPG city and up to 37 MPG on the highway.
A manual transmission was also available for those that prefer their teenager has a more engaging driving experience, but some safety features may not be available on the grow-your-own trims. A wide variety of Mazda6's should be available under the $15,000 budget.
Browse used 2014 Mazda6 listings here.
2015 Nissan Murano
The Nissan Murano was awarded a Top Safety Pick+ designation in 2015 and is just beginning to dip below the $15k mark on the used car market. Optional safety tech includes forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, and the Murano received good crash-test results. The Murano also comes with an excellent 3.5-liter V6 and has an available AWD.
The lone engine option does mean the Murano can be a little on the thirsty side, with 24 MPG on the combined cycle, whether equipped with front-wheel or all-wheel drive. The 2015 model year benefits from a full redesign, which includes sporty styling in addition to more advanced safety features. Murano's smaller sibling, the Nissan Rogue, also gets a good safety rating and can be found under budget. Look for a 2014 or newer to get the safest model.
Browse used 2015 Nissan Murano listings here.
2017 Subaru Impreza
The Subaru Impreza received a Top Safety Pick+ designation in 2017 in both sedan and wagon body styles. Optional safety features included lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, and automatic emergency braking, as part of the Subaru Eyesight package. The Impreza benefits from Subaru's famous symmetrical AWD system, which is relatively rare in a small car, making it one of the best compact cars for winter driving.
Sedans are easier to find under the $15,000 budget, but patient buyers should be able to get a wagon if the extra cargo room is a must. If even more room is needed consider the Subaru Forester, which also received high marks for safety, but perhaps is slightly over budget when equipped with the optional safety features.
Browse used 2017 Subaru Impreza listings here.
2013 Subaru Outback
The Subaru Outback received a Top Safety Pick+ award in 2013. The optional Subaru Eyesight package included front crash prevention, blind-spot monitoring, and lane departure warning. Aside from the safety tech, the Outback received excellent ratings in crash tests. The Outback also includes confidence-inspiring AWD, which makes it an excellent option in colder climates.
Those who prefer their midsize cars be sedans, rather than wagons, should also consider the Subaru Legacy, which may be available at an even more significant value than the Outback, and received similar safety ratings.
Browse used 2013 Subaru Outback listings here.
2014 Toyota Prius
If fuel economy and safety are the top consideration when buying a used car, you cannot go wrong with a 2014 or newer Toyota Prius. The Prius also received a Top Safety Pick+ designation from the IIHS. The Prius was updated in 2014 to perform better on the small-overlap front crash test and included standard safety features like front and rear curtain airbags. Optional safety features include a pre-collision warning system, which can help reduce speed prior to a crash. The Prius is also rated at more than 50 miles per gallon in the city and has an above-average reliability rating.
For under $15,000 a 2014 Prius can easily be found, but expect to get a well-loved example with over 100,000 miles. Those needing a little more space should consider a 2015 or newer Toyota Prius V, which was also awarded Top Safety Pick+, and can be found under budget.
Browse used 2014 Toyota Prius listings here.
2017 Toyota Corolla
In 2017 the Toyota Corolla received a Top Safety Pick award from the IIHS. The Corolla was redesigned for the year, and sports more aggressive styling. It also includes standard safety features, like forward crash prevention and automatic emergency braking. To stretch your dollar even further look for an LE Eco trim, which gets as much as 40 miles per gallon on the highway.
The slightly underpowered car is a great safe and economical option for teens getting their first car. If you need a little more room, step up the Toyota Camry, which also has great safety ratings and can be had under the $15,000 budget.
Browse used 2017 Toyota Corolla listings here.
2015 Toyota Rav4
Those shopping for the practicality of a small SUV, but also looking for safety should check out the Toyota Rav4. In 2015 the Rav4 was selected as an IIHS Top Safety Pick and received good crash test ratings. Aside from the obvious Toyota reliability, the Rav4 features a surprisingly roomy back seat and an available AWD. With a peppy 2.5-liter four-cylinder, the AWD model delivers as much as 24 miles per gallon.
2015 is about the newest year available under the budget, and buyers may be looking for a Rav4 with fewer luxury features or higher mileage at that price. However, the Rav4 is a safe, practical, and reliable SUV option for less than $15,000.
Browse used 2015 Toyota Rav4 listings here.
2015 Toyota Sienna
For the 2015 model year, the Toyota Sienna received a Top Safety Pick+. Shop for higher trims with the Limited Advanced Technology Package to get automatic emergency braking and other safety features. The 2015 Sienna featured an updated interior, touchscreen infotainment system, and a powerful 3.5-liter V6. Also optional was AWD, meaning the Sienna is a great all-season people mover.
Those looking to move more than five people in safety and comfort can also consider a Toyota Highlander, however, the budget would limit potential buyers to an older model with fewer safety features.
Browse used 2015 Toyota Sienna listings here.
2016 Volkswagen Passat
For 2016 the Volkswagen Passat received a Top Safety Pick+ from the IIHS. Optional safety equipment to look for includes blind-spot detection, lane departure warning, and lane-keeping assist. The Passat also features a high-quality interior, as would be expected from a VW. Even when well-equipped, a 2016 Passat should be available easily under budget.
For a sportier-looking model, keep an eye out for R-Line trim. Buyers who don't need the additional size of the Passat should consider a 2017 Volkswagen Jetta, which also received a Top Safety Pick+ designation.
Browse used 2016 Volkswagen Passat listings here.
2015 Volvo S60
Volvo's reputation for safety is well deserved, and that tradition was continued with the 2016 Volvo S60 grabbing a Top Safety Pick+ designation. The S60's optional safety equipment includes full automatic braking with pedestrian detection. Volvo is also famous for extremely comfortable interiors, and handsome styling. Though the Volvo is a fairly new luxury vehicle, depreciation had pushed it into the realm of affordability.
A 2015 S60 should be easy to find under the $15,000 budget, with under 100,000 miles. The Volvo V60 wagon also features excellent safety and can be found under budget for buyers needing a little more cargo space.
Browse used 2015 Volvo S60 listings here.
For those who want a safe vehicle, without the budget for a brand-new car, follow this list when shopping for the safest used cars. For under $15,000, there are plenty of options that provide value, safety, reliability, and even more. With Pandemic related shortages causing ups and downs in the used car market, do not just use Kelley Blue Book as your guide to pricing out your safe used ride. Check out various online marketplaces and see what is actually listed for sale in your price range. Buyers willing to do some research may be rewarded with a great deal.