The 5 Safest Used Cars Under $20,000

Searching for an affordable used car, but just not sure of your options? Here are some of the five best and safest choices under $20,000.

Toby Schultz
5-minute read

“I’m looking to get a new used car; I want something safe, though I can’t afford anything more than $20,000. What would you recommend?” This question, or one along the same lines, is something we hear a lot as mechanics.

Over the last several years. there have been major advances in driver assistance and collision avoidance technology, which have helped bring the cost and complexity of these systems down. These potentially life-saving safety features once found exclusively in high-line luxury vehicles, are now able to be added as relatively low-cost options on everyday economy cars. Features like backup cameras, automatic braking, lane assist technology and intelligent cruise control, as well as a host of others, are actively making driving a car a safer experience. In fact, very recently the IIHS reported that 20 of the world’s largest automakers, making up 99% of the US automotive market, committed to make virtually all of their new cars come standard with automatic emergency braking by model year 2022.

Of course, even as the prices come down, getting a new car equipped with many of these options is extremely likely to cost you more than $20k. This is where the used car part comes in. There are a host of awesome, safe, reliable 2- to 5-year-old cars that have some of these features, and carry a Kelley Blue Book (KBB) value of under $20k. With such a large market of cars, it was hard to pick just 5 of them. I looked at several different criteria: crash test data and safety ratings, consumer reports, owner feedback, plus I went back to my own experience with these vehicles.

Note: Safety ratings came from the  U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) which gives a top rating of 5 stars, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) that gives the highest rating of Top Safety Pick+, which is only awarded with the (+) if the vehicle has forward collision prevention. To ensure you have a variety of choices, I selected 3 standard sedans, 1 “green” car, and one luxury SUV.

1.)  2013-2014 Subaru Legacy 

●     Mid-size 4-door sedan

●     2013 and 2014 IIHS Top Safety Pick+ for superior optional collision warnings

●     5-Star Overall Safety Rating from NHTSA

Subaru is well known for their symmetrical all-wheel drive system that has come standard on nearly all their models for the last 25 or so years. They are also working to stay ahead of the competition with their EyeSight driver assistance and collision avoidance system. This was available as an option with the moonroof equipped Legacy’s beginning in the US in 2013. As of 2015, the Subaru Legacy was one of only 9 models listed with the IIHS the has zero reported fatalities. Fuji Heavy Industries, parent company of Subaru, stated that Subaru models sold in Japan with the EyeSight system have been involved in 60% less crashes than those without it. Subaru’s unibody structure was designed in such a way that it provides a smooth stable ride, while absorbing much of the impact in a collision and passing along less to the driver and passengers. The standard all-wheel drive makes this a great choice for someone living in an area where snowy or slick roads are a common occurrence.

2.) 2013-2014 Honda Accord

●     Mid-size 4 door sedan

●     2013 and 2014 IIHS Top Safety Pick +

●     5-Star Overall Safety Rating from NHTSA

●     Car and Driver 10 Best Cars Award 2013 and 2014

Well known for its long life and reliability, the Honda Accord is now synonymous with another thing: safety. Starting in 2013, Honda Accords came standard with a backup camera, and were offered with a host of other available options. It was one of the first standard sedans to offer forward collision avoidance and lane departure warnings. Your best bet is to find one with both of these options, as they have been proven to reduce insurance claims, by the Highway Loss Data Institute analysis.

3.) 2014 Ford Fusion

●     Mid size 4 door sedan

●     2014 IIHS Top Safety Pick+  

●     5-Star Overall Safety Rating from NHTSA

●     Kelley Blue Book named the 2014 Ford Fusion among the 10 Best Sedans Under $25,000 for 2014.

The 2014 Ford Fusion is currently the lowest price sedan I have in this top 5, but don’t let the price fool you into thinking you are getting any less car...


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