Part 1: Finding An Affordable Car Under $20,000 In part one of this three part series, we explain what options you can expect to find in the $20,000 and under range. BY SHERRICE GILSBACH
By John Dalog
You might be pleasantly surprised with what you can purchase for under $20,000.
“ Determining which is more important to you, luxury and performance or lower cost of ownership, is part of the car-shopping game…”
For those beginning the car-shopping journey, price is often the first consideration. Being realistic about what you can afford and learning what you can get for that price can be either exhilarating or hugely disappointing. In this series, we’ll look at what car buyers can get—both new and used—for $20,000, $30,000 and $40,000. Here, we detail a few of our favorite options (not specific cars) that you can expect to find for $20,000 or less.
New Cars Under $20,000
There are several new car offerings in the small- or midsize-sedan category with base prices below $20,000. All of the vehicles we feature deliver much more than "economy" cars of previous generations and include all of the following: air conditioning, power windows and door locks, key fob for locking and unlocking, a single in-dash CD player, MP3 decoder, antilock brakes and stability and traction control.
Since these entry-level sedans are fairly small, they also offer significant fuel economy, with city efficiency around 25 to 30 mpg and highway driving achieving 30-plus mpg.
Some of these less-than-$20,000 cars include body-colored door handles and bumpers, considered a step above black plastic trim. A tilting and telescoping steering wheel is also something some of these models offer but others do not, so make sure you read through the vehicle specifications for any car before heading to a dealership.
What you can’t get in the base models of these affordable rides are things like wireless phone connectivity, steering-wheel controls and leather seating upholstery. These items are only available as added options or on more expensive trim levels.
All in all, a new car less than $20,000 will get you where you need to go and will do so with efficient fuel consumption and a modest amount of comfort and convenience. Excitement? Not so much.
Used and Certified Pre-Owned Cars Under $20,000
If you switch to used vehicles less than $20,000, you open up a whole new realm of possibilities. Several luxury brands become available in this price range, albeit with some mileage and a few years of natural wear and tear. By choosing a certified pre-owned used car, you can conquer some of those used-car fears knowing the vehicle has been fully inspected, repaired if needed and may even be under warranty.
If you prefer a vehicle that’s all decked out and delivers better-than-average performance and features, the certified pre-owned luxury car is your best bet. For less than $20,000, we found cars that included a laundry list of attributes to pamper you and make your life easier. Some of these include: power-adjustable and heated front seating, leather seating upholstery, wood trim, auto-climate control, remote window operation, all-wheel drive, multifunction steering wheel and heated windshield washer jets and reservoir to name a few.
On the performance front, these luxury models use larger engines to punctuate their drive feel. In turn, fuel efficiency is not as impressive as the smaller sedans. Add to this the fact that most luxury rides require premium fuel and you know for certain you’ll be paying more at the pump more often than with the economical new cars we’ve featured here. Similarly, maintenance and repair costs will be higher than on a new economy car, even with a CPO warranty. Determining which is more important to you, luxury and performance or lower cost of ownership, is part of the car-shopping game where each decision draws you closer to your ultimate best match.
Stay tuned next week when we bring you the under $30,000 comparison.
Sherrice Gilsbach is an associate online editor for shopautoweek.com, an authoritative online resource for anyone researching a new, used or certified pre-owned vehicle. For their full list of winter driving preparation tips, click here.