The Safest Used Cars for $20,000 or Less

Following a principle of safety first, but not safety, only we've identified nine models that will let you put your mind at ease without breaking the bank.

car striking barrier
(Image credit: Courtesy Insurance Institute for Highway Safety)

Shopping for a used car? Want it to be as safe as possible? Here’s the hitch: The absolute safest vehicle is almost always a brand-new model.

Each year, the latest cars boast more-effective active safety systems (such as automatic braking) as carmakers look to match evolving testing standards from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Newer models also often have invisible structural improvements to aid performance in tests meant to closely simulate real-world collisions (such as hitting a utility pole). Headlight technology is advancing as well. So newer, and thus more expensive, generally means safer.

Don’t despair, though. Many of these features are available on vehicles selling for $10,000 to $20,000. We worked with IIHS’s annual rankings and value data from CarGurus.com to identify the safest models in that price range. Our quest was safety first, but not safety only: We looked for cars that enjoy good reputations for reliability and are popular choices in their segments. Take a look.

David Muhlbaum
Senior Online Editor, Kiplinger.com

David Muhlbaum has worked for Dow Jones Newswires and America Online, where he became the editor of its business news content. He has also worked for MarketWatch. He joined Kiplinger in 2001, handling a variety of content, including business forecasting, taxes, and automotive issues. He is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association.