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 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
Former Senior Online Editor

In his former role as Senior Online Editor, David edited and wrote a wide range of content for With more than 20 years of experience with Kiplinger, David worked on numerous Kiplinger publications, including The Kiplinger Letter and Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. He co-hosted  Your Money's Worth, Kiplinger's podcast and helped develop the Economic Forecasts feature.