In November 2022, the average price paid for a new car was a whopping $48,681 – a record high. For many, that price tag is tough to manage, especially since interest rates are also on the rise, further ballooning auto loan monthly payments. Until recently, there wasn’t much relief to be found in the used car market, either. But now, supply chain issues, like the semiconductor shortage, are finally getting ironed out. With auto manufacturers finally getting caught up on new car production, used car prices are beginning to fall, at least a small amount.
Let’s face it, Americans are crazy about SUVs. In 2021, over 52 percent of automobiles purchased in the United States were SUVs and it’s not slowing down. In fact, the first four months of 2022 showed that 53.5 percent of all car purchased were SUVs. So, combining thrift with a love for more spacious vehicles, what are the best used SUVs that you can buy for less than $15,000 in 2023?
We used Kelley Blue Book to calculate the value of the following used cars, assuming that they’re purchased from a dealership of some type, not a private seller, and assuming the vehicles were driven the industry average of 15,000 miles per year. Okay, let’s go!
2015 Honda CR-V
According to many sources, the CR-V might be the best SUV that you can find in this price range. Hondas have become well known for their near spotless repair records and excellent fuel economy. And the CR-V has the added bonus of standard all-wheel-drive which really makes it a strong contender for folks that live in snowy climates.
The 2015 CR-V is part of the fourth generation of this vehicle, which stretches from 2011-2015. In our opinion, the final year of this generation, 2015, is the most desirable due to minor cosmetic updates, a new powertrain, and improved suspension. 2015 models can be found for under $15,000, though likely with 100k+ miles on the odometer. The pre-facelifted 2011-2014 models can be purchased for less money and/or with lower overall mileage, so there are some tradeoffs to consider.
2011-2013 Toyota Highlander
The second-generation Toyota Highlander is one of the largest SUVs on this list, but it’s also one of the oldest. Such is the price you pay for seating that fits up to seven and loads of cargo space. Although the second-generation Highlander spans from 2008-2013, we would recommend seeking out the 2011-2013 models which were refreshed by Toyota with more modern looking front and rear fascias, helping to belie their age.
Also, in 2011, features like rear air conditioning, power locks/windows, cruise control, and keyless entry were made standard on even the lowest priced base model Highlander. To meet the sub-$15,000 threshold, buyers will likely have to opt for the 4-cylinder engine instead of the V-6 and stick to the lower trim levels.
2013-2015 Toyota RAV4
The RAV4 has been one of Toyota’s best-selling vehicles for what seems like forever. Much like the Honda CR-V, the RAV4 may not excel in any single area, but it’s a great all-around compact SUV. Also like the CR-V, the RAV4 features full time four-wheel-drive which is well suited to inclement weather. With proper care and maintenance, this Toyota SUV can easily last over 200,000 miles.
The fourth-gen RAV4 received a mid-cycle refresh for the 2016 model year, although it was limited to minor cosmetics such as front and rear LED lighting and a new instrument panel display. The 2016-2018 models with reasonably low mileage will exceed our $15,000 budget anyway, so in contrast to some of the other vehicles on this list, it’s more prudent to target the pre-facelifted 2013-2015 models for the best deal.
2017-2019 Ford Escape
As the only vehicle on this list from an American manufacturer, the Ford Escape is an appealing used car in a number of ways. To start, Ford products don’t hold their value quite as well as Japanese competitors. Therefore, you can get a newer model year, lower mileage, or a higher-level option package on your Escape, still sticking to a $15,000 budget.
Next, there are more than 3,000 Ford dealerships in the United States to repair and service your Escape, whereas rural parts of the country may not have dealerships for foreign brands nearby. There are also thousands of independent Ford specialists who are qualified to wrench on the Escape.
The third-generation of Ford’s Escape covers 2013 – 2019 but considering their relatively affordable price, we recommend sticking to the 2017 – 2019 model years, which received a mid-cycle refresh to include an Edge-inspired front fascia, LED taillights, and improved noise proofing via additional insulation and thicker window glass.
2015-2017 Subaru Outback
Most Subaru owners are highly dedicated to their brand. Especially Subaru’s crossover wagon, the Outback, which enjoys especially strong sales. Its handling may not be quite on par with a sports car, but it is far more compliant and less top-heavy than a more conventional SUV. Thanks to an efficient 2.5-liter “boxer” 4-cylinder engine and Subaru’s “Lineartronic” CVT automatic, the Outback’s fuel consumption and running costs are low.
The Outback has excellent standard safety equipment and crash scores, making it a safety class leader and an excellent choice for families. The Outback will also appeal to buyers who want to occasionally take their vehicles off paved roads, because it boasts nearly nine inches of ground clearance.
The fifth-generation Outback runs from 2015-2019 but to ring in at less than $15k, potential buyers will have to seek out the 2015-2017 models. But the good news is that the Outback underwent very few changes between years. There’s also an available 3.6-liter 6-cylinder engine, but that will surely exceed our tight budget.