10 Best Used Cars For Under $8,000

DETROIT MainStreet) -- Used-car prices are high and trending higher, but bargains do exist.

For instance, the 2002 Infiniti G20 was a luxury car, yet it goes for an average price of $5,965, according to Kelley Blue Book. The car is "a diamond among used-car jewels," says Jason Allan, kbb.com managing editor. It is cheap, he says, because "it wasn't a big car and people are a little afraid to buy something they're not familiar with."
Ford's Crown Victoria stands out amid a lot of fuel-efficient small used cars made by Japanese and Korean manufacturers.

In fact, this hidden bargain ranked No. 2 on the list of the top 10 used cars for under $8,000. Kelley Blue Book's list has rarely been more relevant, given the continuing weak economy and continuing high demand for used cars.

The National Automobile Dealers Association recently said that increasing demand and diminished supply will push used car prices up by 1.8% this year, peaking in April and May, following a 3% increase in 2011. Used car prices are at or near record levels.

The Kelley Blue Book staff created its list by compiling every used car from 2002 and newer with a Kelley Blue Book retail value below $8,000. "We considered all of our experience with the vehicles as well as consumer ratings and reputations," Allan says.

Here is the list, starting with the 10th-biggest bargain.

2008 Kia Rio
The 10th-best bargain on the Kelley Blue Book list is the 2008 Kia Rio compact sedan, which is also the newest car on the list and so comes with a unique advantage: It is still covered under a factory warranty.

The Rio was a good value proposition when it is new, and it remains that way. It is available with a number of trim levels. Allan calls says it is hard to beat "a nice little sedan that it still under warranty."

Kelley Blue Book retail value: $7,680.

2004 Ford Crown Victoria
We move from the Rio to its opposite, a big classic Ford ( F) sedan that is known everywhere.

On a list that, let's face it, is going to include a lot of fuel-efficient small cars made by Japanese and Korean manufacturers, the Crown Vic is an "oddball," Allan says. "But it's big and roomy, which is something a lot of people need."

Additionally, the Crown Victoria is a proven workhorse. Sometimes, Allan says, "people decide they don't want a first-year vehicle that is still working out its problems. The Crown Vic is the opposite of that. Ford has been making and refining and improving and bulletproofing it for decades."

Kelley Blue Book retail value: $7,585.

2003 Mazda Protege5
The eighth-best bargain on the Kelley Blue Book list is the 2003 Protege5 compact, a five-door hatchback with versatility and good gas mileage.

The car is a staff favorite, Allan says. "Mazda makes fun-to-drive cars, and it still looks good today for something that is nine years old, and it has a good track record."

Kelley Blue Book retail value: $7,360.

2002 Toyota Tundra
The seventh-best bargain on the Kelley Blue Book list is the only full-size pickup truck to make it, the 2002 Toyota ( TM) longbed Tundra with a standard cab.

"Toyota was an underdog in pickup trucks then, and it still is, but the Tundra has proven to be a good truck and it meets all the reliability expectations that come with a Toyota," Allan says.

Many other pickup trucks remain a little too pricey for the list, he says.

Kelley Blue Book retail value: $5,950.

2003 Ford Escape
Our sixth-best used-car bargain is the Escape compact XLS sport utility.

"Versatility is the call here, versatility without being too big," Allan says. "The Escape has a nice reliability record and nice fuel economy. The 2003 Escape came out six or seven years ago in the move to compact crossovers and it has held up well."

Kelley Blue Book retail value as of December: $7,425.

2004 Scion xA
The 2004 Scion xA hatchback is the fifth-biggest used car bargain on the Kelley Blue Book list.

When the vehicle was released, some quibbled with the high cost of options, but that is no longer a concern. Rather, "this is a nice vehicle, under $8,000, that has something different but nothing fancy, and it appeals to young buyers," Allan says.

Additionally, Scion continues to provide Toyota reliability that adds value to used vehicles.

Kelley Blue Book retail value: $7,730.

2004 Pontiac Vibe
The single GM ( GM) vehicle on this list is a product of a discontinued brand.

The 2004 Pontiac Vibe sport wagon provides good gas mileage as well as comfort and space.

"We have a Pontiac that is essentially a Toyota Matrix with different sheet metal, and there is a Corolla under the Matrix," Allan says. "We like the body style and the versatility." Additionally, he says, owning a Pontiac provides "a chance to own a piece of history."

Kelley Blue Book retail value: $7,330.

2002 Toyota Corolla
Kelley Blue Book says "the Corolla is always worth considering when on a budget" because it is "purpose-built to deliver reliability, comfort and value."

According to Allan, "Corolla for decades has been a go-to buy" given its reliability and value. Of course, that means that good used Corollas do not generally fall below the $8,000 mark.

Kelley Blue Book retail value as of December: $6,025.

2002 Infiniti G20
Why would a luxury car be near the top of a list of bargain used cars?

In 2002, the Infiniti G20 sedan was felt to be far too similar to the Nissan ( NSANY) Sentra, even though the handling is better and the appearance is far better.

The G20 wasn't particularly well known, which helps to keep the price down, yet the similarity to the Sentra means parts are a little easier to come by."This well-appointed premium badged car comes with the benefit of similarity to a reliable top-selling used car," Allan says.

Kelley Blue Book retail value: $5,965.

2004 Honda Civic
Our No. 1 used-car bargain is hardly a surprise.

Honda ( HMC) has long been known for quality and value, and its products are generally near the top of used car values every year.

"Civic makes it on to a lot of our lists," Allan says. "Civic has been one of the great values of all time as a new car, because of its reliability and dependability, and also because it drives better than a lot of its competitors. That also makes it a great used car."

Kelley Blue Book retail value as of December: $7,670.

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

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