"These are all reliable, safe means of transportation that people can buy at affordable prices," says Jack Nerad, executive editorial director at KBB. "There are lots of used cars out there for under $8,000, but there aren't nearly as many that we'd be comfortable putting our children in or recommending to a friend."
Nerad says the best sub-$8,000 used cars are typically late-model versions of top-selling vehicles, which are generally plentiful in the resale market. "There are definitely good cars on our list," he says. "It's just that they're frankly older and very likely to have more miles on them."
Read on to check out KBB editors' top choices for used cars under $8,000, listed in order of how highly staffers ranked each model.
All prices reflect estimates of what you'll pay at a dealership for a given car that's in at least good condition, which KBB defines as having a clean title, no major mechanical problems and only normal wear and tear.
Fifth-best used car under $8,000: 2007 Mazda3
Estimated price: $7,650 (for an iSport sedan with automatic transmission and a 148-horsepower engine)
The Mazda3 has long offered a far zippier ride than you'd expect given the compact vehicle's modest sticker price.
"The Mazda3 has been on our 'Coolest New Cars Under $18,000' list forever and ever," Nerad says. "We really like every iteration of the model, both for its value and for the fact that it's fun to drive."
The 2007 version is part of the Mazda3's first generation, which is two versions removed from a third iteration that came out this year. (The Mazda3 pictured is a more recent model.)
Base 2007s are available as sedans or hatchbacks and come standard with a 148-horsepower four-cylinder engine and manual transmission. Automatic transmission and a peppier 156-horsepower four-cylinder engine are also available.
Fourth-best used car under $8,000: 2005 Toyota Camry
Estimated price: $7,925 (for models with automatic transmission and a 160-horsepower engine)
The well-regarded Camry has long been the U.S. new-car market's top-selling model, which means there are plenty of good used versions of this midsized sedan available as well.
"The Camry is kind of the poster child for dependably and reliability -- and because Camrys are essentially overbuilt, you'll find good value in a 2005 model even if it has a lot of miles on it," Nerad says.
The 2005 Camry is also just two iterations removed from the vehicle's current seventh edition, which came out in 2012.
Base 2005s come standard with manual transmission and a 160-horsepower four-cylinder engine, with automatic transmission and 210-horsepower V-6 engines available as well.
Third-best used car under $8,000: 2005 Honda Accord
Estimated price: $7,810 (for an automatic-transmission, 160-horsepower DX sedan)
This popular midsized vehicle is the Camry's main rival in the new-car market, which means you'll find plenty of good Accords in the used-car sector as well.
"The Accord's story is almost a 'ditto' to the Camry's," Nerad says. "Accords are a little bit more fun to drive, but their quality and reliability are comparable."
Available as a sedan, coupe or hybrid, the 2005 is part of the Accord's seventh generation. The ninth iteration premiered last year.
A 2005 Accord comes standard with manual transmission and a 160-horsepower four-cylinder engine, but versions outfitted with automatic transmission and 240-horsepower V-6 engines are also plentiful in the used-car market.
Second-best used car under $8,000: 2011 Hyundai Accent
Estimated price: $6,870 (for a manual-transmission GL hatchback)
The 2011 Accent is so new that you can buy one and still take advantage of the five-year roadside-assistance policy that the car originally came with. The vehicle's original five-year/60,000-mile warranty will also apply in many cases as well.
But you might not need either policy, as Hyundai -- which once had a reputation for poor quality -- has turned things around "to the point where it's one of the best brands in the industry," Nerad says.
"The 2011 Accent's combination of a fairly recent model year, much-improved reliability and the fact that you might be covered by the car's original warranty makes for a particularly good value," he says.
You'll also get a car that's just one generation removed the Accent's current edition, which launched in 2012.
The 2011 Accent is available as a sedan or two-door hatchback and comes standard with a 110-horsepower four-cylinder engine and manual transmission. Automatic transmission is also widely available.
Best used car under $8,000: 2007 Honda Civic
Estimated price: $7,100 (for a manual-transmission DX coupe)
The compact Civic has less room than its cousin the Accord offers, but $8,000 or so will get you the same reliability and a two-year newer model if you're willing to live with less cabin space.
"The Accord's dependability and fun-to-drive factors are definitely still there with the Civic," Nerad says.
The 2007 Civic is also just one edition removed from the current ninth-generation of the model, which premiered in 2012 (although Honda gave the car an unusually extensive refresh in 2013 after consumers and critics panned the 2012 version).
Available as a sedan or coupe, the 2007 Civic comes standard with a 140-horsepower engine and manual transmission. Automatic transmission, a 197-horsepower engine and hybrid and natural-gas-powered versions are also available.