Although it's easy to find a used car on a budget, it can be far more difficult to choose one that will remain reliable for years to come. To help cost-conscious buyers pick the most dependable used car around, we've recommended several vehicles available for under $15,000 that score high in J.D. Power's annual Vehicle Dependability Study, which examines the reliability of three-year-old cars. And while we can't be on hand to inspect each vehicle, choosing a good example of any model listed below is likely to mean years of reliable driving.
2007 Cadillac DTS
Despite costing around $50,000 just five years ago, Cadillac's luxurious DTS sedan is now easy to find for under $15,000, with more than 100 listings on AutoTrader.com in our given price range. The sedan also topped J.D. Power's 2010 Vehicle Dependability Study among large premium cars, scoring ahead of some highly reputable rivals including Lexus's ultra-luxurious LS460 sedan. Of course, the DTS also offers a host of upscale luxury touches including plush seating and a smooth 275-horsepower 4.6-liter V8 mated to a standard automatic transmission.
2008 Ford Fusion
Car shoppers interested in a dependable midsize sedan for under $15,000 are likely to find exactly what they're looking for in the 2008 Ford Fusion. With more than 1,100 different listings on AutoTrader.com for under $15,000, the Fusion is certainly in no short supply. The sedan also beat out a long list of rivals in the 2011 J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study's "midsize car" class, scoring above perennial favorites like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. Best of all, the 2008 Fusion offers handsome styling and two durable engines: a 2.3-liter four-cylinder capable of nearly 30 miles per gallon in highway driving, and a muscular 221-hp 3.0-liter V6 that can be easily had within a $15,000 budget.
2008 Ford Mustang
Don't shy away from the Ford's sleek Mustang just because it's a high-performance sports car. Despite its quick acceleration and impressive handling, the 2008 Mustang topped its "midsize sporty car" class in J.D. Power's 2011 Vehicle Dependability Study. And while it's easy to find a V6-powered 2008 Mustang on a budget, buyers willing to consider a 2007 model can even find a long list of V8-powered Mustang GTs for under $15,000. To us, that's a striking deal considering the model's 300-hp V8 that also boasts 320 pound-feet of torque - but even a base-level Mustang is an exciting drive thanks to a 210-hp V6 and 0-to-60 times of around seven seconds.
2008 Honda CR-V
The 2008 Honda CR-V topped J.D. Power's "compact crossover or SUV" category in its 2011 Vehicle Dependability Study - an honor it takes home nearly every time the annual study is released. In addition to placing ahead of traditionally dependable competitors like the Subaru Forester and Hyundai Tucson, the CR-V also offers car shoppers a 166-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine capable of up to 26 mpg in highway driving. Budget-minded buyers will also be pleased to learn that nearly 150 examples of the 2008 CR-V are currently listed on AutoTrader.com for $15,000 or less.
2007 Honda Ridgeline
Honda's brawny Ridgeline pickup topped the competitive "midsize pickup" segment in J.D. Power's 2010 Vehicle Dependability Study, beating out rivals from Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford and Toyota. And while the Ridgeline is certainly a robust used vehicle, it's also a surprisingly good deal, with more than 40 different 2007 models currently available on AutoTrader.com for less than $15,000. For that money, shoppers will get a standard 255-hp V6 that achieves a reasonable 21 mpg in highway driving as well as all-wheel drive, optional leather upholstery and an available power sunroof. The Ridgeline also includes Honda's innovative in-bed storage compartment, which provides a lockable, waterproof container for up to 8.5 cubic feet of gear.
2008 Toyota Prius
In addition to saving car shoppers money on fuel, the 2008 Toyota Prius also benefits buyers with impressive reliability. According to J.D. Power, the hatchback topped the "compact car" class in its 2011 Vehicle Dependability Study, beating out rivals like the Hyundai Elantra and Toyota's Matrix despite its complex hybrid drivetrain. And while we caution buyers against purchasing a high-mileage Prius due to the risk of a dead hybrid battery, it won't be hard to find a well-maintained, low-mileage example on AutoTrader.com. That's because more than 200 different 2008 models are available with starting prices of less than $15,000 - and some even have odometers that read less than 50,000 miles.
What it means to you: Even if you're on a budget, finding a reliable used car may not be as hard as you think.