Car shoppers interested in a recent vehicle with a long warranty don't need to stretch their budget to buy one. Many automakers offer comprehensive certified pre-owned programs, which combine a manufacturer-backed warranty with a nearly new vehicle that has already lost a portion of its value.

Most certified pre-owned vehicles don't include the same warranty coverage as their brand-new counterparts, but used models often include more equipment than a new car at the same price point.

We've listed some of our favorite certified pre-owned vehicles available for less than $15,000 to prove to car shoppers that buying used doesn't have to mean making a compromise.

2009 Chevrolet Malibu

Although $15,000 won't even buy a base-level version of Chevrolet's compact Cruze sedan, it's enough for a well-equipped 2009 Malibu LT with a comprehensive certified pre-owned warranty. That's great news for buyers, since the automaker's certified pre-owned plan is among the best in the business, offering 12 months and 12,000 miles of bumper-to-bumper protection and a five year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty. It's also a good deal considering the Malibu LT's long list of standard equipment that includes steering wheel audio controls, automatic headlights, remote keyless entry and GM's OnStar telematics system. For buyers interested in even more features, an upscale LTZ version of the 2008 Malibu is easy to find for less than $15,000 and includes leather upholstery, heated front seats, a remote engine starter and 18-inch alloy wheels.

2007 Ford Mustang

With more than 20 certified pre-owned 2007 and later models available on AutoTrader.com for less than $16,000, Ford's sleek Mustang is proof that buyers on a budget can get a sporty car with a manufacturer-backed warranty. In addition to a rear-wheel-drive chassis and a 4.0-liter V6 capable of propelling the coupe to 60 miles per hour from a standing start in around seven seconds, the Mustang offers sporty styling and impressive standard equipment like remote keyless entry, 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control and an iPod jack. The coupe also features Ford's comprehensive certified pre-owned program, which offers a 12-month, 12,000-mile comprehensive bumper-to-bumper warranty and seven-year, 100,000-mile powertrain coverage.

2010 Honda Civic

The base price of a new 2012 Civic is well over $16,000 including destination. However, shoppers willing to consider the compact's previous body style will find many well-equipped, low-mileage examples for less than $15,000. Indeed, dozens of top-of-the-line 2010 Civic EX models are available nationwide on AutoTrader.com with Honda's certified pre-owned warranty, which advertises no-deductible coverage for one year or 12,000 miles from the date of purchase and seven years or 100,000 miles of powertrain coverage. And while a new Civic offers updated lines, an upscale 2010 Civic EX includes a long list of equipment such as alloy wheels, an iPod hookup, steering wheel audio controls and four-wheel anti-lock brakes. We also recommend the sharply styled Civic coupe for buyers interested in a new ride with sporty flair.

2010 Kia Soul

Shoppers interested in a brand-new example of Kia's head-turning Soul hatchback will pay about $15,000 for a base-level version. But buyers willing to consider a certified pre-owned 2010 model will likely find a low-mileage vehicle with several options and Kia's certified pre-owned warranty for the same price. In addition to the same unique design found on today's Soul, a certified pre-owned model is likely to include alloy wheels, keyless entry, an iPod hookup and power windows and locks. Further benefits of Kia's certified pre-owned program include the balance of the automaker's 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty and roadside assistance along with travel breakdown coverage for road trips. Best of all, the Soul is likely to keep turning heads as long as it's still on the road-especially in its unusual Alien Green paint scheme.

2010 Mazda3

The sporty Mazda3 is a great alternative to many of today's mundane small sedans. But the compact's unique styling and taut handling carry a premium, with a new model starting around $16,000 after destination. Fortunately for car shoppers, there are many two-year-old, certified pre-owned examples available for under $15,000 that boast the same bold styling and highly praised roadholding as today's version. We recommend a 2010 Mazda3s, which uses a surprisingly muscular 167-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine capable of up to 29 miles per gallon in highway driving. The sedan further includes an impressive list of standard equipment like 17-inch alloy wheels, a power sunroof and keyless access. Certified pre-owned examples will also boast Mazda's manufacturer-backed certified pre-owned warranty that features a year of comprehensive coverage and seven years or 100,000 miles of powertrain protection.

2009 Nissan Altima

Although shoppers interested in a new Nissan for $15,000 would have to settle for a subcompact Versa, buyers willing to consider certified pre-owned vehicles on the same budget can select from a list of more than 100 mid-size Altima models available nationwide on AutoTrader.com. In addition to a longer list of standard features like keyless access and push-button start, cruise control and a stereo with a CD player and an iPod hookup, the Altima offers more interior room and trunk space. And while a brand-new Versa's warranty is a tempting proposition, a 2009 Altima certified by a Nissan dealer will boast powertrain coverage that lasts up to seven years or 100,000 miles. 

2008 Toyota RAV4

Shoppers interested in a brand-new Toyota RAV4 SUV will have to fork over more than $23,000 for even the least expensive model. But a certified pre-owned 2007 or 2008 RAV4-both of which offer the exact same body style as today's model- is easily available for less than $15,000, with nearly 30 examples currently listed on AutoTrader.com. Most certified pre-owned RAV4 listings are for the SUV's 4-cylinder base model, but even those include remote keyless entry, an iPod connection, cruise control and curtain side airbags with rollover deployment. They also boast Toyota's 12-month, 12,000-mile comprehensive warranty and seven year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty along with a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder powerplant that boasts up to 25 mpg on the highway and good power for driving around town.

2009 Toyota Tacoma

If you're looking for a good deal on a used pickup, many examples of Toyota's durable mid-size Tacoma are available on AutoTrader.com for less than $15,000. Most are regular-cab, two-wheel-drive variants that still offer a robust 2.7-liter 4-cylinder engine capable of up to 25 mpg in highway driving with a reliable 4-speed automatic transmission. While that powerplant doesn't make the Tacoma a lightning quick stoplight racer, it provides shoppers with practical, dependable transportation -especially considering Toyota's 12,000-mile, 12-month comprehensive certified pre-owned warranty and its seven-year, 100,000-mile powertrain coverage.

What it means to you: You don't need to spend big money to get a nearly new car with a comprehensive warranty.

author photo

Jeffrey Archer is fortunate to have turned a passion for cars into a career. His wide-ranging automotive experience includes work for automakers and dealers in addition to covering the news. When not writing, he spends his time searching for unique cars on AutoTrader.com.

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