You’ve decided that you want to buy an SUV. But given the depreciation rates of today you’ve also decided that the SUV you want is a used one.
A smart move that one. But the market is clearly over-saturated with SUVs as they have become the favored vehicle format of this decade. You can have an SUV in virtually any shape or size including a coupe and until quite recently, a convertible as well. So among the plethora of options, we’ve narrowed down 12 best SUVs you can buy for under $20,000 that would return the best bang for your buck. A couple of things before we begin. Always remember to check the vehicle history thoroughly especially for accidents and recalls. Also, test drive the vehicle until it satisfies you and we strongly recommend that you take your mechanic with you when you go to look at your potential purchases.
One final disclaimer though, this not a ranked list. The SUVs featured here are based on their reliability, ease of repair, parts availability and customer requirement. The list is an attempt to highlight the variety of options available at a pricepoint.
Year: 2016-2017 Mileage range: 20,000 to 60,000 miles Average maintenance cost: $460/year
It should really be no surprise that the Toyota RAV4 would be on the list. It’s strong sales numbers are a testament to consumer trust and brand loyalty. The primary reason for its popularity is its reliability and robust after-sales service. These factors also contribute to a lower depreciation percentage among its competitors.
That’s why even cars with higher mileage demand premium prices in the used car market. If reliability and tension free ownership are your primary criteria, the RAV4 should be on your radar. You will be able to find a 2017 model with relatively high mileage for under $20,000. The 2017 model was the final facelift of the XA40 generation (the one before the current one). You can even find a hybrid under with asking prices bordering the $20,000 mark.
As for the equipment, under 20K the trims available will likely be LE and XLE. The two base variants. The XLE comes with climate control and a 6.1 touchscreen infotainment system that supports iPod and Sirius XM. The LE is equipped with manual AC and the standard 6.1-inch infotainment system. Safety like emergency braking and pedestrian detection is standard on both but the blindspot detection is available on the XLE only.
A couple of things to note about the RAV4: the infotainment does not support Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, also, the interface itself is a bit dated. Lastly, the 2.5-liter gasoline engine though frugal for its size will feel underpowered as it makes just 176 hp and 172lb-ft of torque.
Year: 2013-2016 Mileage range: 20,000 to 140,000 miles Average maintenance cost: $460/year (2016)/ $570/year (2013-2016)
The Honda Pilot is Honda’s largest SUV that competes in the mid-size SUV segment in North America. It is powered by a 3.5-liter V6. This is the ideal SUV for someone looking for a versatile people mover with three rows. For under $20,000 most of the Pilots you will find will be from the previous generation. Especially if you are looking for higher with higher level of convenience features. While you will find some current-gen albeit pre-facelift models as well but they will almost certainly have much higher mileage and a lower trim level. With the newer model you might have to make do with the LX or the EX variant.
The 2016 model, however, will come with some driver assistance and safety systems that were not available on the 2013 model. In addition, the 3.5-liter V6 was significantly upgraded for the 2016 generation with output standing at 280 hp against 250 hp. The V6 is one of the most reliable engines on the market and will likely not fail on you.
Honda issued a recall for the 2005 and 2008 model years of the Pilot due to faulty bicycle racks and steering column respectively. If you are opting for those, make sure to check the parts thoroughly. Also, older Pilots can develop transmission knocking and rough shifts. So ensure to test drive the car thoroughly and look into the service history. More often the culprit is transmission oil. Finally, the car can tend to feel a bit underpowered especially the old generation as it has only 250 hp/253 lb-ft to cope with the bulk.
Year: 2013-2017 Mileage range: 40,000 to 140,000 miles Average maintenance cost: $560/year (2017)/ $550 (2013-2016)
The Subaru Forester an SUV that has a dedicated following not unlike the RAV4. I have personally known people who’ve ‘upgraded’ from an old Forester to a new one and with good reason. The Boxer configuration ensures the weight is concentrated lower in the chassis ensuring a more stable vehicle. Plus, the facts that it came with a WRX engine until 2018 and standard AWD only adds to its desirability. The new Forester however, is only available with the 2.5-liter engine paired to a CVT gearbox. Hence, a lot of Forester faithfuls have moved to actually looking at older cars.
Even though, under 20K is a bit tight you can find good options. Though if you’re looking for the later models (2016-2017), the base will be the most common listing. We strongly recommend you look for at least the Premium trim as it adds the 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, power adjustable driver’s seat and the Subaru Starlink safety system. The only thing it doesn’t get is blind-spot detection. Plus, you can have it with a manual transmission. If you want the 2.0-liter turbo engine however, you will need to go for the older versions of the same generation. In addition, the 2.0-liter DIT was only available with the Limited and Touring trims which puts the engine at the very top also, it doesn’t come with a manual option. It does, however, come with 250 hp of peak power.
A few things to watch out for if you’re going for the older models. The FB25, the 2.5-liter engine tends to develop problems with the connecting rod bearings past 100,000 miles and the 2.0-liter engine tends have a higher oil consumption plus can develop oil pressure loss and cam gear issues later in life. Plus, both engines demand premium gas for optimal performance.
Year: 2013-2017 Mileage range: 35,000 to 70,000 miles Average maintenance cost: $890-$1040/year
Looking for a luxury SUV for under $20,000? Well, thanks to the high rate of depreciation these days, that is not as difficult as it used to be. One of the best options in that space is the BMW X3. You can easily find one from the F25 generation for less than 20K. For that money you have an option of a 2.0-liter turbo making 242 hp if you go for the xDrive28i and the quintessential N55 3.0-liter turbo making 302 hp in the xDrive35i.
The equipment levels in the SUV will be similar, the main differentiating factor between trims in BMW is usually the engine. A few things to note here are that these are the newer crop of engines which are significantly more reliable than previous engines. Even then they do tend to develop issues past 100k mark. The good thing is that BMW provides extended warranties on at-risk parts so ensure you get a lowdown on what they are. Also opt for any and all warranties especially on parts like the water pump, turbos, and the high-pressure fuel pump. Lastly, warranty on RFT (Run Flat Tires) is also essential as you can cancel it at a later stage but cannot opt for it once you make the purchase.
The ownership of a BMW can be relatively more expensive but it is certainly one worth experiencing.
Year: 2013-2014 Mileage range: 35,000 to 100,000 miles Average maintenance cost: $550-$650/year
Just like the RAV4, the Lexus RX is one of the most dependable SUVs out there. Toyota’s luxury outfit has been producing the SUV for over two decades and in that time it has garnered a loyal following of its own. A lot of it is down to the never-say-die engine and the high-quality materials that refuse to age. It might not be the best driving SUV, neither the best looking but it will last you long enough to use it as a family heirloom and still work.
Though finding low mileage options under $20,000 will be quite difficult for the RX holds its value really well. The options available will be from the previous generation but you will be able to easily find post-facelift models between 2013 and 2015 model years. In addition finding a hybrid RX will not prove to be difficult either. The RX was powered by a 3.5-liter V6 making 270 hp and 248 lb-ft in the gasoline version. The hybrid employed an Atkinson cycle version of the same engine to produce 295 hp of peak power. The RX is a comfortable and easy to drive vehicle that will remain hassle free as long as regular maintenance is done routinely. About the only downside is the infotainment system that feels complicated and quite dated.
Year: 2016-2019 Mileage range: 35,000 to 100,000 miles Average maintenance cost: $470/year
The Kia Sorento is the second three-row SUV on this list and also one of the most versatile. The interior space offered on the Sorento can rival that of a minivan. Behind the front seats, it can fit in 73 cu ft. worth of luggage with ease. Hence, it is the ideal choice for someone looking for a family SUV comfortable for dogs included.
We would highly recommend looking for SX and SX Limited trims for they offer an exhaustive feature list. The infotainment system offers both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The SX Limited trim will come with adaptive cruise control, autonomous braking, pedestrian detection and blind-spot with cross-traffic detection whereas the SX gets the blind-spot detection and standard cruise control. You will be able to find a good deal on models between 2016 and 2018 model years. Though we recommend that you look for a 2019 model as it is equipped with the 286 hp 3.5-liter V6 instead of the 270 hp 3.3-liter V6 in the previous year’s cars. And the Sorento will benefit from the added power.
Most of the cars you find will have a higher mileage on the odometer but don’t fret for the V6 is a frugal and reliable engine. It is also very common which means parts availability will not be an issue. Plus, the Sorento has one of the lowest annual maintenance costs on this list.
Jeep Grand Cherokee
Year: 2015-2017 Mileage range: 20,000 to 60,000 miles Average maintenance cost: $530-$590/year
You would be surprised to know that you can get the luxury Jeep for under $20,000. Although, the Grand Cherokee comes with some caveats, you cannot deny that it is a pretty sweet deal. Fortunately though, none of the caveats have anything to do with the engine. The one you will find will be the 3.6-liter Pentastar. Though the engine is virtually bulletproof avoid ones prior to model year 2014 as it had teething issues for a couple of years since its inception in 2012.
The most common trim you will come across will be the Laredo and you will not find a 4×4 version in this range so it’s best to look for the best deal in 4×2 trims. Also, Jeep had issued recalls for the 2014, 2015 and 2016 models. The 2016 model had an issue with the shift interlock solenoid that coild leave the car stuck in park or neutral. So you should check the service and repair records thoroughly for this issue. Move on to the next one if records are not available. Another issue that could arise with the old cars was erratic shifting in the 2014-2015 models but a simple software update of the Transmission Control Module or TCM will rectify the issue.
Year: 2017-2019 Mileage range: 15,000 to 40,000 miles Average maintenance cost: $550-$650/year
If you want an SUV that is packed to the brim with features, offers a premium cabin with high-quality materials and is as reliable as a rock, you can’t do much better than the Hyundai Tucson. For $20,000 you will be able to find a good Tucson with relatively low mileage on the odometer between 2017 and 2019 model years.
We recommend you look for the highest trim possible though you will be able to find the Tucson Limited with relatively low mileage with ease. For the money you will get a 1.6-liter turbo motor making 175 hp and 195 lb-ft.of torque. The engine is paired to a 7-speed DCT. But the main lure of Tucson is its feature list. For the money, you will get soft-touch materials, climate control, heated seats, 8.0-inch infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The only things you will miss out on will be autonomous braking with pedestrian detection and lane departure warning system.
Year: 2017-2019 Mileage range: 15,000 to 55,000 miles Average maintenance cost: $350/year
Hondas have gotten expensive lately so buying one new rarely makes sense anymore. If you’re a fan of the CR-V and are on a budget, a used CR-V makes much more sense. Plus, you can have one from the current generation albeit a pre-facelift of course for less than $20,000. The good news is that all CR-V trims are pretty well equipped so long as you choose EX and above or the LX AWD trim. All safety systems including collision mitigation, lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control are available across the board. Only the blind-spot detection is available on the Touring trim only. You also get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard. Heated front seats though are available EX-L trim onwards only.
The only catches here are that one, most of the ones you will find will likely have a high mileage. Secondly, the 1.6-liter turbo engine had a known issue. Honda did however offer an extended warranty on the engine to cover for the faulty motor. So before you put the money down, ensure you check with Honda and the owner that the warranty is still valid or not.
Year: 2008-2012 Mileage range: 30,000 to 120,000 miles Average maintenance cost: $530-$650/year
The Infiniti FX35 is a classic case of ‘they don’t make ’em like they used to.’ arguably this is the OG performance SUV. A tiny coupe-esque SUV with a 302 hp 3.5-liter V6 tucked under the bonnet, the FX35 was the quintessential sleeper. And it has become one of the most sought after SUVs in recent times. Whether it will be a future classic or not is up for debate but one thing is certain, it is an absolute hoot to drive.
Yes, the car is old and the one you want will probably have over 50,000 miles on the clock. Fortunately, the 3.5-liter engine is not only fairly common even today but is also one of the most reliable out there. It never loses its grunt as long as its maintenance is regular. Along with a great engine and performance the FX35 came with a premium cabin as well. For the time anyway. On the flip side, however, the cabin materials don’t age too well, so ensure you give the cabin a thorough look for wear and tear on the seats and upholstery. The headroom on the rear bench too is adequate for average-sized adults. Needless to say the FX35 is not a family vehicle in the traditional sense.
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