Whats the best car for under $13,000?

My best friend just totaled her Prius and is getting $13,000 from the insurance company. She is 7 months pregnant and commutes about 120 miles 5 days a week to work. So, her main concerns are safety and mpg. All I know is that she should buy from a dealership so she can get a warranty, but could I get some basic advice about which cars to steer toward and which to avoid just so I can point her in the right direction?
Thank you so much.

You should get a copy of the Consumer Reports car buyers guide. Is $13k her max? Is she willing to look at used cars? It’ll be difficult to get new for #13k.

Yes, her max is $13,000 and she is willing to look at used cars. Thank you for the advice.

To the best of my knowledge, the only new car that lists for under $13,000 is a stripped (no options whatsoever) Hyundai Accent. So, it is not a question of what new car in that price category is the best, as there is only one. One can expect 30-40 mpg from an Accent, but the side-impact crash test rating is…not good, while its frontal impact crash rating is good.

If your friend can put a few thousand $$ more toward the price of the car, then it opens up the field to a pretty good extent. For ~$16k, one can buy the top-rated small economy car–the Honda Fit. For about $17k, one can buy the Nissan Versa or Ford Fiesta, which are the #2 & #3 rated cars in that category.

I really think that your friend should invest a few bucks for a copy of the Consumer Reports New Car Buyers Guide, which will supply much more information relevant to her search. Suffice it to say that any car in the size class that her budget drives her to will have a ride quality that is…not exactly smooth. If she can adjust to poor ride quality, then a Fit, or a Versa, or a Fiesta may meet her needs and her budget–if she can ante up a bit more cash.

OK. Then look at the ‘best bets in used cars’ section of the buyers guide. I would check out Carmax, too. Regardless of who she buy from she’ll get the remaining new car warranty, and I think Carmax might have one, too.

She should be able to buy a Prius the same age and approx. miles on it as the one that was wrecked. If she liked her Prius she should start by looking for a good used one.

If your friend is looking at used cars, please make her aware that a used car’s maintenance record is the most important factor to consider. Even if a car was top-rated when it was new, lax maintenance can easily transform it into a money pit in just 2 or 3 years, and the unsuspecting new owner will be the one to suffer for the lax maintenance of the first owner(s).

So–my best advice is to not buy any used car unless it comes with full maintenance records that can be compared to the mfr’s maintenance schedule. (Unless you are comparing these records to the mfr’s maintenance requirements, the records are really not very helpful to a novice.)

And, even if a used car’s maintenance appears to have been good, it will still need to be vetted by the purchaser’s mechanic prior to purchase. The most heart-breaking posts in this forum are from folks who did not do these things and wound up spending all of their money on a car that was in terrible mechanical condition.

Thank you so much for all of your advice. I will pass it along to my friend.

She May Be Going About This Backwards. I Hope Not. Did Your Friend Accept The First Settlement Offer From The Insurance Company ?

I hope that she got enough money to replace this vehicle with one of similar value and wasn’t shorted.

Providing that your friend was relatively happy with the vehicle she had then she should have started looking for a similar (Model-Year, Make, Model, Mileage, maintenance history, etcetera) replacement vehicle almost immediately.

Once price information was gathered for perhaps 2 or 3 such vehicles, the information should have been the basis for an equitable settlement. The idea is to make her “whole” again.

I’ve done this 3 times and know that settlements for total loss vehicles are highly negotiable. One has to “argue” for a fair settlement. Recent repair and maintenance records and also ads from cars for sale are all helpful.


Did she like the car ?
Was it working well ?
Did she get enough for a similar replacement ?
Model-Year, Mileage, maintenance history, etcetera ?


For 13k, I agree it may have to be used. If mpg is important, there are few non hybrids out there that do better then a Corolla. A decent used one could be had for that. A step up in size and comfort might be be an older Accord in 4 cyl or a Fusion 6 with comparable higher gas consumption. Sub compacts are too busy for me and tough to recommend. I would be tempted to buy from a New car dealer in the make of your choice, even though the price is higher. More support and backing for the used car may be worth the extra cost in your friend’s situation.

Nissan Versa sedan is about $11,000, 2012 Hyundai Accentis is just under $13,000

In addition to the purchase price today,
when it comes down to brands,
she MUST consider servicing that vehicle over the span of her ownership.

In four or six years who is going to be able to repair that car at reasonable prices ?

Does she already have a regular independent shop ? ( what brands do they like ? )
Will she rely on a dealer for service ? ( which brands have shops in her area ? )
Therefore , what brands are good in that respect and what brands would be a headache to service later in its life ?

This fact of car life comes to a head worst in small towns like mine where servicing for many major brands doesn’t even exist without a 140 mile one way drive or tow.