5 Affordable Cars That Stand the Test of Time



With most purchases, there’s typically a tradeoff between affordability and durability.

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Inexpensive usually means cheap because things that don’t cost a lot aren’t usually built to last — especially when they generate extreme temperatures and have thousands of moving parts.

But that’s not always the case with cars. In fact, some of the most affordable vehicles on the road are built to outlast many more expensive models.

The following vehicles are budget-friendly and can stand the test of time.

Toyota Corolla

When searching for affordability and reliability in the same vehicle, sometimes it’s best to follow the crowd.

“The Toyota Corolla is one of the best-selling entry-level vehicles,” said automotive expert, consultant and speaker Gretchen Seidel, who has 30 years of industry experience.

In fact, topping 50 million units sold in 2021, it is the best-selling car of all time. There are three main reasons for the Corolla’s enduring popularity: it starts at just over $22,000, has low ownership costs and boasts a tortoise-esque life expectancy of up to 300,000 miles.

“Its fuel efficiency is above 38 mpg and maintenance costs are lower than the average for compact cars,” said Seidel. “Toyota also leads with 11.1 million units of global sales, more than any other car company for 2023.”

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Honda Civic

The Corolla’s chief competitor is wildly popular for all the same reasons.

“The Honda Civic is a great choice for an affordable car, with a starting MSRP of $23,950 and annual repair costs lower than most brands,” said Seidel.

RepairPal gives it an excellent 4.5-star rating and ranks it No. 3 out of 36 compact cars for ownership costs, the segment average of which is $526.

The publication writes, “The average annual repair cost is $368, which means it has excellent ownership costs. The severity and frequency of repairs are both much lower than other vehicles, so the Civic is one of the more reliable vehicles on the road.”

Seidel added, “Also, in dealership service departments, you regularly see them with well over 150,000 miles and over 10 years old. The Honda Civic is a great choice for a car that stands the test of time.”

Mazda 3

Also starting at under $25,000 — $24,170, to be exact — is the Mazda 3, which joins the Civic and Corolla in the class of dependable, affordable sedans.

“These vehicles are known for their reliability, fuel efficiency and low maintenance costs, making them excellent value propositions in the long run,” said John Lin, owner of JB Motor Works in Philadelphia.

RepairPal gives it a four-star rating and writes, “The average annual repair cost is $433, which means it has excellent ownership costs. The severity of repairs is low while the frequency of those issues is average, so major issues are uncommon for the 3.”

“They also tend to hold their resale value well, which can save owners money when it’s time to sell or trade in,” said Lin.

CoPilot for Car Shopping estimates that, with basic maintenance and care, the typical Mazda 3 will keep plugging along for 200,000 to 300,000 miles.

Hyundai Elantra

Several experts concurred that the Hyundai Elantra is another excellent choice for anyone looking for the magic formula of cheap to buy and cheap to own over the long haul.

A sleek, flashy and tech-centric sedan, the Elantra starts at just $21,625, giving it the lowest MSRP of any car on this list — and like the others, it won’t break the bank over time.

RepairPal gives it a stellar 4.5-star rating and estimates its “excellent ownership costs” at just $452 per year, well under the segment average of $526, adding, “The severity and frequency of repairs are both much lower than other vehicles, so the Elantra is one of the more reliable vehicles on the road.”

CoPilot for Car Shopping says the typical Elantra has a lifespan of 150,000 to 200,000 miles.

Honda Odyssey

Families that can’t squeeze into sedans are going to have to spend more for something bigger. The two biggest names in minivans are the Chrysler Pacifica, which starts at $39,400, and the Honda Odyssey, which starts at nearly $1,200 less.

There are cheaper minivans, but none that you should expect to hold out for more miles or guard their value more jealously.

“The Odyssey tends to last longer than the competition and depreciates more slowly than other minivans,” said Melanie Musson, an industry expert with AutoInsurance.org.

“They’re also regularly named the cheapest vehicle to insure. That’s partly due to their safety features and partly due to how they tend to be driven.”

If you can’t afford to buy new, what would be a high-mileage model for most previously owned vehicles is actually modest mileage for this marathoning minivan.

“Individuals on a tight budget can look for a used Odyssey with 100,000 miles and expect to drive it for several years with minimal maintenance,” said Musson.

That’s not an exaggeration.

Vehicle History states, “Across all generations, the Honda Odyssey has an expected lifespan of 200,000 to 300,000 miles, or 16 to 25 years.

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