Cars are more reliable than ever, and that can make near-luxury affordable.

Top used cars — $6,000 to $8,000

• 96 Lexus ES 300.On its way to a reputation as being one of the most reliably built sedans ever made. Hard to believe you can pay $7,600 for a 12-year-old car -- and still expect few if any problems.

• The 2003 Ford ZX2. According to about.com, a really fun ride and really hard to believe you could take a Ford Escort and make it sporty. Designers succeeded, but the marketers didn't, and this car was discontinued in 03. You can find a ZX2 for around $6,800.

• 03 Hyundai Elantra: Around $7,200, and an Edmunds choice as Most Wanted Sedan from 03. "A roomy economy car with high-quality materials," said the authoritative Web site.

• The Chevrolet Aveo. The smallest car in the General Motors line, it's actually made in Korea, and while the quality of Korean-built cars has climbed dramatically, this is car known for its price-cutting short-cuts. Experts like the 05 and 08 models, but diss the 04 and 06 versions. You can find an 05 Aveo for $6,800.

• The 97 Toyota Celica. Described by about.com as "the most Mazda-like vehicle in the Toyota stable. It had a lot of zoom-zoom to it and was a bit of a head turner in its day." Has posted a solid decade of above-average reliability, and you can find a 97 for around $7,000.

• A special shout-out for the Chysler Sebring. Before its latest redesign (an awful one, in our humble opinion) this was a good sedan that lots of people liked, and in fact, the convertible version was the top-selling soft-top in the U.S. for years. It was first introduced in 95-96 as a car built on the Mitsubishi Eclipse platform. The 95-00 generation can be found from $3,600 to $8,700; the 01 to 06 generation can be found from $6,000 to $10,200 according to KBB.

Sorta, kinda on this list:

• The Toyota Rav4 was totally redesigned for the 2001 year. From 1996 on, it had been made pretty much out of the spare parts bin -- a Camry engine and a Celica drive train, for instance. You can find a 2001 for $10,600; a 96 for as little as $5,750.

• A nod for the Jeep Cherokee from the J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study The reliability ratings for this vehicle are better for the 97-01 version (as opposed to the stylings from 88 to 96), and a 97 can be found between $4,300 to $5,200; an 01 from $6,000 to $8,750).

Other Price Ranges:

    Under $4,000
    $4,000 to $6,000
    $8,000 to $10,000
    $10,000 to $12,000

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Loan advice.
Don't even think of going car shopping without knowing your credit score. And once you know your score, go to www.myfico.com to see what kind of interest rate you can expect. If you know your interest rate and price range, you can use an auto loan payment calculator to see what your monthly bill will be.


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