At Edmunds, look for their Editors Most Wanted lists from a few years back. As time passes, these top cars drop into our target price range.
From the 05 list, for instance, the Edmunds' nods in the under $15,000 category went to the Mazda3, the Honda Civic and the Scion XB. The Kelley Blue Book has the Mazda3 listed as low as $14,500 and the Scion as low as $13,700.
When it comes to trucks, you have to go back a few years. The Edmunds Most Wanted truck for 2003 was a Dodge Dakota, and Kelley prices it at $9,300 to $13,000 nowadays.
Another great list of top used cars can be found at Cars.com. Their Top 10 for $10,000 list ranked cars from only 02 or newer, and their experts cited the 05 Ford Focus, 03 Ford Taurus, 03 Mazda Protege, 03 Mercury Sable, 02 Buick LeSabre, 02 Chevrolet Impala, 02 Ford Windstar, 02 Honda Accord, 02 Honda Civic, and the 02 Oldsmobile Aurora.
Cars.com didn't do formal ratings on trucks or SUVs, but they made special mention of the 02 Honda CR-V, the 03 Subaru Forester and the 05 Chevrolet Colorado.
At AOL Autos, editors tout "best bets" in used cars and trucks. Among their recent citations are the 97-02 Honda Civic, 97-02 Camry,97-02 Ford Crown Victoria, 97-02 Lexus ES300,97-02 Mazda Miata, 97-02 Honda CR-V, 99-02 Nissan Pathfinder, 99-02 Honda Odyssey, 98-03 Toyota Tacoma and the 97-02 Ford F-150.