3 reliable used cars that won't break the bank

2009 Nissan Versa
Flickr user Stradablog

(MoneyWatch) It is a tough time to buy a used car but a great time to sell one or trade it in. Values for midsize and small cars have risen $500, or 4.3 percent, since the start of the year, according to the NADA Used Car Guide.

Americans' concern about rising gas prices, even as the economy struggles for lift, has especially boosted prices for used, high-MPG cars. Buteven if gas prices may be peaking, forecasters don't see any sharp pullback in used car prices the rest of this year. That is in part because plummeting auto sales in 2009 during the depths of the recession now translates in a crimped supply of three-year-old cars.

But what if you need affordable transportation soon and also want to get reasonably good gas mileage? Analysts at Kelley Blue Book and its kbb.com website have come up with a list of of 2009 model used cars selling for $12,000 or less with just under 40,000 miles on the odometer. "Although good deals are becoming tougher to find, there remain a handful of used vehicles that are available for a fair price," says Kelley analyst Alec Gutierrez.

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Several of the models on the list have had recent redesigns or been discontinued entirely (The Pontiac G3 and G5, along with the entire Pontiac brand). But we focused on models from this list that are also rated as above-average used cars by Consumer Reports in its annual detailed survey of car owners.

Here's a look at three of these affordable, gas-sipping 2009 models:

1. Nissan Versa -- Originally selling for $13,650, the S hatchback version is now retailing at dealers for $12,000, according to Kelley. The Versa was redesigned for 2012. But in the 2009 version, reviewers liked the interior comfort and large amount of standard safety equipment. The 2009 Versa is rated for 26 MPG in city driving and 31 on the highway.

2. Hyundai Accent -- The GLS sedan version, with an original list price of $13,595, now sells at retail for $10,600, according to Kelley. This Accent predates Hyundai's eye-catching design of recent years. But apart from the styling, reviewers liked this Accent for its roomy interior, sprightly handling, and safety features. This Accent is rated for 27 MPG in city driving and 33 on the highway.

3. Suzuki SX4 -- Originally selling at $13,959, this sedan now is the least expensive model on the Kelley list, at $10,020. Though now a discontinued model, the 2009 SX4 is rated by Consumer Reports for above-average reliability in its engine and transmission. The 2009 SX4 has mileage ratings of 22 MPG city, 30 highway.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Stradablog

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    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.