Best Used Cars for $5,000

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Reliable inexpensive transportation, I’m not so sure there are three more beautiful words in the English language. While we all have a favorite car, trucks and SUVs, the simple truth is, there really is something to be said for a vehicle that runs well and doesn’t break the bank. In today’s blog we will take a look at six vehicles that can be purchased for less than $5,000 in good running condition. Most provide excellent utility and some of them are actually fun to drive too.

Family Pick: Toyota Camry

Toyota Camry

(Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.)

If you find a list of “reliable” cars on the Internet, there is a good chance that this best-selling midsize car in America will be on it. It isn’t hard to see the Toyota Camry’s appeal. With an excellent track record for reaching well over 200,000 miles without needing any major repairs, Toyota’s family car provides years of trouble-free service as long as the owner pays attention to the regular maintenance schedule.

Toyota is also famous for conservative styling updates, which means that the 10-year-old Camry you will find for around $5,000 doesn’t look as dated as many other models built a decade ago. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine found in the base 2006 Camry is efficient and has enough power to keep the Camry from getting in the way of itself during highway passing. The optional V6 engine has enough muscle to actually help the Camry feel downright sporty at times.

Rear seat comfort is strong selling point, as is the excellent cargo space, making the 2001-2006 Toyota Camry a great pick for a family car costing under $5,000.

SUV Pick: Dodge Durango

Dodge Durango


I’m sure there are plenty of compact crossover vehicles that can be found well within our $5,000 budget, but why not invest in a four-wheel drive, V8-powered SUV that can actually tow stuff? Sure, the gas mileage is meager by today’s standards, the 4.7-liter V8 only churns out about 14 mpg combined, but the Dodge Durango’s curb appeal, gutsy acceleration and the fact that it is great in the snow make up for the added toll at the pump.

The base 2006 Durango SXT model comfortably seats five passengers while providing 68.4 cubic feet of maximum cargo space and a towing capacity around 6,000 pounds. Spend a few hundred dollars more for the 2006 SLT model and you’ll have seating for seven.

Truck Pick: Ford Ranger

Ford Ranger

(The Ford Motor Company)

I am pretty sure everyone at one time or another has wished they owned a pickup truck. While the open bed and limited seating may leave you a little wanting for day-to-day convenience, the ability to tell the salesperson at the appliance store that you will “take it with you” certainly has an appeal. There are many older pickup trucks that can be purchased in the $5,000 price range, but the inexpensive Ford Ranger represents especially good value.

Consider this: You can often find a Ford Ranger in the $5,000 price range that is less than 10 years old with around 100,000 miles on the odometer. That makes the Ranger XL model with the 7-foot bed might one of the most affordable low-mileage vehicles on our entire list. Add in the fact that the 2.3-liter four-cylinder model with the five-speed manual transmission earns a respectable 23 mpg combined and a 2009 Ford Ranger XL represents excellent long-term value as well.

Although options can be added to make the Ford Ranger a tad more civilized, the simple nature of the base model makes it the almost perfect second vehicle for the individual or family that needs the utility of a pickup, but isn’t willing to sacrifice the comfort and luxury of a sedan (or the driving fun afforded by a compact sports car).

Sports Car Picks: Mazda Miata and Ford Mustang

Mazda MX-5 Miata

(Mazda North American Operations)

Rather than pointing out one of my favorite automotive bargains and ignoring the other, I have elected to showcase both the mighty drop-top Mazda MX-5 Miata and a throwback to the good old days with the Ford Mustang. Both vehicles have a strong enthusiast following and either can be easily modified for better performance without breaking the bank.

Launched for the 1990 model year, there is value in purchasing just about any Miata that falls under the $5,000 price ceiling. The MX-5 Miata is an affordable car even when new, the 2016 model starts around $25,000, so finding a relatively clean used car for $5,000 isn’t surprising. My only suggestions would be to look for one with the manual transmission and to buy the nicest example you can find within your budget.

2002 Ford Mustang GT

(The Ford Motor Company)

My co-winner in the sports car category is the Ford Mustang. The Mustang arrived on the scene in 1965, ushering in a new era dominated by affordable American sports and muscle cars. While first-generation cars in ready-to-drive condition will be hard to find in our lightweight budget, a 4.6-liter V8-powered Mustang GT that is less than 15 years old can be found fairly easily. Again, the trick is to do your research and find the nicest specimen available in your budget.

First Car Pick: Honda Civic

2006 Honda Civic

(American Honda Motor Co., Inc)

Now in its 10th generation, the Honda Civic continues to be a best-seller, which is a testament to the Japanese manufacturer’s storied compact car. Few vehicles in the segment share the history and legacy of Honda’s beloved Civic. For many, Honda’s humble hatchback faithfully served as a first car, covering hundreds of thousands of relatively trouble-free and memory-filled miles. The 2016 model is well beyond our budget, but you don’t have to travel too far back in time to locate a nice example for around $5,000.

The Civic sedan is likely to be the more practical option, but we are considering a great choice for a first car and the two-door Civic coupe makes a for a great pick. A 10-year old Civic EX or LX with around 100,000 miles and the fuel efficient 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine still has plenty of trouble-free life left, especially if the Honda in question has a well-documented maintenance history. The front-wheel drive Civic is even decent in the snow; just make sure it is wearing a decent set of all-weather or snow tires.

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By | 2018-06-19T15:50:41+00:00 April 10th, 2016|Car Buying|2 Comments


  1. jdorfman April 16, 2016 at 8:17 am - Reply

    This is not so much about a particular car, it’s more on the line of three main items I am adament about: Miles, reliability, safety, and style in that order. The rest are size, power and history. Not yet in the market for purchase but maybe next year. Just beginning my “homework” prior to actual shopping for one. If this is the wrong site for my comment, perhaps you can suggest one that is. Thank you.

    • Chris Brewer April 18, 2016 at 9:37 am - Reply

      Hello Jdorfman,
      You are definitely on a great website to help you in your search for your next vehicle, whether it be new or used. The more research you do, the better equipped you will be when you do make a final decision. You have some excellent criteria already. Good luck!

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