best used car under $5 000

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It may seem like buyers on a tight budget have little choice when it comes to finding the best-used cars under $5,000. Some dealerships also prey on customers with high interest rates and subpar products. But a little research reveals a wealth of model years of various makes and models, all of which represent strong choices. And with cars lasting longer than ever before, buying something with higher miles and more years under its belt isn’t the risk it once was.

If you don’t mind the older model year, a couple of extra loved miles, and even a few signs of wear, then you can tap into finding some of the best-used cars under $5,000.

Let’s take a look at some of the options available to help you with your budgeted search.

1. 2006-2011 Honda Civic


A benchmark of compact cars, the Honda Civic is one of the most praised vehicles on the market and among the top picks for a used car available for under $5,000. The 2006 Honda Civic marked the tenth generation of the line and represented some new design and interior space thinking, all of which was a radical departure from its more conservative predecessors. Available as a coupe or sedan, all models gained a significant amount of interior space and new features such as side curtain airbags and top safety ratings. Most versions used a good 1.8-liter four-cylinder with 140 horsepower and either a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission.

You could also opt for the sporty Civic Si with a 197-horsepower engine and a six-speed manual transmission in the same price category. There is also the hybrid option with a good fuel economy of 42 mpg; however, the battery pack is now long out of warranty and can be pricey to replace.

There’s a Civic for every price point and every driver, making it an excellent choice as a top pick when it comes to a first car or inexpensive wheels with exceptional longevity.

2. 2003-2007 Honda Accord


Kelley Blue Book, Consumer Reports, Autotrader. Those are just some of the publications that evaluate used cars based on reliability and satisfaction. The Honda Accord is regularly on their listings of the best new cars and best-used cars. Car and Driver have placed the Accord on their 10 Best List for 34 years for various reasons, including its smooth-revving engines, accurate steering, steadfast reliability, and roomy interior space.

Available as a coupe or sedan, four-cylinder or V6, automatic or manual transmission, there is an Accord that will please just about any buyer. It’s excellent to drive, thanks to a four-cylinder that’s efficient or a V6 that belongs in an Acura.

The Accord’s virtues really lie in that it’s a great vehicle as a family car; it’s easy to live with, reliable, and popular. That means there are plenty of them on the used car market, and they’re still popular as cheap used cars. Newer versions may be more technologically advanced or powerful, but it’s hard to go wrong with any Honda Accord.

3. 2002-2006 Toyota Camry


The Toyota Camry has been one of the most popular cars in the US since the 1990s, thanks to its reputation for refinement and longevity. Its buyers are loyal, but there are also plenty to choose from at used car dealerships. Some of the most plentiful out there were made from 2002 through 2006. While it would be hard to go wrong with a Camry, the fifth-generation model of these years offered the strongest reliability ratings and the most favorable reviews. Better yet, they fall below the $5,000 price range.

Toyota upsized the Camry with a large interior and more standard features. Buyers could choose between a fuel-efficient four-cylinder or V6 engine with Lexus-like smoothness. The interior also has high levels of quality, and numerous publications lauded the Camry.

Some Camrys of this era may look a little rough these days, but they still boast several safety features such as anti-lock brakes and side airbags. The Camry remains quiet and practical in every respect as it earns its title as one of the best-used cars in the automotive market.

4. 2005-2010 Scion tC


Toyota has made a name for making compact cars with excellent durability, but models like the Yaris and Corolla are commonplace. Those interested in something different can look at the Scion tC. Named for Toyota’s short-lived “youth” division, the Scion brand was launched in 2003 with the aim of grabbing the attention of young, first-time car buyers. The Scion tC arrived in 2005 and went on to become Scion’s best-selling model with its coupe-like styling and punchy engine.

Although the Scion isn’t exactly fast, a 160-horsepower four-cylinder engine makes for better performance than most compact cars. It’s also more refined than most compact cars, with a good fuel economy and smooth ride. All models even received a panoramic moonroof, a novel feature for 2005.

While plenty have seen some hard use and even some distasteful modifications, it’s easy to take comfort in reliable Toyota mechanicals that should make the $5,000 price range worth it. Better still, the tC earned an impressive reputation for predicted reliability.

5. 2007-2011 Nissan Versa


Small cars don’t have to be punishing, and the first-generation Nissan Versa isn’t. More plush, refined, and spacious than any other subcompact sedan or hatchback, the Versa boasts comforts that were uncommon when first introduced and still uncommon now. The Nissan Versa received a bad rap for its reliability; however, that is largely because of the 2012 and newer model years, which experienced a high rate of CVT failure. The earlier model years from 2007 to 2011 have proven more reliable if you steer away from the CVT offered on the SL trims.

All models use a relatively robust 122-horsepower four-cylinder engine, with some even offering a six-speed manual transmission. This isn’t a sports car by any means, but the Versa offers a relatively comfortable ride, great visibility out of some large windows, and even a rear seat that’s roomy enough for a pair of adults. Some models offer features such as alloy wheels, a body kit, and even keyless entry and push-button start.

Most Versas, however, are a little sparsely equipped, but it’s an excellent alternative to a Toyota Yaris or even a larger compact sedan or hatchback with higher mileage. But while it may not be the first name when shopping for used cars, the Nissan Versa is a very respectable choice.

6. 2007 Subaru Forester


All-wheel-drive cars aren’t exactly common, and Subaru has the market mostly cornered with that drivetrain after it abandoned offering front-wheel-drive for its snow-minded clientele.

A lesser-known model is the Subaru Baja, which is basically a Subaru Outback turned truck. Still, it only stuck around for three years, so instead keep your bets on finding an older model year Forester below the $5,000 price range, especially since it is an easier model to come by.

The Forester is the ultimate in plain, utilitarian vehicles; however, it delivers impressive performance, safety, and reliability, while meeting all the well-known standards earmarked by the brand. Don’t let its minivan looks deter you from the versatility of this affordable compact SUV. It is quickly compared to a Honda CR-V or Toyota Rav4 but competes well against both of these rivals.

At right below the $5,000 mark, the 2007 Forester is highly competitive in its class for crash test ratings and safety standards. According to New Car Test Drive: “Forester brings it all, or almost all: great all-weather, all-road capability, solid dynamic performance on pavement, passenger/cargo flexibility, lots of useful features, fuel economy, lots of safety equipment and good crash-test scores at a reasonable price.” Towing with the Forester isn’t a problem either.

7. 1999-2005 Mazda MX-5 Miata

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Sports cars that cost less than $5,000 are often viewed as project cars that inevitably don’t get fixed. That’s where the Mazda MX-5 Miata comes in. Launched back in 1989 as the British sports car with Japanese dependability, it’s quickly become one of the most popular vehicles of its type.

Second-generation Miatas, sold from 1999 through 2005, are plentiful and still not rare enough to be gobbled up by speculators hoping they’ll surge in value. The NB2 chassis was made from 2001 to 2005 and was the most desirable because it offered improved projector headlights, an engine with higher compression and variable valve timing, and additional chassis support.

The Miata’s are modern enough that nearly all of them come with air conditioning and power windows. Yet the four-cylinder engine, which had between 142 and 155 horsepower over its life, is more lively than enthusiasts suggest. Many also come with a five or six-speed manual transmission, although automatics are around.

Many special editions and appearance packages were released over the years to make it feel more special than most cars at below the $5,000 price range.

8. 2010-2012 Mazda 3

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It is a welcomed moment when reliability converges with pure enjoyment while driving. The 2010 Mazda 3 not only carried that enjoyment, but it improved its reliability even further compared to previous model years and offered superior rust protection as a new selling point. If you want a winning combination of sporty performance, a spacious interior, and practicality, then you will be more than happy behind the wheel of a Mazda 3.

With its big grinning front-end, the styling of this compact car may not appeal to all car buyers, but its power makes up for its exterior looks. The Mazda 3 is powered by either a 144 or 165-horsepower four-cylinder engine. The second-generation is fun to drive and offers good fuel economy, adding to the Mazda 3’s affordability and its place here as a cheap used car. The most fuel-efficient Mazda 3 is the base 2.0-liter engine, which will get you up to 25/33 mpg city/highway.

The top trims and the MazdaSpeed3 offer car buyers a full package; however, finding one of these below $5,000 without a poor vehicle history will be a challenge to find. A Mazda 3 pre-2012 through to lower-end models will be a decent buy, and below $5,000.

9. 2008 Kia Sorento


The Sorento earns its place as one of the best-used cars under 5000 because it ranks in the top half of its midsize SUV class for delivering excellent value, good safety ratings, and above all, it has strong towing capability.

However, while you have a robust workhorse on your hands capable of transporting up to five passengers, it does drop a little in comfort, and its fuel efficiency isn’t the best in its class. However, those cons are small compared to the excellent government crash test scores and the powerful 3.8-liter engine for the EX trim model.

Restyled in 2007, the Sorento adds a 3.3-liter V-6 engine to its base LX model and offers a sporty 242 horsepower matched with an automatic transmission.

The affordable pricing prompted BusinessWeek to comment on the 2008 Kia Sorento: “If you want an SUV with a peppy engine…the Kia may offer better value than any of its rivals.” Considering the four-wheel-drive versions of the Sorento with the larger engines will offer you better resale value than the base model.

The 2008 Sorento adds more fun to your ride with off-roading capability with two different four-wheel-drive systems on offer. Not bad for a price tag under $5,000.

10. 2007-2011 Hyundai Elantra

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Hyundai’s latest models may invoke a sense of technology and style that exceeds many of its rivals, but it wasn’t so long ago that the automaker was trying to shake off a low-rent image. That’s what makes a compact sedan like the Elantra so valuable now.

The 2007 to 2011 models may not be as aggressively styled or responsive to drive as the same-year Honda Civic, but they boast a surprising level of refinement. Better still, they come highly equipped, with standard features that include six airbags, a tilt-adjustable steering wheel, and even anti-lock brakes. Starting in 2008, all models also received electronic stability control as standard, long before it was mandated, making the Elantra one of the better choices among used cars for new drivers. It’s still worth seeking out the better-equipped SE and Limited models, with their alloy wheels, leather upholstery, Bluetooth phone connectivity, and a USB port.

The other benefit of the Elantra is that they have always retained more of their value than a similarly aged Civic or Toyota Corolla, meaning the ones out there tend to have fewer miles than rivals. That means it’s possible to get one in better-than-average condition for $5,000.

11. 2010-2011 Volkswagen Golf


The sixth-generation Volkswagen Golf entered the automotive market with new levels of fun and refinement to the familiar and popular hatchback. Better yet, it offered comforts like cruise control.

While the Golf remains handsome, efficient, and reliable through the years, 2012 and newer models are difficult to find below $5,000. The best-used car under $5,000 would be the gas-powered 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine, which has always exceeded itself on performance – even more so than many of its competitors in its class. Steer clear of the 2.0-liter four-cylinder diesel engine because those models were at the heart of the diesel emissions scandal. In later years, Volkswagen eventually amended the emissions problems with a slight loss in performance.

Choosing a sixth-generation Volkswagen Golf will have you enjoying the comfortable front and rear seats, loads of cargo space, and engaging performance, all within a tight budget.

12. 2008-2011 Ford Focus

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While some used car shoppers may turn away from buying an inexpensive American-brand car for reliable transportation, the Ford Focus is the exception. Thanks to a strong chassis and updated technology, it represents a better choice than similarly aged models from Chevrolet, Chrysler, and Pontiac, among others.

Some newer Focus models fall into this price range; however, the third-generation (from 2012 to 2018) suffered significant transmission problems. The most dependable ones are the second-generation models built from 2008 through 2011. As one of the most popular new cars during the Great Recession, the Focus sedan and coupe featured more equipment found on more expensive cars as consumers downsized.

Many trims feature Ford’s Sync system for voice control of phones and music players, as well as alloy wheels and leather upholstery. It may have lost some of its youthful exuberance over the years, but the Focus remained one of the more confident and responsive vehicles in the compact car class. Yet, it also included standard side and curtain airbags. Given its popularity, it’s still easy to find a Focus of this age in relatively good condition and some even with low mileage.

13. 2003-2007 Toyota Corolla


It seems fitting to end this list of the best-used cars under 5000 with a practical and reliable vehicle that not only carries an affordable purchase price but its total ownership costs are easily afforded too. The default cheap wheels choice is the Toyota Corolla, and it has been for decades.

Corollas carry an enviable reputation for simplicity and reliability, especially the ninth-generation model built between 2002 until late 2007. They are not only cheap used cars to buy, but they are cheap to run, too. Their low maintenance and fuel costs are a win for any car buyers on an extended tight budget who still want to enjoy the most value from a reliable vehicle.

The base engine for the ninth generation is a 130-horsepower four-cylinder. However, dig a little further into your research, and you may find the rare 170-horsepower XRS version produced between 2005 and 2006.

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