Spending $5,000 or less on a used car doesn’t have to be a gamble. While there are certainly dubious options in this price range, you’ll also find dependable, well-equipped cars with many years of commuting, hauling, or vacationing left in them. All it takes is a little bit of research and a thorough examination of whatever you’re thinking of buying. If needed, bring a friend who knows cars inside and out or pay a shop for a pre-purchase inspection (PPI).
To get you started, we’ve compiled a list of the best used cars available for under $5,000.
The best: Honda CR-V
Why you should buy this: It’s spacious and practical, yet car-like.
Who’s it for: Motorists who want a long-lasting do-it-all vehicle.
Why we picked the Honda CR-V:
Introduced in 1995, the original Honda CR-V stood out as one of the first crossovers pegged at the intersection of sedans and SUVs. It offered the ride height, the ground clearance, and the cargo capacity of an SUV, yet it was more car-like to drive than bigger, truck-based models, and it delivered better fuel economy. It’s a Honda, so you know it will be dependable for years on end, but we suggest avoiding ones with over 150,000 miles.
Spending $5,000 should get you a first- or second-generation CR-V with anywhere between 100,000 and 150,000 miles. Two- and four-wheel drive models are available in this price range. Remember to always ask for service records — they don’t have to come from an authorized Honda dealership, but you want to make sure whatever you’re buying has been maintained on a regular basis. This holds true for all of the cars on this list.
The best used hatchback: Scion xA
Why you should buy this: Don’t let the badge fool you — it’s a Toyota.
Who’s it for: Motorists who need something small, cheap, and cheerful.
Why we picked the Scion xA:
If you regularly tell people you need “just a car,” and if you spend most of your time driving in a city, the Scion xA is an excellent choice that’s affordable, reliable, and nimble. Scion no longer exists, but it was owned by Toyota, and the xA was developed by the same people who designed the Corolla and the Camry. Finding parts won’t be an issue.
Spending $5,000 gets you into an xA from the middle of the 2000s with anywhere between 100,000 and 125,000 miles. Front-wheel drive was the only configuration available, but Scion offered an automatic or manual transmission. We suggest avoiding examples that look like they belong in a Fast & Furious movie.
The best used SUV: Jeep Grand Cherokee
Why you should buy this: It’s as capable as its Jeep badge suggests.
Who’s it for: Motorists who want to explore the great outdoors.
Why we picked the Jeep Grand Cherokee:
Called WJ internally, Jeep’s second-generation Grand Cherokee is a big, go-anywhere SUV with room to spare and, when properly equipped, a surprisingly long list of equipment. While the Laredo trim level was relatively basic, the Limited variant received leather upholstery, heated seats, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Jeep offered a 4.0-liter straight-six known for its exceptional longevity and a 4.7-liter V8 that delivered more power at the expense of fuel economy. Regardless of cylinder count, the Grand Cherokee is extremely capable off-road in its standard configuration. The trade-off is that it’s more truck-like to drive than, say, the aforementioned CR-V.
Our $5,000 budget corresponds to a second-generation model with either six or eight cylinders and anywhere between 100,000 and 150,000 miles. It’s a car that rusted well, so crawl under it before you buy, and make sure you don’t see the carpet through a giant hole. Drive it to double-check the four-wheel drive system works as it should, and avoid ones that have spent the last 20 years being driven into the ground in a dense forest.
The best used fuel-efficient car: Honda Civic Hybrid
Why you should buy this: It’s a reliable hybrid.
Who’s it for: Motorists who want to save money at the pump.
Why we picked the Honda Civic Hybrid:
Honda released the original Civic in 1972, but it didn’t add a hybrid powertrain to the range until the 2003 model year. Based on the seventh-gen model, the Civic Hybrid received a 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine and battery-powered electric motors that worked together to deliver 93 horsepower. It’s certainly not going to win races, but it can return over 50 mpg on the highway when it’s driven with a light right foot.
Commuters loved the Civic Hybrid when it was new, so finding a low-mileage example (especially one under $5,000) is challenging. We suggest avoiding cars with over 200,000 miles, but $5,000 puts a first- or second-gen Civic Hybrid with about 150,000 miles in your driveway. Note the Civic coupe was never offered as a hybrid.
The best used pickup: Ford F-150
Why you should buy this: It’s a tried-and-true workhorse.
Who’s it for: Motorists with something to tow or haul.
Why we picked the Ford F-150:
Sheer luck didn’t propel the Ford F-150 to the top of America’s sales chart. It’s a truck that’s tough, reasonably comfortable, relatively efficient, and offered in a wide number of configurations. The 10th-gen model, introduced in 1996 as a 1997 model, was available with two or four doors and several cargo box options. Some were configured as basic, farm-spec trucks, while others offered a luxurious cabin loaded with comfort features.
If you have $5,000 to spend, you can bag a 10th-gen model with anywhere between 100,000 and 150,000 miles. Whether it’s powered by a V6 or a V8 is your call. You can also choose between rear- and four-wheel drive. We don’t recommend buying an F-150 sight-unseen because it’s a truck that suffered from extensive rust problems. You’ll be fine if you get one that has spent its life in a dry climate, but we suggest avoiding trucks that have lived in the rust belt since new. The good news is that used F-150s are common across the nation. Take your time, carefully examine the frame and the underbody before you buy, and you’ll end up with a nice, long-lasting truck.
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