The Best Cars Under $5,000 Should Surprise No One

  • The Toyota Prius is a reliable hybrid under $5K with an asterisk
  • Unsurprisingly, the Toyota Corolla is a dead reliable cheap car
  • The Honda Accord boasts full-size practicality with super fuel economy

Once you get into doing what I do, people in your life will come to you for car things. Usually, that means buyer’s guides, reviews, and used car advice. Over the holidays I spent some time (more than I would like) discussing the “best cars under X” with several family members. So, I did what everyone else does and turned to the internet. Turns out, the best cars under $5,000 will surprise absolutely no one. Hint: most of them are Toyotas.

How many miles can a Toyota Corolla last?

A red '05 Toyota Corolla shot from the front 3/4 during the golden hour
The Toyota Corolla is a shockingly competent used car | Toyota

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You’re likely not shocked to see a Toyota Corolla on our list. We weren’t surprised to see it on Consumer Reports’ list either. As far as the best cars under $5,000 goes, a primary concern for buyers in that segment is (1) fuel economy and (2) reliability. Thankfully, the Toyota Corolla of the early 2000s offers both. Moreover, that isn’t just true of the Corolla circa 2005, this carries over to today.

Consumer Reports says to expect the ’05 generation of Corolla to return a healthy 29 mpg or so. That’s better than the Mini Cooper JCW we have on test right now. Obviously, impressive to say the least. Then there’s Toyota’s reputation for reliability. The brand got to where it is today with that reputation largely because of cars like the Toyota Corolla. You’ll have no trouble finding one under $5K.

Is the 2004 Honda Accord reliable?

A maroon Honda Accord sedan shot from the front 3/4 during the golden hour
The Accord comes with a number of powertrains | Honda

Speaking of reliable brands, let’s turn our attention to another car on Consumer Reports’ list. The Honda Accord is, like the Toyota Corolla, largely held up by its reputation for reliability. Now, there are some hybrid Accords from this era floating around on the used market today. Frankly, if maximum reliability is your goal, it’s best to opt for either the four-cylinder or six-cylinder Honda Accords of the early 2000s.

Again, like the Toyota Corolla, the Accord will happily return a healthy 27-30 mpg. Seeing as the four-cylinder has, well, fewer cylinders, the most economical one will certainly be a four-cylinder. Call it a hunch, but the lighter Honda Accord coupes of the era will be lighter. A lighter car is bound to return even better fuel economy.

The Toyota Prius has battery problems past 100,000 miles

A silver Toyota Prius shot in the Angeles forest from the front 3/4 angle at sunset
The O.G. Prius’ battery will fail above 100,000 miles | Toyota

Finally, we’re left with the Toyota Prius. It’s really the first truly reliable hybrid out there, and the first-gen Toyota Prius is something of an icon. Weird, we know. However, despite the reliability of circa ’05 Prius models, there is an asterisk. Up past 100,000 miles, the Prius’ hybrid battery system will be in need of replacement. Again, you’ll have no issue finding one under $5,000. Just make sure that battery is in good health.

In all, it’s not a totally shocking list of the best cars under $5,000 but that just means there’s plenty of evidence to support ourselves and Consumer Reports. At least now you too can act like a car journalist and dispense sage advice to relatives during the holidays. It’s fun, I promise.

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