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Shopping for used cars under $5,000 presents some risk. Sometimes dishonest people misrepresent the car’s condition, while other times, some part of the car is about to break, and no one knows when. The good news is that if you buy a $5,000 used car and something breaks, you only have $5,000 invested instead of $30,000 or more. 

A car dealer showing used cars to a customer.
A used Toyota dealership | Jack Smith/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Is buying a $5,000 used car a good idea?

You’re probably thinking, “But if I bought a $30,000 car, it wouldn’t break down.” While the likelihood of a mechanical failure is lower with a newer car, it still happens all the time.

So you could throw more money at an extended warranty or buy a used car for $5,000 or less and save the cash in case something goes wrong. Let’s compare the two options:

  • Car and Driver estimates a monthly loan payment for a $5,000 car at $88 based on 5% interest and a 60-month term. While only some banks will loan money on cars priced that low, it’s possible to find financing at the car lot, but read the fine print.
  • Financing $30,000 at the same interest rate and 60-month term as above, the payment is $567 per month. With that extra $479 every month, you could pay for a ride to work every day if your cheap car breaks down and still be money ahead. 

What are the best used cars under $5,000?

In the same article with the $88 car payment, Car and Driver points out some options with average prices falling at or below that $5,000 price point. While some of these might bring a little more, especially if it’s in excellent condition and features popular options, it’s alright to go over that $5K mark.

The point is you don’t have to pay for a car your entire life to have a dependable ride. 

Acura TSX

Car and Driver compares the Acura TSX to a “gourmet grilled-cheese sandwich” because it is so good at being ordinary. It’s built on the same platform as the Honda Accord, so you know it’s dependable, but as an Acura, it got special treatment at the factory.

If you’re looking for a sporty ride, find a 2006 TSX with a manual transmission and the 205-horsepower VTEC four-cylinder. 

Buick Park Avenue

Somewhat ahead of its time, the 1997 Buick Park Avenue Ultra features luxury touches like a cabin air filter, climate control, and 10-way power seats.

Advanced tech features like a trunk-mounted 12-disc CD changer and a head-up display were optional but should be easy to find on used models. 

Honda Accord

The Honda Accord has a lot going for it. It’s dependable, fun to drive, economical, and well thought out. Car and Driver says those are just some of the reasons it’s been on the “10 Best” list for 34 years.

Start with the 2003 Accord EX, which introduced Honda’s 240-hp V6 and offered manual or automatic transmission options, or a V6 Hybrid model from around 2006. 

Honda Insight

Don’t let the first-generation (2000-2006) Honda Insight styling turn you off before giving it a chance. As an early hybrid vehicle, the quirky Honda’s lightweight aluminum body and shrouded rear wheels combined to deliver an EPA-rated 61 mpg on the highway.

Car and Driver says, “it’s a great choice for people who don’t want to spend a bunch of money” on a vehicle. 

Infiniti J30

Produced from 1993 to 1997, the Infiniti J30 is essentially a four-door Nissan 300ZX featuring the “same 205-hp 3.0-liter V6” and multi-link suspension, says Car and Driver. As a luxury sports sedan, the J30T offered a Bose stereo, heated leather front seats, aluminum wheels, and “a subtle trunk spoiler.” 

Infiniti M35 Sport

In 2006, Car and Driver tested a V8-powered Infiniti M45 Sport and ranked it higher than the BMW 550i and Mercedes-Benz E550 based on its “excellent chassis and playful spirit.” While the M35’s V6 provides less horsepower, it’s built on the same chassis.

In addition, the M35’s 19-inch, 10-spoke wheels and heated and cooled leather-trimmed seats should help you overlook the “hopelessly outdated infotainment system.”

Lexus LS400

In the 1990s, Toyota engineers positioned the Lexus LS400 to compete with German luxury sedans and created an all-new V8 specifically for that purpose. It’s an older model built with quality materials, so it ages well.

In this case, however, it’s best to have a mechanic test the starter and timing belt before making the deal. 

Mazda Miata

The Mazda Miata is popular among sports car enthusiasts because it’s “light and fun to drive.” Its popularity drives an aftermarket culture that makes nearly every part needed for the Miata inexpensive and readily available.

Look for a model from the early 2000s with projector headlights, a higher compression engine, and variable valve timing to get the most bang for your buck.

Mercedes-Benz S-Class

If you’ve always wanted a Mercedes-Benz but are on a strict budget, a 1992 S-Class might be the one for you. In 1992 the massive Mercedes-Benz 300SE cost almost $70,000, but time hasn’t been kind.

With cutting-edge features like adaptive dampers, double-paned side window glass, and dual antennas that act as markers when backing up, the cost of maintaining and repairing an old S-Class reduces its appeal to the masses. 

Volvo S70

Car and Driver says, “there is no safer, better-built car on this list.” A 1998 Volvo S70 provides a plush interior with abundant soft-touch surfaces, side-impact airbags, and “seats that mitigate whiplash.” The best part is that a 25-year-old Volvo S70 qualifies as a classic car in some circles. 


3 Worst Used Cars You Should Avoid According to U.S. News and What to Buy Instead