The Best Used Small Cars Under $5,000 According to Consumer Reports

Full-size sedans and SUVs are great for hauling cargo but used small and compact cars check so many boxes. They are usually more affordable for starters, so your wallet will thank you. They are also perfect for first-time car buyers. And since small cars have small engines, they require less maintenance than one equipped with a V6 or V8.

If you’re searching for the best used cars under $5,000, Consumer Reports conducted tests on various models. The best part? These small cars come equipped with electronic stability control, which is now required on all new vehicles.

Consumer Reports recommends the following models in the small car segment:

2003 to 2005 Toyota Corolla models may surprise you

2003-2006 Toyota Corolla sedan model year's design in red
2003-2006 Toyota Corolla | Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

Price: $4,425 – $4,850

The Toyota Corolla is truly a fan favorite, and it’s easy to see why. 2003 to 2005 models deliver excellent performance (and 29 mpg overall). It’s powered by a fast 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and provides good handling. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, but a four-speed automatic is available. 

Inside, the cabin feels spacious for the Corolla’s size. All the knobs and controls are easy to use, and the tachometer gauges are clear to see. If that’s not enough, the Toyota Corolla is still the most sold car on earth.

Not only did Consumer Reports select the Toyota Corolla as one of the best used small cars under $5,000, but it also gave the 2005 Toyota Corolla a 5/5 reliability rating and a 4/5 overall owner satisfaction rating. Owners love the handling and acceleration of this small sedan. Some include that it’s comfortable and not too noisy.

2004 to 2005 Toyota Prius models are also priced under $5k

Price: $4,825

Practical, stylish, and exceptional fuel economy ratings? That’s the 2004 – 2005 Toyota Prius for you. The Prius hybrid is equipped with a 76-horsepower, 1.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine and a 67-horsepower electric motor. It offers 44 mpg overall on regular gas. In addition, the CVT, or continuously variable transmission, provides smooth shifting and travels. 

The hybrid car’s center display will reveal important vehicle information, including fuel consumption and the working power unit. Inside, your taller passengers will remain comfortable. The rear seat is spacious, and the legroom is generous. Additionally, there are many storage compartments inside these specific Toyota Prius models.

Consumer Reports gave the 2005 Toyota Prius a 4/5 reliability rating and a 5/5 owner satisfaction rating. Consumers say it offers excellent handling and acceleration, especially on the highway. They also mention (aside from routine maintenance) that they haven’t had to make any major or very few repairs. It’s no wonder Consumer Reports highlighted this used car as one of the best used small cars under $5,000.

Is a small car the right choice for me?

The answer truly depends on your needs. If you have a large family or like to take your adventures off-roading, then probably not. However, if you need a cheap used car that can get you where you need to go (and beyond), a used small car may be the best option for you. Small cars are great for driving around the city, too. For example, they can easily maneuver through traffic and fit in those tight parking spaces. They are also fuel-efficient, so you’ll spend less time at the gas pump and more time driving to the places you love. 

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