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First of all, how badly do you need a car? And how low are your standards? The term “beater” refers to cars that are beaten. They’re often used in the winter to keep the nicer second in the garage, safe and warm. But they’re not luxurious. They’re not comfy. They’re just cars. So if you’re really looking for a cheap car to fling around town, these are the most reliable cars for under a grand.

Early 2000s Honda CRVs and Civics

Honda CRV and Civic, two cheap and reliable beater cars.
Honda CRV (top) and Civic (bottom) | National Motor Heritage Museum/Tim Boyle via Getty Images

Honda reliability shines bright in these early CRVs and Civics. Between the two, the CR-V would be my pick. And while the first and second-generation Honda CR-Vs are fetching a higher price, cheap options are still out there. And you can get a CRV with a stick, making it simple and unkillable. Kind of like a cockroach.

And the early 2000s Honda Civics aren’t quite classics, just simple commuter car slabs. They aren’t highly sought after by enthusiasts, and they haven’t fallen victim to some of Honda’s latest reliability issues. But above all else, they’re the most abundant choice.

Ford Crown Victorias, as long as they weren’t police cars

Ford Crown Victorias parked at auction
Ford Crown Victorias | Scott Olson/Getty Images

There’s a reason Crown Vics were used by police and taxi companies alike: they’re reliable, durable cars. And of your budget options, Crown Vics would certainly be the most powerful. In terms of the model year, you’d want to shoot for the second generation, which ran from 1998 to 2012, though even the first generation was built Ford tough.

But why not if they were police cars? While the stigma of owning a car that’s seen active duty could be cool, they’re not well maintained and tossed away on government surplus websites for dirt cheap. These will likely have issues, with their pedals being floor and suspension overworked with every police chase. While they are inexpensive, they’re inexpensive for a reason. But if you can find one that’s been grannied to church and back, that’s the way to go.

Late 90s and early 2000s Volvo sedans

Volvo 850 and S80
Volvo 850 (top) and S80 (bottom) | National Motor Heritage Museum via Getty Images

The Volvo 200 series was infamous for being a simple, reliable brick. Unfortunately, those don’t sell for $1,000 anymore, more like $5,000, as they’ve now entered collectors status. And while you wouldn’t be able to find a modern Volvo for under a grand, you wouldn’t want one anyway. As they’ve been crammed with electrics, their overall reliability has gone down. But hey, at least they’re safe.

Volvo S80s and 850s fall into that happy middle ground of not a classic but also not modern enough to have electrical gremlins. But the main reason they’re so cheap is that the mileage is through the roof, up to 200,000 on the odometer. It’s easy to be scared, but with proper maintenance, the cars will continue to run for hundreds of thousands of miles. The same can be said for all of these cars, in fact.

Now before you get all excited, make no mistake: these cars will have problems. They’re not going to be complete, and while these are the reliable options, they’ll likely still break down. They’ll just break down less often. If you splurge, say $5,000 instead of $1,000, you’ll find better long-term options. But whether you just need a car for the winter, you want a project to tinker with, or you want to go racing for cheap, these are the most reliable cars you can find for under a grand.


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