Top 10 Best Used Cars under $5000
Finding a good used car for a couple of thousand dollars is harder today than it’s ever been. That’s not because there aren’t any out there; it’s because cars are being built to last so much longer than their predecessors that they can easily cost $10,000 or more. If you’re looking for a great used car for under $5,000, we’ve compiled a top 10 list of vehicles you really should consider.
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Keep in mind that this top 10 list is rather subjective. We based our results on research into several things, including: resale value, consumer acceptance, mechanical difficulties, and other data. It goes without saying that you could visit any other number of websites and find lists that are both similar and completely different. That being said, let’s get to ours.
10. Honda Prelude
The Honda Prelude began production in 1979 as the company’s first designated sports car built off the Accord platform. The idea was to take the best from the compact Accord and translate it into a mid-level sports car to compete with the Toyota Celica, Ford Probe, and Mazda MX-6. Though the car spanned five generations until it was discontinued in 2001, you probably won’t find models from the first two generations widely available.
Hondas have a reputation for durability, that’s for sure. That’s why thieves love to steal them and sell their parts on the black market. That’s also one of the reasons why the Prelude is such a great deal at $5,000 or less.
Despite a large number of critics, the fifth-generation Prelude is the best of the line, with a five-speed manual transmission and Honda’s Active Torque Transfer System.
9. Second-Generation Subaru Outback
The Outback was the second generation of the Subaru Legacy station wagon. When it was originally introduced in 1994, it was dubbed the “Legacy Outback.” It was renamed simply as the Outback after Australian actor Paul Hogan became the spokesperson for the American marketing plan.
The wagon was a beefed-up version of the first-generation Legacy intended to give Subaru a foothold into the brand-new SUV category. Interestingly enough, since the car was not big enough to be classified as an SUV, it gave birth to a new category we now know as the Crossover.
The Outback is a great car for the money because it seemingly runs forever.
It is suitable in just about every climate and can hold its own off road, despite the fact that it looks like a small family wagon. The only problem with an older, used Outback is getting replacement parts for it.
8. Second-Generation Honda Odyssey
Honda makes the list again with its Odyssey minivan. The vehicle got its start in 1994 during a very rough time in the Japanese economy. As such, the car was really a compact minivan intended for Japanese families who used public transportation more than their own vehicles. The Odyssey was not well received in the United States until the second-generation model was introduced in 1999.
We like the second-generation Odyssey because it is more of what Americans are used to in terms of size and style. At the same time, it combined Honda dependability with a handful of new innovations that had not yet seen the light of day in the American market. The second-generation Odyssey won numerous awards and high customer praise for things like its simple, but ergonomic, interior and dual sliding passenger doors.
7. Third-Generation Toyota 4Runner
The 4Runner is Toyota’s long-standing entry in the mid-size SUV category. The company has been actively selling the vehicle since 1984, having developed five generations thus far. Finding one for under $5,000 will probably limit you to the third generation or earlier. Our personal recommendation is a third-gen from ’96 to ’98.
The third-gen 4Runner has a couple of good things going for it, not the least of which is its rugged dependability.
But Toyota also decided they would begin transforming the very utilitarian vehicle into a more luxury-minded SUV in order to compete with the Nissan Pathfinder. It also had a larger wheelbase and frame, thanks to Toyota’s decision to base it off a larger Land Cruiser rather than the compact Toyota pickup on which the first two generations were based.
6. Ford Taurus SHO
The Ford Taurus SHO was a high-performance version of the well-received Taurus wagons and sedans of the 1990s. In its first run, the car was produced from 1989 through 1999; Ford brought it back in 2009 to rave reviews and several awards.
We like the original SHOs because of their raw power. The first-gen models rolled off the floor with a Mazda-built manual transmission and an 800 RPM tachometer. Ford really pushed the idea of acceleration, claiming that the SHO could go from 0 to 60 mph in just over 6.5 seconds.
Car and Driver Magazine piled on in 1989 when they claimed to have gotten the car to a top speed of 143 mph. If you can still find one of these early SHOs in good condition, it’s really a steal.
5. Hyundai Accent ’03-’05
The second generation Hyundai Accent is one of the few later-model used cars you can find in the $5,000 range. And although the second-generation runs from 2000 to 2005, you probably want to stay away from earlier model years because of safety concerns.
Crash tests conducted by the European New Car Assessment Programme led the car to be classified as high risk for both front and side impact accidents.
Hyundai got its act together beginning with the 2003 model and hasn’t looked back since.
The second-generation Accent is a dependable vehicle that gets great gas mileage and won’t cost you a lot of money in maintenance and repairs.
Sometimes you’ll find third- and fourth-generation Accents in the $5,000 range, but they are rare. Usually, they’re priced closer to $7,000 or $10,000.
4. Honda Civic, Fifth and Sixth Generations
The Honda Civic is by far the most popular model from this Japanese maker. It’s been around since 1972 and has enjoyed strong sales around the world in all of its incarnations. The Civic is a subcompact that gets great gas mileage, is fun to drive, and will run forever if you take care of it.
As a testament to how trustworthy the Civic is, the FBI has it at the top of the list of most stolen cars in America year after year. Thieves love it because the parts are invaluable.
We recommend the fifth and sixth generations, built between 1992 and 2000, for a couple of reasons. First of all, anything prior to 1992 is probably on its last legs in terms of rust, frame strength, and engine wear.
Anything after 2000 will probably run you more than $5,000. If you stick with the fifth- and sixth-generation models you’ll be getting a great car for the money.
3. First-Generation Mazda Miata
Also known as the MX-5, the Miata is Mazda’s roadster designed to bring back the glory days of 1960s roadsters like the Triumph Spitfire and MGB Midget. They’re hard to find in large numbers in North America due to the fact that Mazda limited their sales here. They are big in Europe, however.
If you’re looking for a fun car to drive, with a lot of acceleration and sexy styling, the Miata may be just what you’re after.
Second generation and beyond will probably be out of the $5,000 price range, so stick to first-gen models.
2. Lincoln Mark VIII
The Lincoln Mark VIII is the only luxury vehicle on our list just because luxury is so difficult to find for under $5,000. This vehicle is a rear-wheel drive touring coupe built by Ford from 1989 through 1997.
Roughly equivalent to a similar Ford Crown Victoria, the Mark VIII did not shy away from raw power with its 4.6 L V-8 engine. Ford didn’t skimp on the interior luxury either.
The Mark VIII featured automatic climate control, leather seats, power seats and door locks, heated mirrors, and a whole lot more. These days it’s hard to find one that doesn’t have high mileage; original owners love them so much they don’t give them up easily. However, if you can find one with a solid frame and no oil leaks, it will be well worth the $5,000 investment.
1. Fourth-Generation Ford Mustang
The Ford Mustang may very well be the most well-known Ford vehicle ever produced. According to Ford’s media department, the Mustang is the only 1960s era pony car to continue with uninterrupted production since its inception in 1964. And, while the first and second-generation models are by far the most popular, they’re hard to find for under $5,000. That’s one of the reasons we’re recommending the fourth generation.
The fourth-generation Mustang was somewhat of a return to the car’s original roots after the failed third-generation model almost put the Mustang in the grave.
The third-generation line, which ran from 1979 to 1993, was a first for Ford in that they decided not to offer a V-8 model. They also based the third-gen on the front-wheel drive Mazda MX-6; a move that infuriated Mustang purists and fans of American car companies in general.
When the fourth-gen Mustang hit the market in 1994 it was a throwback to 1970s styling. But most importantly, the V-8 engine was back in the GT model. Newer Mustangs continue that trend. These days you can find a fourth-generation Mustang in fairly good condition in the $4,500-$5,000 range.
There are certainly many other great cars out there for those looking for a used vehicle on a budget. Our list is but a small sample of what’s available.
Just make sure before you purchase any used car you have it thoroughly inspected by a mechanic.
If you enter your ZIP code into our FREE search tool you’ll find that used cars are cheaper to purchase auto insurance for than brand-new vehicles!