Advice on reliable used car for 5K - Please help!

In a bind here - the transmission on our Passat (2001) went out yesterday and will be about 4K to fix. We don’t want to invest any more money into the car and looking for a used one.

I know 5K is not alot, but it’s what we have at this point and we really don’t want another car payment.

We need a four door and have a toddler so safety is a biggie. We’re looking for something that is going to run well. Are there any suggetions? Thanks!

Any car I could possibly suggest for $5,000 or less will be inferior in both safety and driving dynamics to a 2001 Passat. It’s smarter to spend $1,000-2000 to fix the Passat and maintain it then get a used car for that much. Get a used transmission from a salvage yard and have it put in by an independent shop. If I had a small child I’d fix the Passat since you’re going to be limited to economy cars and old american sedan for that kind of money.

I took a peek on Ebay and it looks like there’s plenty of used trannys out there in the $500-1000 range. Since the transmissions on these cars are actually one of the more reliable apsects of them I’d feel good about a low mileage transmission from a wrecked car.

Thanks Dave, I appreciated your responses.

At 5K your looking at something like a used Taurus, and there is no guarantee that its transmission wont poop the bed two week after you buy it, or for any 5k used car for that matter. It may be best to keep the Passat.

No problem. Let us know if you get the car back on the road.

How many miles will you be driving this thing annually?

Why don’t you want to put more money into this car? Are there other issues you haven’t mentioned?

Otherwise, your choices are $4000 for a used car with a known service history (and it really shouldn’t be $4000 to fix) or $5000 for a car of about the same age with an unknown service history. I know which one I’d prefer.

I purchased a 93 Ford Escort wagon with 183,000 miles on it 2 years ago and paid $1,200. I haven’t had to sink any money into it except for normal maintenance. It is still running great… so far.

At 150k+ its all luck on vehicle no matter who makes the thing. Great for you.

That all may be true, but a '93 Escort is not exactly state-of-the-art in terms of passenger protection in the event of a collision. Given the safety requirements of the OP, I don’t recommend a '93 Escort.

I agree with the others who suggest to repair your Passat - $4000 is too much, and even so, $4000 is less than $5000 for a new vehicle.

That said, there are a number of reasonable options in that price range. These include the Ford Crown Victoria (2000 or newer would be best,) any Buick, Chevy Impala (but make sure the intake manifold gasket has been replaced,) Hyundai Sonata or Elantra (no older than 2000 model year,) or a Suzuki (should be able to find a decent one fairly new.) Other options include Toyotas and Hondas, but at that price point, you’d have a tough time finding a real decent model, given the high retained value of the cars.

But, it still seems more financially wise to repair and keep what you have.

I’d say you should look at Hyundai Elantra or Ford Focus. Both have lousy resale value, especially if they have a stick shift, but are reasonably reliable and safe. In other words, you’ll find a much newer Focus or Elantra for 5K than any Honda or Toyota or pretty much anything else.

Of course, the Crown Vic is always a possibility. Much bigger than your Passat, but safe and reliable and cheap to repair.

The late 90’s model Honda Accords book between 5 and 6 grand.

An earlier consumer reports had a list of “good bets” for used cars under 6k and a few of them I know off hand were:

Honda Accord ’ 97

Chevy Prism '01

Mazda Protege’ (year unknown, this one always seems to be recommended)

If you can find an old car only issue of Consumer Reports, it will steer you right.

This one is easy!


Don’t overlook an 01 or 02 Chevrolet Impala. Get the 3.8L engine (very durable). Highway mpg is 30+.
Compare some of them. There’s lots on the road, lots of options, some are even “sporty.” We put my son in one for “safety.”

Take a look and talk to owners.

Approximately 24,000 miles a year.

Funny you should mention a Ford Escort. I have a '92 2-door escort (that I’m actually driving now) that has 164,000 miles and we have not had to put a lot of money in the car (we had the air conditioner repaired).

Yes there are other issues. The car had difficulty starting and when the mechanic was reving up the engine, (tinker with the car and trying to get it to go into reverse)we noted there was something dripping out of the tail pipe and the mechanic said it was oil. We’ve had oil leaks in the car that was repaired by the dealer about 1 year ago. So with all of that, it seems like we’re going to run into a host of expensive problems that we much rather avoid.

Ok, we’ll take a look, thanks.

The Impala has abysmal reliability. This is trading one headache for another if they get a used Impala. I still think the smart thing to do is to repair the Passat.

Tracee if you have the 1.8 turbo model it might just be a leaking turbo that’s causing oil in the exhaust. How many miles are on this Passat?