Best Car to Buy for $3999

Looking for a good used car that can be purchased for under $4K. What can I expect to find in something with decent MPG (>20 MPG, preferably more). Automatic. Expecting a high mileage car (>100K) so need something that has a good history of making it to 200K with reasonable maintenance and repair costs. Leaning to Toyota/Honda Corolla/Civic, but open to others.

Thanks for any feedback provided.

I think what you have chosen are the best for the money. You may also want to check out old Volvo station wagons.

Look for a 2002 Chevy Prizm with the 4-speed auto. It’s a Corolla with a different name plate, but built in the same factory. Expect to pay about 25% less because of the name plate.

In older cars, condition is the most important thing, not the manufacturer. You might find an unpopular model that has been well maintained an trouble free by an older citizen. The Cavalier and Escort come to mind.

Chevrolet or Geo Prizm (a Corolla in disguise) is a good bet. Other options are Mazda Protege, Ford Escort, Subaru Impreza (if you need AWD), and Toyota Echo. These cars are cheap to buy and maintain.

Old Volvo station wagons are neither cheap to buy nor cheap to maintain.

There are no guarantees in this price range. If you can find a car with maintenance records it’s worth more, but not much more.

I’ve always enjoyed shopping in the really cheap range, and I’ve had some very reliable cars for very little money.

Best of luck.

older Crown Victoria comes to mind.
No matter what you’re considering, get it inspected BEFORE you buy it. A $100 trip to the mechanic can save you thousands in the short, and possibly long, run

Look for car in best condition and hopefully single owner(w/records).

Civic/Corolla in this price range are well worn and likely have some expensive repairs/maintenance lurking beneath or in poorer condition. If they are decent owners tend to hang onto them.

Great deals on full size V-6 Domestic pickups. My 2004 F-150 (75K)Blue Books private party a little over $4000.00. I think I paid close to $20,000

I would second the looking at proven domestic cars like the Cavalier, Escort, Taurus, Buicks, etc. The Toyotas and Hondas will hold up somewhat better, but they also hold their value a lot better, and so a $4000 Toyota or Honda is going to be quite a bit older and higher mileage than a $4000 domestic car. A $4K Honda or Toyota is getting into borderline beater territory, whereas you can probably get a still pretty nice domestic for that much.

I was amazed selling my wife’s $3500 8 yr old Honda Civic with 190k miles. Everything worked however the only real maintenance performed by her was at 100k, timing belt, plugs, wires, coolant and brake fluid. The rest was oil changes and her exchanging the oil filter(expert after living in a dusty part of TX).

The 190k car for $3500 needed well over $2000 in work like timing belt,major tune, brakes, suspension work(well worn out) and clutch was nearly worn out.

My wife got her money’s worth getting 25% back on the vehicle.

Douglas, Look At Any Cars In The $4000 Category That Appeal To You In Any Way.

If you are “Leaning to Toyota/Honda Corolla/Civic, but open to others.” then look at those. Since The Toyotas and Hondas command a high price used, you should consider others and be open minded.

I agree with Andrew J. who stated, “Look for car in best condition and hopefully single owner(w/records).

The best car is going to be the youngest one with the least miles and the best maintenance history. Cars needing new tires are probably not as well maintained and that shoots your $4,000 deal when you drive right to a tire store and drop another $400. Same goes for cracked or chipped windshields. It makes me wonder what else has been neglected.

Stay away from “rust buckets” and cars that were badly wrecked and repaired. Ask for maintenance records and look the seller in the eyes and see if you can tell if they are being truthful when you ask, “Does the car use any fluids?” and “What does the car need right now?” “Why are you selling?”, and they answer you. Some sellers will tell you the truth and some will balk.

To find just the right car takes time. The best advice is to start shopping the market and checking out cars and asking questions without rushing into buying. After you look at several (many) cars in your price range, you will “develop a feel” for good deals vs. bad deals, hopefully. There will be some of each.

I shopped cars for a while. My wife and son wanted to buy each one we looked at, I didn’t. I paid exactly $4000 1 1/2 years ago while selecting a car for my college student son. Safety was a biggy for me (I’m the father). I looked at safe cars that got decent mpg.

I found an 01 Impala LS 3.8L, 110,000 miles, 5-star crash, front / side air bag, well maintained (with papers), original owner family (guy’s parents wintered in Florida with it), 30 mpg hwy, good tires (all matching) leather chairs, premium sound, spoiler, alloys, driver info center, and just a good clean machine. I was attracted to the car at its appropriate (2007) $5600 asking price. I drove 2 hours to see it after a phone conversation with the owner. I spent a lot of time looking at it, driving it, shooting the bull with the owner, and wound up paying $4000 and the guy took a personal check on a week-end and let me drive home on his plate.

Moral of this story: You can look at cars a little over $3999. Most owners either plan on coming down in price or they will come down, they just don’t know it yet. Make offers.

Happy Hunting, CSA