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Best cars under $5000

What would you recommend that we buy? Is buying at Car Max a good idea? The trade-in value for our SAAB stationwagon is about $5000. We need a reliable car for the suburbs with decent gas mileage. My husband is tall so he needs a high ceiling in the front of the car. Cheap repairs are a must after four years of expensive SAAB repairs. Good A/C and Heat are important, too. We have a small daughter so we need four doors and room for a car seat. Large trunk is preferred. Thanks very much for your help.

Buying at Car Max is a good idea for Car Max’s profits.

The only decent car under $5000 is one that has been well maintained by its previous owner. Brand and model matter less than maintenance and care taken. For $5000 I would expect an older car or one with high mileage.

Look for good cars with less consumer demand like Buick Century or Chevy Malibu. Hondas and Toyotas tend to be WAY overpriced used because of their perceived reliability. They are very reliable if maintained. So is any other car.

Get any potential vehicle inspected by an independent, unbiased mechanic before sale.

Avoid European cars as a rule due to expensive maintenance and repairs.

Thanks, MLeich, for your fast response. My husband says that he likes the Chevy Malibu.

We have learned the expensive lesson of European cars.

Any thoughts about buying a car from a rental agency, like Enterprise or Avis?

Used Toyota, Honda Mazda, Nissan, Hyundai, and Ford compacts and the like. Check CR auto edition. These all give you decent mileage.

If you can drive a manual, that would be a plus in finding a cheaper decent car.

I would avoid European and most GMs and Chrysler products at that price. Small 4 cyl 2wd PUs from Nissan and Toyota are in the ball park too.

If you want a little luxury in the form of a midsize from a rental, remember these cars are made to be fleet cars with a limited life expectancy on their parts IMO. I would not buy a rental GM or Chyrsler and not expect to include some upkeep money down the road. Your choice.

Your overpriced Honda or Toyota, if “maintained the same” as a GM or Chrysler will still have fewer problems and longer working life left. That’s why they cost more and not because they have a magic name. Used car prices in “standard cars” (not Vettes and specialties) reflect deserved reputations. Fords overall IMO, have the potential to give you the best bang for the buck.

Thanks. What does IMO mean?

IMO = In My Opinion
IMHO = In My Humble Opinion

You normally see IMHO from someone who is very experienced in the matter at hand, and maybe even with your specific issue give you his/her best guess. There are a few here that do that a lot, and from reading their posts, they’ve clearly got the experience, and I tend to trust their diagnosis.

IMO tends to come from folks who know, generally, but maybe not specifically with that item you’re talking about. I use that a lot. :slight_smile:


Buying from a rental agency isn’t a bad option, but they sell “newer” used cars so nothing will be close to $5000. A $5,000 car will need some sort of repairs and reconditioning not long after you own it. So, either buy a $3,000 car and have $2,000 for repairs or make sure you have $1500 to 2500 available in your budget for your $5,000 car.

$5000 means an older car, or a very high mileage car. Either way the car likely has had more than one owner. How the car was maintained by previous owners is a huge factor; more important than brand of car at this stage of a car’s life. A great advantage to you is a seller who has kept all the service receipts for the life of the car and can document all that has been done to the car. Figure that if the motor has a timing belt and you can’t document it was changed and when that a new timing belt is your 1st significant service bill.

Only a mechanic phsyically inspecting the car can tell you the condition of the motor, suspension, and spot accident damage that was repaired. Even a good inspection won’t tell you the remaining life of an automatic transmission so that is always a question mark. I highly recommend you have your mechanic inspect any car before you buy it.

Get a copy of the April 2011 Consumer Reports magazine. Your local library should have one. It’s their annual “Auto Issue.” In it you will find a list of “Best” and “Worst” used cars.

The “Best Bets” section has used vehicles listed by price range. It should help in your search.

I’ve had luck in the past with used cars in your price range, but you have to be very careful. There’s a lot of junk out there.

I second what dagosa said, a used Ford may be your best bet here, I was thinking you might be able to find a Focus in this price range in decent shape, if you need to go bigger we had good luck with the Taurus.

I also agree about finding a car with one older owner if possible, they usually have plenty of usable life left, maybe someone’s grandma’s car, a Buick Century or Regal, maybe the Park Avenue?.. or a Chevy Prizm would be good if it isn’t too small, would get great gas mileage and was built along side the Toyota Corolla, so was the Pontiac Vibe if you need a little more space.

I can say that the heating/AC system on fords is built to a very high standard (for its ability to alter the interior climate, I know nothing about fixing them or their durability). They found it easier to make every vehicle off the assembly line able to alter interior temp to 70 degrees in under 5 minutes(iirc) regardless of outside temp, Hudson Bay, 20 below, fords heater will keep you warm. (Note: I cannot site a source for this, please correct me if I am wrong, I know someone knows for certain what I am trying to mention.)

Don’t Pay Extra To Buy Into The “Asian Car Myth” (Of Reliability). You’ll Find Your Best Value On Good Old American Cars. There’s Not A Hill Of Beans Worth Of Difference In Reliability Amongst Manufacturers, Especially In Used Cars InThis Price Range. The American Cars Could Even Have The Lead, Here. They’re All I Buy !

As has been pointed out, the way the car was driven and maintained previously is the biggest factor in the reliability you will realize.

Every manufacurer (Foreign and American) has made some duds. Check opinions online for a car that you are interested in and see if talk is that the car is exceptionally problematic. You could throw it up here for us to take a look at and offer opinions.


With careful shopping, you should be able to find a Crown Vic or Grand Marquis that will meet ALL your needs…A geezer trade-in or estate sale…here is a nice one, there are MANY more…

Caddyman, I Thought About You As Soon As I Saw This. Asking More Than 5 Grand, But This Little Beauty Is In My Small Town Local Paper This A.M. I Wonder What They’d Actually Take For It ?

Ford Crown Victoria LX,
2004. 32,000 miles,
excellent condition, $7,500.
Located in ______. XXX-360-1678

Kind of makes your mouth water, Eh ?

One thing I like about living in the sticks is that you very often can call on things for sale and find them still available.


"Don’t Pay Extra To Buy Into The “Asian Car Myth” (Of Reliability). You’ll Find Your Best Value On Good Old American Cars. "

Guess I’ll cancel my subscription to CR, those myth spreaders.

“There’s Not A Hill Of Beans Worth Of Difference In Reliability Amongst Manufacturers,”

Son of a gun…I learn something new every day.

“Son of a gun…I learn something new every day.”

I’ll bet you had to swallow hard to say it, but hey it’s a start. It’s not just you, lots of folks are coming back to Buy American ! Welcome back.


This reminds me of the story of the Japanese exchange student who could rattle off facts and quotes pertaining to American history, and cite dates for when they took place. The teacher shamed the rest of the class for not even coming close to the exchange student’s knowledge of American history. In response to the shaming, a student in the back of the classroom muttered “damn Japanese”, to which the teacher demanded, “who said that?!” The exchange student then stood up and said, “Lee Iacocca, 1982”

CSA…Please list me the criteria that makes a car American. I need to be better informed.
Should I buy one just based upon name recognition like Ford, Chrysler or Chevy. Or, should I buy one that’s actually made here in the good old US of A by American workers paid a fair wage as guaranteed by their citizenship. I “gotta know” before I spend my hard earn money on an “American car”.

Follow The Profit. More Than Half Of The Operating Profit (Some Say As High As 60% - 70%) That Honda Japan & Toyota Japan Realize Is Money Taken Overseas By Selling Their Cars (Japan & U.S. assembled) In The U.S.A. Bottom Line Operating Profit From American Cars Stays Here, At Home.

Critera: Look for American brands that have their profit centers based in the United States.

You might find this article and graphic interesting. It shows the breakdown of how “American” each car is:

To CSA: Is SAAB an “American” brand? Was it when GM owned it? What about Opel or Vauxhall? Is Chrysler an Italian brand? I am just trying to understand your logic–note above that I recommended a Chevy Malibu or Buick Century.

Mleich, The Information You Supplied Has Been Hashed Over Here. Use The “Search” Feature And You’ll Find This Discussion Is Nothing New.
See my previous comment.

"I am just trying to understand your logic–note above that I recommended a Chevy Malibu or Buick Century. "
It’s common sense and always right; when it’s bold.