Best used car for under 4000 dollars

Hello CarTalk community. I am a recent college grad who has not owned a car for a while, but now it seems my work will be taking me to New Orleans where I will need a car. I would rather not finance a car and can afford up to 4000 dollars for a car. That being said, I would very much like to spend less. Any suggestions? Aesthetics matter not, but gas millage is a consideration to keep in mind. So, what is the best piece of junk out there?

Although I like Japanese cars like Honda, Mazda and Toyota, at your price you can’t buy one that’s any good or has low mileage.

I would look at a low mileage (relatively) Ford taurus or Mercury Sable. You may also find a Ford Crown Victoria or Mercury Grand Marquis.

These cars have very low resale value but are mechanically quite good.

Have mechanic check it over before you buy.

Good Luck!

That’s A Tough Order To Fill. You Need To Either Add A Little Cash Or Reserve Some Of The $4000 For Tweaking The New Used Car.

If everybody could go buy a nice car for $3000 to $4000 then almost everybody would be doing it.

I did get a very nice Chevy Impala, 6 model years old, two years ago, for $4000. It needed $300 worth of tweaking, a serpentine belt (just to know it was good), trunk support struts, and an intermediate steering shaft. The tires were good and the car was well maintained.

That’s what you should be looking for. Look for a well maintained car, possibly with service records. Be open minded as to the brand and model and more concerned with the condition. Most people on this site recommend having the car checked out by a mechanic prior to purchase.

Here’s what I’d do since you say you’ve “been out of the loop” on cars. I would look at quite a few cars in your price range before even considering a purchase. Really look them over and take a test drive. You will soon get a feel for what’s a good deal and what’s a bad one, hopefully.

The best car is the one in the best condition. Buy that one.


You might also consider a 2004/2005 Chevy Cavalier. Those model years are near the end of a very long model run. But it is reasonably reliable; repairs are comparable with the same year Honda Civic. It’s not flashy, but it will get you to work and back. The other cars mentioned must be at least 2 years older to get down to $4000. Another car to look at is the 2003 Ford Focus.

A Consumer Reports Used Car Buyers’ Guide from the local bookstore won’t specifically identify cars in that price raneg, but it will give you a good idea of those models that have poor histories. It’ll help improve your odds.

Beyond that it’s maintenance, maintenance, and how well the car was treated. Any vehicle you consider should be thoroughly checked under the hood and under the chassis by a reputable independent mechanic.

One caveat: do not fall in love with anything. Do your homework on every possible selection.

Oh, and be sure to let all of your family and relatives know that you’re actively looking. They can be the best source of a reliable used car.

First, unless you’re really good with cars do make sure that you have a trustworthy local mechanic who can give cars the once over for you.

I would be combing your closest craigslist (or 2) for any of a number of small compact cars such as Saturn S series, Chevy Cavaliers, Chevy Prism (likely a very good bet), Ford Escort/focus. These can easily be had for anywhere from $2-4K in something like the '99-03 year range with something in the neighborhood of 100-120K miles on them. If well-maintained these cars tend to be reliable and easy to maintain - and if maintained will usually have another easy 100K in them (at least) with mostly normal wear and tear repairs.

The important thing is to get a good mechanic to look it over and to know something (preferably in writing) about the maintenance history.

I would recommend looking at domestic small to mid size with year 2001+. If possible try and find one with a standard transmission if you can drive one. Automatic transmission failure will really kill your funds if budget if $4000 or less.

If you’ve got $4,000 then whatever you buy spend $3,000 and keep $1,000 on hand for maintenance, repairs, and reconditioning. You don’t get a car for $4,000 that is in perfect shape. People sell cars because they don’t want to fix something. Your job is to figure out what needs attention and deal with it. Brakes, tires, struts, etc are all good things to replace. Get the car inspected to be sure the motor, transmission, and drive train are all solid. You’ll need the $1,000 for something; new exhaust, tires, struts, brakes, motor mounts, transmission mounts, something.

You can’t beat them…