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By John Linden

Most people would be hard pressed to find a new car for under $20,000. If you have a limited budget of $5,000 or less, you will likely be shopping for a used car with some mileage on it. There are car manufacturer’s that have models that have performed well consistently over time. Be sure to do some research before driving out to the used car lot, so you make a smart choice. After researching on J.D. Powers, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and Auto trader, here are 15 of the best used cars under $5,000.

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Small Cars

Small Cars

  • 2008-2011 Ford Focus

Ford’s Focus offers tech- savvy features like Bluetooth audio and is offered in a 4-door sedan and a 2-door coupe. It boasts a 140HP 4-cylinder engine and is fuel efficient and reliable.

  • 2006-2010 Honda Civic

The Civic has a 1.8-liter VTEC engine and is a compact car known for its reliability. It comes in several models, a 2-door coupe, a 4-door sedan and a hybrid version. It is also very fuel-efficient.

  • 2006-2010 Mazda 3

The Mazda 3 comes as a 4-door sedan, and a hatchback with a reliable 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. It has a smooth ride and high-quality interior and offers fuel efficiency.

  • 2005-2010 Scion tC

The Scion Tc is a compact sports coupe and is backed by Toyota. It offers features usually found in luxury vehicles such as a sunroof, pioneer audio system, etc.It is a reliable and fun car to drive.

Image CreditIFCAR [Public domain]

Mid Size Cars

Mid Size Cars

  • 2003 Acura TL

Acura’s TL comes equipped with a 3.2-liter V6 engine and is a luxury sedan. It also offers fuel efficiency of 27 mpg.

Chevy’s Impala received the highest ratings from the NHTSA for safety and has a 3.5 liter V6 engine, comfortable seating and a roomy trunk.

  • 2009-2011 Kia Optima

The Optima earned top ratings from safety agencies and has a 2.4-liter V6 engine. The EX version offers luxury features such as climate control, leather seats, power driver seat, auto dimming rear view mirror, etc.

  • 2002-2006 Toyota Camry

The Camry is Toyota’s luxury midsize offering with a 3.0-liter V6 engine. This car has an excellent safety rating and reliability that can last well beyond 200,000 miles.

Image Credit:IFCAR [Public domain]



The MDX is a midsize SUV with a powerful V6 engine and all-wheel drive. The MDX offers three rows of seats and a luxury interior, cruise control, full entertainment system, and leather seats.

  • 2001-2004 Ford Escape

The Escape is a compact SUV with either a four or six-cylinder3.0-literengine and front-wheel drive. Handles well and has excellent fuel efficiency.It can seat five passengers and has a fair amount of cargo room.

  • 2002-2005 Ford Explorer

The Explorer has a 4.6-liter V8 engine and offers a 3rd-row seat, cruise control, MP3 and DVD players, and leather seats. It is essentially a large car on a truck frame and handles well.

  • 2000-2004 Nissan Xterra

Nissan’s Xterra has a strong 170 HP V6 engine and is more of a sports utility vehicle than a luxury SUV. Sturdy and reliable, the Xterra offers off-road capability.

Image Credit: IFCAR [Public domain]



  • 2005 Chrysler Town & Country

The Town & Country has a 3.3 Liter V6 engine and some excellent luxury features. Chrysler was know to be an innovator in the minivan market and introduced the “Stow ‘n Go” second and third-row seats in the 2005 model. These seats can quickly fold up and store in hidden compartments in the cabin floor.

  • 2006 Dodge Grand Caravan

The Caravan has a 3.3-liter V6 engine and has a roomy interior with the ability to carry seven passengers. Comfortable seating and reliable handling.

  • 2004 Nissan Quest

The Quest has a 3.5-liter V6 engine and handles well with tight steering. It can seat seven, has lots of cargo room, and features power sliding doors and nice trim packages.

What should you look for in a Used Car

The biggest hurdle to overcome in buying a low cost used car is your expectations. The vehicle you can afford will likely have several years on it, higher mileage and won’t contain many of the newer safety features like a backup camera or automatic braking, etc.What you should expect to find is a clean, reliable, well-maintained vehicle.

Here are eight things to do to make sure you end up with a reliable used car.

  1. Make a Visual Inspection:Does the car’s exterior have big dents or rust? Does the undercarriage of the car have any holes? Does the ground under the car have puddles of black or pink fluid? This could be a sign that the car hasn’t been very well cared for and may have an oil or transmission fluid leak.

  1. Test the Movement:Do the doors, hood, and trunk open easily without sticking? If not, the car may have been in an accident, and the repairs were not done well.

  1. Smell Test:Does the car’s interior smell old or funny? A fluid leak or water damage could have soaked into the floor mats or carpet.

  1. Check the Warning Lights: If you turn the key in the ignition, do all the dashboard lights go on? If warning lights flicker or fail to turn on, it could be a sign that something is wrong and should be checked out by a mechanic.

  1. Look at the Mileage: Look for the lowest mileage you can afford in a well-maintained car. Automotive components and parts won’t last forever, and you don’t want a vehicle that will need extensive replacement of parts.

  1. ObtainVehicle History and Pre-purchase Inspection: Insist that the dealer provide you with a vehicle history report,which will show you whether the car has had several owners, been in an accident, had title problems, etc.Have a mechanic go over the vehicleprior to purchasing it to ensure you are getting a dependable vehicle that won’t require expensive part replacement or servicing.

If you take your time and do your homework, you can find an excellent, reliable car with a few extra features thrown in.