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These used cars can be picked up for less than $5,000, but they’re probably best avoided.
One of the biggest barriers to entry for budding car enthusiasts is how expensive cars and modifications are. Even new or lightly used budget cars can be well out of reach for a new buyer who’s looking for a cheap, fun ride. However, there are plenty of great cars that can be had for under $5,000 — well within the reach of buyers on a tight budget. While these cars will hardly be the Porsche 911 or the Skyline GT-R of your dreams, they can still be a lot of fun and easily modified. Best of all, there’s nothing you can do wrong with a cheap car. Dings and dents don’t hurt the value, and modifications won’t sully the car’s reputation.
Updated January 2022: If you're in the market for a cheap and reliable used car, it's probably wise to avoid the models in this article, as these cars are either notoriously unreliable or cost a fortune to maintain.
With that said, there are many cars that may seem cool but aren’t so attractive once you look under the surface. Sometimes, a stylish coupe won’t be able to back up its fast looks with real performance. Other times, a car from a premium brand will have an asking price that seems too good to be true, and it often is. While there are many cheap BMWs, Mercedes-Benzes, and other exotic European cars on the market, these vehicles will become money pits due to their poor reliability and expensive repairs. Here are 10 used cars that can be bought for less than $5,000, but they are cheap for a reason.
The RX-7 was easily Mazda’s best performance car, especially in its final ‘FD’ generation. On top of that, the RX-7 had an absolutely gorgeous design that made it look as fast as it was. Sadly, Mazda dropped the RX-7 in 2002, and it was later replaced by the RX-8.
Unlike the previous impractical, two-seater RX-7, the new car was a four-door coupe, in that it had two big doors for the front passengers and two small rear doors for easier rear-seat access. While it lacked a turbo option, the rotary motor still had plenty of power. Unfortunately, that rotary engine proved to be horribly unreliable. It was so bad that Mazda increased the powertrain warranty for early models, and it’s not uncommon to find examples that have had their engines replaced multiple times. The RX-8 is a cool car, but not a reliable one.
While Hyundai has been expanding its horizons recently, it wasn’t too long ago that the brand was producing only budget cars and SUVs. However, the automaker did venture into the sports-car world in the ‘90s with the Tiburon. While the first generation was little more than an Elantra Coupe, the second generation was far more attractive and more mechanically independent from other models in Hyundai’s lineup.
It could be had with either a choice of four-cylinder motors or a 2.7-liter V6 that was good for up to 172 horsepower, making it a decently quick budget machine. Unfortunately, the Tiburon hasn’t proven to be a particularly reliable machine over the years. Worse still, these cars were often heavily used and have racked up plenty of miles by now.
Sweden has a knack for creating quirky cars, but they’re down to only one mass-production brand now: Volvo. However, there was one company that would out-weird Volvo, which would be the dearly departed Saab. This brand went through many changes, including switching hands a few times before disappearing altogether. The Saab 9-3 was one of the brand’s more popular cars, as it was available as a coupe, a sedan, and a convertible.
This model has all the unique Saab touches, such as the styling, the insane dedication to safety, and the ignition in the center console. Early first-generation models can be found for really low prices, but they aren’t necessarily worth it. Given that the brand is dead and that the car is somewhat obscure, parts can be difficult to source. If you’re interested in buying one, you might want to keep a few spare parts in the garage.
Mercedes was once widely known for creating incredibly overbuilt cars. Their old S Class models are near-bulletproof vehicles that could take far more abuse than other luxury cars at the time. However, as technology and consumer desires changed, newer Mercedes-Benzes couldn’t maintain that standard. Worse still, the company’s transition from the old-fashioned boxy look to modern styling led to some blobby, forgettable designs.
This may be why there are so many early-2000s Mercedes C Classes that are priced well under $5,000. While that price for an old luxury car may sound like a steal, these cars aren’t very fast by today’s standards. Furthermore, the interiors aren’t too luxurious anymore, and parts are going to be expensive when they need to be replaced—and things will go wrong on one of these cars. There are far more durable, faster, and more comfortable cars for the price.
A sleeper is a type of car that doesn’t look like much but is considerably faster than its generic styling lets on. One of the first production cars to embrace this type of design was the Taurus SHO. Introduced in 1989, this boring-looking sedan had a high-revving Yamaha V6 hidden under the hood, and it was paired with a manual transmission. The SHO could accelerate to 60 in around 6.6 seconds, which is decently quick, even by today’s standards.
Unfortunately, the third-generation SHO was so bad, the performance model disappeared for the fourth-generation Taurus. While the third generation’s V8 powertrain seems appealing on the surface, these engines became famous for having camshaft issues. Not to mention, it only produced 15 more horsepower than the old V6. Worse still, the manual transmission was discontinued when this newer, uglier model was released. Just buy an older SHO.
If there's one company that heavily advertises its cars’ driving characteristics, it would be BMW. Not that its cars really need it, as it’s pretty much common knowledge that BMW creates excellent cars, particularly the 5 series. The M5, in particular, has become one of the most iconic performance sedans in the world. But even the normal 5 Series can be a fun car while simultaneously being an incredibly practical five-passenger sedan.
These cars will sprout up on Craigslist frequently for insanely low prices. While it may seem like a great car for the money, there’s a reason why these cars are so cheap. Regardless of generation, a cheap 5 Series will break down and cost far more to repair than whatever the asking price was. Even nicer examples will most likely suffer from expensive problems sooner or later.
If there was one big problem that Pontiac suffered from, it would be the number of rebadged Chevys that were sold under its name. While there were many unique Pontiacs over the years, there were too many boring cars diluting this ‘performance’ company’s lineup. While models like the Grand Prix were examples of excellent performance models being created from the parts bin, other cars weren’t so lucky.
Even though the Grand Am looks quite similar to the larger Grand Prix, it didn’t receive much in the way of performance upgrades. Instead of having supercharged power under the hood, it either had a weak four-cylinder or a 3.4-liter V6 that was famous for blowing intake gaskets. Even though the V6’s problem can be permanently remedied, 175 horsepower just isn’t enough to make this Pontiac fun to drive.
Despite adding weight and reducing structural rigidity, convertibles can be fun cars to cruise around in. Well-designed performance cars can even get around the drawbacks that come with that folding roof. One of the cheapest convertible options is the first- and second-generation Chrysler Sebring. While it’s not hard to find clean examples, these cars really aren’t worth their low asking prices.
The Sebring was almost universally equipped with the Ultradrive automatic transmission that was infamous for its constant problems. Low-end models are equipped with underpowered four-cylinder motors, and second-generation models had the much-maligned 2.7-liter V6 available as an ‘upgrade.’ Plus, these cars have no handling prowess, even when they have a fixed roof. If these cars have one positive, it would be that the first- and second-generation models aren’t nearly as bad as the more expensive third-generation cars.
There were many Japanese performance cars that took the US by storm in the ‘90s and the 2000s, particularly the Subaru Impreza WRX and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. These two cars made a name for themselves out on the rally courses with their turbocharged engines and all-wheel-drive systems. The Mitsubishi Evo was always the underdog, but it tended to be the better track car in comparison to the more popular Subaru.
However, it was based on the simpler Lancer compact sedan, which had none of the performance of the Evo due to its lack of forced induction and all-wheel drive. On top of this, the standard Lancer is both not any fun to drive and not as reliable as many of its competitors. Simply put, there’s no reason to buy the regular Lancer over a Civic.
Neither British nor luxury cars are frequently associated with longevity and reliability. Unfortunately, Jaguar both builds luxury cars and is British. While Jaguars are usually good cars with quality interiors and powerful motors, they’ll often have very expensive problems, especially when they start getting old. If you can afford to fix these cars and are willing to take the depreciation, Jaguars are often worth the investment. That is, unless it’s an X-Type.
Unlike many other Jags, the X-Type isn’t a unique car but instead a fully loaded Ford Mondeo, which is a generic European sedan that doesn’t have much in the way of performance or luxury. Worse still, this car has usual Jaguar reliability, with the worst problem being that the V6 engine is known to seize in some cases. There's no reason to buy this fake Jaguar.
Sources: V8SHO, SCCOIA, eEuro Parts, Auto Safety
10 Cars Under $5,000 To Avoid – HotCars
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