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10 Nicest SUVs You Can Buy For Under $5,000 (And 10 To Avoid) – HotCars

by Oct 21, 2022Blog0 comments

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It’s surprising how many cool SUVs you can snap up in decent condition for just $5,000…as long as you know which ones to avoid.
Well, we all know what we love to do during spring; it’s probably the best time to be out in the year. The grass is growing, the flowers are blooming, and there's nothing better than tearing them down with a low-budget slick SUV. A quad would've been great for this kind of weather, but a full on-the-road-going truck (with doors) that can also double up as a commuter and be driven to soccer practice and the mall, whatever people do during this time of year, would serve well, too. Well, if you've been checking the classifieds, then you understand that slick SUVs don’t come cheap, at least not $5,000k cheap when they're new, and because of that reason, the used-car market is thriving.
Update February 2022: Used SUVs are a hot commodity. The market has never been more robust for the used SUV, and in 2022 we've had to update this list to include even more cheap used SUVs that are worth every penny and a few to avoid at all costs.
You don’t need to break the bank to own a decent SUV. Therefore, the focus here will be to get fun rides that are good to go straight out of Craigslist, and while Land Rover Discoveries will easily fit the bill, their maintenance would cause this investment to skyrocket. There are also plenty of American full-size trucks with a $5k budget, but that’s a list for another time. Well, if you've been wondering, here are 10 of the sickest SUVs you can buy for under 5K (and 10 to avoid).
Related: Here's What May Be Fuelling The Obsession With SUVs
The RAV4 is the best-selling SUV in the U.S. It wasn't always that way, and in the long climb to the top, Toyota produced a string of very well-built RAVs. Though RAV4s hold their value, models from the late 1990s and early 2000s are less than $5,000. These models of RAV4s offer features such as power windows, locks, seats, and a six-disk CD player.
The RAV4 is often considered the best consumer SUV and, in 2019, became the best-selling SUV worldwide! Further, these SUVs are commuter-friendly, with up to a 2.4L inline-four with 160 horsepower and 29 MPG on the highway. With accolades like that, the RAV4 is one of the sickest SUVs for less than $5,000.
The Suburban is the longest-used name in production history, dating back to 1934-1935! Further, studies show that the Suburban is the most driven SUV every year! New Chevrolet Suburbans cost over $50,000, but finding one for less than $5,000 is possible when looking at models from the early 2000s.
Ninth-generation models of the Chevrolet Suburban feature new engines, with the base model sporting a 5.3L V8 engine. These models feature seating for seven, plenty of cargo space, and towing for up to 10,000 lbs! Further, technology, including On-Star, is available, giving a breath of modern technology to a dated SUV.
Another seven-seater can be found for $5,000, this time from Suzuki. The XL-7 was the most affordable SUV in North America when it was released, and that value continues today, as used models are still affordable. This "Xtra-Large" SUV, as the XL stood for, was powered by an optional 2.7L V6 engine pushing up to 182 horsepower.
Though newer models feature more power – up to 252 horsepower – they do come more expensive. The early models are the ones to look for, as their third-row seating and additional cargo space pair well with the more than 4,000 lbs towing capacity the XL-7 has at its disposal, making it one of the sickest sub-5,000 SUVs on the used market!
While most SUV car manufacturers are going for the four-wheel-drive luxury-car design type that you'd most likely be able to spot in the airport or in the woods, there are still a few SUVs that carry the thrill of off-roading. One of them is the Nissan Xterra, that’s luckily still in production today. As you'd expect, the older versions of the Xterra were more stripped down and desirable; these models were produced between 2000 and 2004.
An XE setup was later introduced that produced 170 hp with its V6 engine coupled with a 5-speed manual transmission system.
A supercharged version that was released later in 2002 was nicer, too. The Nissan Xterra is a fun car to go off-roading, and if you're looking for a budget car that can handle the woods, then this is your best bet.
As the name suggests, this Sports Utility Wagon powered with a WRX engine is the ultimate outdoor wagon off-road. Subaru has earned quite a reputation in America due to its ability to withstand harsh conditions and still go hard on the road. The Forester is a family-sized wagon that was introduced in the '90s. While it cannot be compared to the Land Cruiser in terms of size, it could outdo a Land Cruiser, given a chance in a mud fight.
The Subaru Forester is versatile yet cheap, earning a spot on this list.
If you're looking to get a Subaru Forester, go in for the 2L turbocharged version. The later versions of this model have been upgraded to a full-sized SUV. Most people would instead buy the Subaru new since it’s still reasonably affordable new.
Related: The 10 Most Expensive SUVs Of 2020
A fun way to describe the Mitsubishi Montero is "tall and boxy" or rather, "the poor man’s G-Wagen," or better yet, "Land Rover." The Mitsubishi Montero did, in fact, separate itself from the rest of its competitors when it was first released by having a Turbo Diesel Engine as well as roadworthy abilities.
The second generation of these cars that first appeared in 1991 was more bulbous, much like its competitor, the FJ80, but was also available in the 24-valve V6-engine spec. Nas name-changed the Montero back in 1994, tagging it “The World Is Yours.” Maybe that’s the model you might need to track down—the two-door version. The Mitsubishi Montero is a fun car to drive off-road, as its hardy looks and appealing resilience are features most used-car buyers often forget.
The Nissan Pathfinder is, by all means, a nice car. This car was introduced two years after the Toyota 4Runner was released. These cars were meant to compete with the all-American Bronco II, the Jeep Grand Cherokee, and the S10 Blazer. While the 4runner was basically a pickup with a carbon-fiber roof, the Nissan Pathfinder had a more unified design. And just like her close cousin, the Subaru Forester, the later generations are getting bigger and plusher.
However, in our opinion, the first-generation Pathfinder based on the hardbody pickup was perfect. Due to its reliability, the Pathfinder is still the ideal choice for an SUV for most people who enjoy off-road driving. The Pathfinder is also versatile in off-road driving, as its aggression is unrivaled for a cheaper, more involving thrill ride than most of its competitors. Best of all, it can be found for less than $5,000!
If you're thinking of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, then you need to think again since the Jeep Cherokee (XJ) was just perfect. Its unique unibody design made it a forefather of the modern SUV, and its clean, angular lines mean that the Jeep Cherokee has never gone out of style.
The Jeep Cherokee 1987-1991 model gets it all for being equipped with an extra towing package that also came with a Dana 44 rear axle.
The Jeep Cherokee came in two different versions: the two-door and the four-door. However, they still share the same dimensions; therefore, unless you have an issue with aesthetics, you might be better off with the cleanest example. There's no turning back once you get the Jeep Cherokee. The things you'll be able to do? Mind-blowing.
What's your ideal classic four-wheel-drive car? If it’s not the Jeep Wrangler, then you're completely lost. The classic four-wheel-drive Jeep Wrangler directly evolved from the Military Willy’s Jeep that, according to history, was produced in 1941 (pretty medieval car).
The Jeep Wrangler was first introduced in 1986. However, it didn't get a significant makeover until 1996. That year marked the introduction of the 180 hp fuel-injected 4.0L straight-six engine.
In 1995, the car manufacturer moved to the heavier Dana 30 u-joints. The 1996 production got the Jeep more civilized—no fun at all if you ask me. The conditions might not be the best, but still, it’s a 20-year-old car—what do you expect? Well, the '90s version of the Jeep Wrangler can be purchased for less than $5,000.
Well, apparently, Jadakiss likes this car, and there are a whole bunch of people who like Jadakiss, so who are you to argue? (Well, that’s a preconception.) And who knew you could use a rapper’s name to justify the reliability of an SUV? Well, welcome to America! The Samurai is a lightweight SUV with no frills and imitates the Herald’s '60s-design 4x4s like the original Ford Bronco and the early Japanese models like Suzuki’s own that date back to 1968.
What’s really exciting about the Suzuki Samurai is that the U.S. market's reincarnation of the Samurai lasted from 1986 to 1988. This car is still being sought after for its prowess off-roading and simplicity. There isn’t a car that's been able to be so aggressive in the color white! Despite the short run in the U.S., models can be found as low as $3,000 making the Samaurai one of the sickest SUVs!
The Buick Enclave was always new and better, even back then, and it’s what replaced the Rendezvous- and Rainier-type design of SUVs. This car was a step in the right direction for Buick, who, at that time, desperately needed something new and modern in their lineup. Well, Buick's niceness in the Enclave died with its modern looks.
You need to avoid the '08 and the '09 Buick by all means, and in case you're persistent in buying one, then you might need to ask for the vehicle’s paperwork, which includes the recall report or a licensed mechanic’s receipt (if your life depended on buying this car). One of the big mistakes the manufacturer made was that the transmission was programmed improperly, leading to erratic shifts and high RPMs at cruise speeds. There’s also a problem with the shift cable.
I know we have some diehard fans of the Equinox. However, some of the early generations of this car model suffered from well-documented head-gasket problems. This issue might be due to the poor design of its engine’s cooling system, but still, this car deserves the title of ‘Head-Gasket Eater.” One reviewer trying to be funny about it stated that it probably has this kind of issues since it was made in China (could be). Proper maintenance and even reserved driving won’t do it for this car.
The Chevy Equinox from 2005 is one risky buy for a used car and needs to be avoided at all costs.
However, in case you want to join the army of Equinox diehard owners, save some change for a rebuild, and while you're at it, set aside a budget for another car that you'll be using. At the same time, your Equinox spends its quality time at its favorite natural habitat, your local garage.
Related: 10 Best Luxury SUVs On The Market
This car must've been made for the type of person who loves to stand out but needs a practical vehicle. The Kia Soul is quite a nice car, and it’s hard to dismiss it at first glance. It’s spacious, well equipped, and is quite distinctive to look at. When it comes to the actual running of the car, however, the Kia isn’t so great on the road.
The Kia Soul is no doubt a great car. But a great SUV? NO! Its average drivability and handling mean the Kia Soul isn’t that great of a car to drive; however, if you can live with that, then you get yourself a small SUV with vast amounts of space on the seats and, due to its boxy shape design, a huge trunk.
The Vauxhall Antara is a great-looking small SUV; it undoubtedly has good looks that are its principal charm. However, it all ends with its looks, as the Vauxhall Antara is noisy. Well, it’s one thing when someone tells you a new car is loud, but what about the used option? That’s not all—apart from being noisy, it’s pretty uncomfortable for an SUV, which is puzzling since SUVs are probably some of the most comfortable cars (or rather need to be).
To make matters worse, it’s not all that cheap, harboring all these complications. The Vauxhall Antara is almost impossible to recommend. If you're looking for a car that'll die off quickly, then this is the car to get. Ask any car expert, and they'll tell you the same.
The Suzuki Jimmy is a sort of a confused car. As the name sounds, this car isn’t popular and probably wouldn’t have been. Even if it were named the worst car in the entire world, it still wouldn’t get noticed. Its boxy, squeezed, and narrow shape makes it almost a safety risk on the road, its looks are pretty hideous, and it has to be one of the tiniest SUVs ever manufactured. To better understand this car, you need to realize that it comes from a different time.
Its off-road capabilities might be on point, but the Suzuki Jimmy is an SUV you need to avoid if you don’t enjoy losing money from your wallet. Owning a Suzuki Jimmy is like a lonely person who hates pets—it’s confusing. But in case you're bent on getting this vehicle, have your mechanic check it thoroughly before you prepare your finances to be completely depleted.
Well, if it’s an older Dodge Durango you're aiming for, then you need to understand that the millennium models of this car suffered from the worst engine problems. Its engines have been known for building up sludge, and they would occasionally stop or shut down during driving.
If you're looking to get the newer versions of the Durango, you aren’t safe either since they suffer from FCA’s faulty TIPMs that'll, later on, lead to a variety of electrical issues. If you really have to go for a Dodge Durango, then you're better off with the models between 2000 and 2011. The Dodge is a full-fledged SUV that has the building blocks of a great SUV. However, the stated problems earn it a slot on our list today.
The Ford Explorer is quite a popular car on American roads; it’s surprising it’s booked a spot on our list. However, for the longest time, the Ford Explorer documented transmission problems, most notably in the early 2000s. One dealer was quoted, stating that one out of ten 2002 to 2004 Ford Explorers won't be able to avoid getting a transmission problem or failure at some point in its lifespan.
Some of the symptoms will include hard-shifting gears, flashing O/D lights, and slipping gears.
Typically, your Ford Explorer should be OK between 50,000 to 100,000 miles. After that, be prepared for a new transmission system. If you're lucky enough to get one that's just had its transmission changed, then good for you, but a Ford Explorer with that kind of mileage shouldn’t require a rebuilt transmission. You've been warned!
The GMC Acadia suffers from too many transmission problems like the Ford Explorer. This fact comes as no surprise since the first-generation GMC Acadia runs on the already-mentioned GM-Ford 6-speed transmission that has a reputation for being problematic. Just like the Ford Explorer, the GMC Acadia’s transmission will blow out sooner than expected, but unlike the Ford Explorer's 50,000-100,000-mile mark, the GMC Acadia does this in a record 35,000 miles.
If you're bent on getting the Acadia, make sure you pay extra attention to details when it comes to the issue. The 3, 5, R wave plate is what usually gets damaged, which will require a complete transmission overhaul—in figurative terms, $2000 worth of repair costs. If you ask us, with a little bit more, you could get yourself a reliable used car.
If you see a Honda CRV on sale, don’t jump on the offer; instead, take a step back and think twice. While the Honda CRV is one of the U.S.'s most popular compact crossover SUVs, many of the owners have reported unnatural vibrations coming from the transmission and the engine. Needless to say, these vibrations are sometimes experienced straight after delivery, which raises enormous red flags. Vibrations from the engine are never a good sign in any automotive component.
The new CRV also vibrates violently when idle and at very low RPMs. These vibrations don’t stop there; they can be felt on the steering wheel, the shifter, and the pedals. Apparently, Honda found a solution, but neither they nor the dealers think they're obligated to inform the owners—one more reason not to get the new CRV.
Well, this might sound petty, but in case you're not the type who enjoys constant window regulator replacements, then the Jeep Liberty isn't the SUV for you. However, if you enjoy shopping for window regulators and you're naturally psyched about getting them fixed regularly, then this is your car.
With this in mind, you might have to avoid buying used Jeep Liberty models that were manufactured between 2002 and 2007. However, if cold January morning rides are your sort of thrill, then, by all means, have your cake and eat it, too. It wouldn’t be a surprise if your window fell down your door and decided to stay there. According to consumer reviews, it seems like the 2006 and the 2007 models are the most affected. Well, now you know.
In love with JDMs.Specialize in Restomod projects, barn finds and swaps. Hotcars contributor since 2017.