My Top 10 List -- The Best Used Automobiles For Under $5,000...
Dec 22, 2003 (Updated Jan 12, 2009)
The Bottom Line If you are on a limited budget you are not limited to buying a car that is old and boring.
After writing an essay on the top 10 vehicles for less than $10,000 back in February, many people wanted to know of some quality rides they could buy for much less than $10,000. With this essay I am going to go even lower than the $10,000 maximum, much lower, with a maximum price tag of $5,000. The following top 10 list is a list compiled of used vehicles with the most noteworthy attributes which can now be purchased for $5,000 or less. If you don't see your 1986 Toyota Supra on my list it's because I will only be selecting automobiles produced between the years 1991 and 2003.... Let the drum roll begin.
Best 2 Seater Sports Car For $5,000 Or Less: 1991-1994 Toyota MR2
Edging out both the 1991 CRX SI and the Mazda Miata by a few points, the 1991-1994 Toyota MR2 takes 1st place in my top 10 list as one of the most fun to drive 2 seaters available for $5,000 or less. The Toyota MR2 has been proven to be reliable, it's comfortable, offers good muscle from its naturally aspirated 2.2 4-cylinder (producing 130 horsepower) and even better muscle from its 2.0 turbocharged 4-cylinder that produces a whopping 200 horsepower. Most importantly the MR2 is fun to drive. Whether or not you go with the turbo or not you are in for a very fun ride. The 1991-1994 MR2, though produced in the early 90s, is extremely stylish and still appears modern as we approach the 2004 model year. With an EPA of around 30 MPG with both the naturally aspirated engine and the turbocharged engine the MR2 also receives excellent fuel economy. If you are looking for a 2 seater for less than 5 grand I highly suggest checking out the Toyota MR2.
Best Muscle Car/ 2+2 Sports Car For $5,000 Or Less: 1991-1995 NISSAN 300ZX
The Nissan 300ZX makes my top 10 list once again, this time for best cars under $5,000. The 300ZX, between the years of 1991-1995, can be had for as low as $5,000 for a twin turbo model (non turbo models can be had for much less). The 300ZX is stylish, extremely fast, very advanced technologically for its time, reliable, and like the MR2 is very fun to drive, especially when opted with the turbocharged 3.0 liter producing 300 horsepower (222 horsepower in naturally aspirated form). One aspect that I absolutely love about the 300ZX is that although it's a sports car, its interior sports luxury items such as power windows, power doors locks, dual air bags, and most anything you would expect to find in an entry level luxury car. Although cars like the Mustang GT and Camaro Z28 came very close in this category, the 300ZX offers sophistication and performance that can't be beat on the used car market in the sub $5,000 category. Click here for my review on the 300ZX
Best Economy Car For $5,000 Or Less: 1992-1998 Honda Civic
The Honda Civic (all trim levels) also makes my top ten list once again. The Civic may not be the quickest econobox on the market, however there are no other used economy cars on the market (other than the Toyota Corolla) that can claim the 1992-1998 Civics' reliable reputation and amazing resale value. The Honda Civic has always been one of my favorite automobiles and definitely is recommended if you are looking for an affordable car that receives up to 40-45 MPG. Some noteworthy attributes of the Civic include good performance, a comfortable and roomy interior, reliability, handsome looks, and an excellent chassis.
Best Family Car For $5,000 Or Less: 1991-1998 Nissan Maxima
The Nissan Maxima has been one of my choice family cars since its introduction back in 1981. The 1991-1998 Nissan Maxima's not only provide plenty of room for 5 adults but also offers performance that rivals many sports cars of its day. The 1991-1998 Maxima's come standard with a powerful DOHC V6 and unlike many V6 powered family cars which usually only come with an automatic, the Maxima SE can be had with either a 4-speed automatic or a 5-speed manual. The Maxima also offers a very smooth ride without sacrificing good handling. In addition to good performance the Maxima is a well built family sedan with all the necessary embellishments. If you are looking for a used family car under $5,000, I highly suggest checking out a 3rd or 4th generation Nissan Maxima.
Best Full Sized Sedan For $5,000 Or Less: 1996-2000 Ford Crown Victoria/Mercury Grand Marquis
After the 1970s it wasn't exactly easy to find a full sized family car. In the 1980s and 1990s you were pretty much limited to the 3 large sedans, the Caprice, the Impala, and the Crown Victoria. Out of these 3 the Ford Crown Victoria makes the grade with it's amazing value on the used car market. Once sold for around $25,000, a low mileage 2000 model can now be had for as low as $5,000 in many cases. Standard on all Crown Victoria's come a 4.6 SOHC V8 producing between 190-215 horsepower, an absolutely huge interior, and a very smooth ride. If you are in the market for an ultra large sedan without spending over $5,000 I highly suggest checking out the Crown Victoria/Mercury Grand Marquis.
Best Luxury Car For $5,000 Or Less: 1993-1998 Lincoln Mark VIII
Choosing the best luxury car under $5,000 was a tough decision. Although one can buy a high mileage 1991 Lexus LS400 for around $5,000 or a 1980s Mercedes for around $5,000, the 1993-1998 Lincoln Mark VIII takes the cake in the ultra affordable Luxury car department. The Mark VIII comes with a powerful DOHC V8 engine (290 horsepower), a smooth automatic, and first class amenities. Due to very poor resale value these high end American luxury cars can be had at only a fraction of their original MSRP. Once sold for a little over $40,000, a 1998 model can now run as low as $5,000. If you are in the market for a fast luxurious 2 door coupe under $5,000 then I highly suggest taking a Lincoln Mark VIII for a test drive.
Best Full Sized Truck For $5,000 Or Less: 1997 Ford F-150 (V8 models only)
Edging out the Chevrolet C/K 1500 by a few points, the 1997 F-150 makes #1 for a few good reasons. The 4.6 and 5.4 liter V8s in the F-150 offer a smooth nature that just can't be found in the C/K 1500. When equipped with either the 4.6 or the 5.4 liter V8, the F-150 offers excellent towing, hill climbing, and passing power. Not only does the F-150 offer good off-road capabilities when equipped with 4-wheel drive, but this truck also offers a smooth car-like ride when cruising on the freeway or on twisty roads. The interior of the F-150 is also a noteworthy asset. Unlike most full sized trucks produced in the mid '90s, the interior of the '97 F-150 provides the driver with a luxury-car-like environment. The '97 F-150 offers some of the best trucking under $5,000.
Best Small Truck For $5,000 Or Less: 1991-2000 Chevrolet S10 (V6 trim levels only)
The Chevrolet S10 makes my top 10 list, edging out the Ford Ranger and Toyota Tacoma due to the amazing prices and reported and observed reliability of these trucks. I have never been too fond of the styling of the S10, however nothing in its class beats the acceleration and reliability of its V6, not for the current prices on used 1991-2000 S10's. If you are looking for a snazzy interior you probably should look elsewhere, the S10 comes with a basic interior that is dressed in some of the cheapest plastics in its class. Still, I find the S10 to offer the most appeal due to its sturdy ride, excellent off road capabilities, V6 power, and prices as low as $5,000 for a low mileage 1998 model equipped with the powerful 4.3 liter V6.
Best SUV For $5,000 Or Less: 1991-1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee
The Jeep Grand Cherokee is easily the easiest full sized SUV to find under $5,000. The Grand Cherokee in both V6 and V8 trim levels offer excellent acceleration, a very smooth ride, and off-road capabilities to match. The Jeep Grand Cherokee offers all of these performance attributes without sacrificing luxury amenities. Even though I do recommend later models (1996+) over the early models, the Jeep Grand Cherokee presents an amazing value for anyone looking for a full sized SUV.
Best Wagon/Minivan For $5,000 Or Less: 1995-1997 Honda Odyssey
The Honda Odyssey may not provide the most power in its class, the most room, or even the most amenities, however the Odyssey offers the best quality and the most fun out of any minivan that I have driven between 1995-1997. Unfortunately the only engine available for the 1995-1997 model years is a 2.2 liter 4-cylinder which does propel the Odyssey adequately, though if you are looking for a hill climbing champ you may want to go with a V6 powered minivan such as the Chevy Venture. The Odyssey looks more like a wagon than it does a minivan and handles much better than its outward appearance suggests. The Odyssey boasts excellent resale value and reliability that most vans can't even touch.
These are all vehicles that I have been able to find either locally or on the Internet for $5,000 or less. If you would like to research any of these vehicles they are almost always available for sale at eBay Motors or AutoTrader.com. If you have any comments feel free to leave them!
Thanks for reading!