Cars are expensive. There’s the cost of the vehicle, repairs, insurance, and gasoline. All of that adds up, and if you want to just get around town, you’re likely trying to spend as little as possible on a vehicle. Luckily, you can find a good car with only a little bit of money. With the cost of cars going up every year, we thought it worth it to take a look and see how much car you can get for $5,000 cash.

Five grand may seem like a lot to drop on a car all at once, but think of it this way, you’d have no car payment. Sure, you’d still have repairs, fuel, and insurance to account for, but otherwise, you’re set and debt free. While that sounds great, you may be asking, what can you really get for $5,000 cash? Here's what you can expect to find.

You Can Find a Reliable Ride

Toyota Camry

First and foremost, you need to think about reliability. You might be able to find that sports car you always wanted for $5,000 or less but there’s likely a reason it’s priced so low. Usually, that has to do with the fact that it’s been driven hard and will need repairs soon, or more likely, it already does need repairs. You should be able to find a good used car that is electrically and mechanically sound for $5,000 or less.

Look at J.D. Power studies to see the most reliable cars of the last decade. Check out lists like Edmunds’s Used Car Best Bets that point out seriously good used cars. You can even browse our selection of buying guides that highlight some great used models. Automotive journalists know what cars are the best to buy. We put these lists together so that you can find exactly what you need.

Also, pay attention to Consumer Reports' studies. The publication puts out reliability studies every year to show car buyers what are the best quality vehicles. While you may need to go back a few years to find a car that’s in your price range of $5,000, those cars are still generally going to be your best bets.

You Can Get a Practical Vehicle


Practicality is key, and it’s something that changes depending on your personal situation. If you need a car for seven people, you can’t buy a 2005 Hyundai Elantra, no matter how much sense the vehicle makes for a family of four or five. Think about what you really need and then look for something that makes sense for your life.

In general, vehicles like the Ford Expedition, Chevrolet Tahoe, and a number of minivans including the Honda Odyssey or the Toyota Sienna would make a perfect vehicle for a large family. Also, these models are well regarded when it comes to reliability and quality. You can even find these vehicles for less than $5,000 if you look through the classifieds lists long enough. Just try your best to find a model with low miles, no accidents on its record, and consider having it checked out by a qualified mechanic before you make the purchase.

It May be a Little Older Than You Want


Everyone would like to own a new vehicle, but if you want to spend $5,000, it isn’t going to happen. Nor are you likely to find a two or three-year-old car for $5,000. Even the Nissan Versa, the cheapest car in America, demands more than $5,000 as a three-year-old vehicle. The private party Kelley Blue Book Value for a three-year-old base model Versa in good condition is right around $7,000. If you browse around, you may be able to find a Versa for cheaper, but many will be higher due to options and additional equipment. This means you’re going to have to look for something that’s five or more years old.

By browsing for used models that are between five and ten years old, you should have no problem finding something for $5,000. If you do research on reliable models that fit your needs, get the car checked out by a mechanic, and stick to low mileage models, you’re bound to find a good used car that you can drive comfortably for years with only a few minor repairs.

It Shouldn’t Be Too Old


Going with an older car doesn’t mean there’s no limit to how old you should go. Typically 10 years is pushing the envelope on finding a good used car. While there are models out there older than ten years that are in excellent condition, they can be hard to find. The closer to five years you can go, the better off you’ll likely be.

Also, newer cars are safer, generally better built, more fuel efficient, and offer better amenities. That 26-year-old Mustang for sale down the street might look cool, but you’re bound to have to replace all kinds of stuff moving forward even if the car was well-maintained throughout its whole life. Car parts don’t last forever, and as time goes on, things wear out. A newer car will keep you safer and keep more money in your pocketbook.

It’s Probably Not Going to Have a Luxury Badge

Mercedes-Benz E-Class

There are some wonderful used vehicles out there with luxury badges, and you could even find a car or SUV with a luxury badge for $5,000 or less if you look hard enough, but here’s the thing: luxury cars are generally more expensive to fix. That 2003 Mercedes E-Class sedan may only be listed for $4,800, but it’ll probably need some repairs in the next couple years. If an expensive suspension or engine component goes out, you might be looking at repair costs that surpass the value of the car.

In most cases, you’re better off sticking to well-respected mainstream brands that have a long history of reliability and affordability. Stick with Honda, Toyota, Hyundai, Nissan, Ford, Chevrolet, and Kia as long as the models are well-regarded in reliability and quality studies. While these brands won’t have the prestige you’re likely hoping for, they will be affordable to repair should you need to, and they’ll be cheaper, to begin with, meaning you can afford to buy a newer model that’s in better condition.