20 Used Cars for the 20-Somethings
It’s no secret that the 20-somethings are strapped for money, but that doesn’t mean they are unable to afford a great, reliable car. This list features 20 cars that can be found for sale for under $5000 (with most even cheaper than that!). Before buying any used car, make sure to have a trusted mechanic look it over beforehand. Pre-purchase inspections normally cost around $100, but that will save you tons of cash down the road if your perfect used car – ain’t so perfect.
(Rankings in order of predictability)
- 90’s Honda Civic – Small, reliable, common, and cheap. The Civic takes #1, but finding an unmolested 90’s Civic with low miles should prove a challenge.
- Toyota Tercel – Precursor to the Echo/Yaris nameplate, the Tercel offers no thrills motoring with unparalleled reliability. Less common than the Civic, but 200k miles is typical.
- Toyota Echo – The Echo replaced the Tercel as Toyota’s entry-level subcompact. Looks are a little questionable, but reliability from this Millennial is tried and true. Get a 5-speed.
- Volvo 240 (sedan/wagon) – You knew this would be here! This shoebox has been getting professors and students alike to college for years. Expect to pay a premium for a low mileage wagon, they are apparently “cool” now.
- Subaru Forester – Every town in the Northeast is full of them. Rugged, dependable, and with AWD. Make sure you check for head-gasket leaks before you buy. The ’96-’04 years are notorious for leaks in the 2.2L and 2.5L engines – but that won’t stop people from buying.
- Ford Focus – Reliability and handling that Ford hadn’t seen since the early days of the Escort. Hatchback with a standard is the most desirable.
- Toyota Corolla – Fantastic reliability, very common, parts are cheap. Expect to pay more than KBB because of notoriety.
- Saturn S-Series – Exceptional reliability from then “new” Saturn. Avoid the autobox, and find a standard wagon. SC1 is a great tuner car as well. Parts may be harder to find after Saturn’s closure.
- Mazda Protegé/323 – Mazda finally got recognized for reliability with this stylish sedan. This is a great alternative when cheap Civics and Corollas are nowhere to be found.
- Buick LeSabre – It’s not all smooth sailing with this land barge, but the LeSabre has built a reputation for being comfortable and relatively reliable. It takes the 10 spot mainly because prices are cheap and miles are low. Thanks grandparents of the world!
- TIE – Toyota Rav4 and Honda CRV – There have been more decisive hung juries than the difference between these two “soft-roaders”. Both retain good resale value, but tend to be neglected and behind on maintenance. AWD systems are a plus, but have a mechanic give it the once-over.
- Saab 900 – Saab is nearly unrivaled in safety, but you risk buying from a defunct company. Reliability is good, but parts will be scarce. Prices are attractive.
- Chevy/Geo/Suzuki Tracker – Many different names, one simple design. Trackers can be found cheap, even with all the bells and whistles. Commonly overlooked, but check for rust.
- TIE – Mercedes 190E and BMW 3-Series – Reliability hit a high point in the late 80’s and early 90’s for German saloons. Designs were simple, power adequate, and style was perfect. These cars are the riskiest investment on the list due to cost of maintenance, but you won’t look cooler in anything else.
- Jeep Cherokee – If your college campus is up a mountain and through a creek, then you’ll surely need a Cherokee to get you there. With a durable straight-6 and 4 corners of coil suspension, you’re ready to run to the hills. Find one with some problems? Run for your lives. (cough…Iron Maiden..cough)
- Ford Ranger – I liken the Ranger to the “BIC Razor” of the automobile world. Prices for 2WD versions are cheap, they are plentiful on used websites, and when it disintegrates after 10 years you won’t feel bad about it. Cheap trucks don’t get better than this.
- Ford Taurus – Slow, mechanically questionable, and far from pretty. The Taurus was one of the most common cars on the road in the 2000s, and with prices so cheap – the interior cargo space is unavoidably tempting. Call your mechanic…
- VW Golf – Prices won’t be cheap, and Mk4 Golfs are notoriously prone to electrical issues, but style, fuel economy, and resale value keep it on the list. Look for a TDI with under 100k miles.
- Mazda Miata – It’s been described as the best handling car in the world, and with many for sale around the $5000 mark, it’s a tempting buy. However, gear ratios make fuel economy startlingly low, the cargo space is laughable, and soft tops are prone to leaking.