How To Find The Elusive $5000 Used Car

How to Find the Elusive $5000 Car
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For whatever reason, maybe high school graduations or perhaps people getting ready for college, I have been inundated with people asking for $5000 used cars.

I could retire today if I just had a dollar for the times I have been asked about where to get a $5000 reliable used car. As I have been talking about on my radio show for some time, the used car market remains at record high values. One of the segments that is most in demand is cheaper used cars. There are a lot of $5000 cars out there, but people have to pay $8000 or more for them with today’s market conditions. (Case in point, in the first quarter of 2019 the average used car loan amount was $20,137 according to Experian Automotive.)

Usually, requests for my help go something like this: “Hey CarPro, need a clean, low mileage car for my kid who is turning 16. It needs to be reliable, automatic transmission, and would like to have a Honda or Toyota. I can spend up to $5000 but would like to spend less. Where can I get one?” I get that request virtually every day. It is heartbreaking to tell people that they are on an impossible mission, but it is a fact.

Where You Won’t Find One and Why

I work with over 200 franchised new car dealerships in over 30 markets where the Car Pro Show airs. With rare exception, none of these dealers will sell a car anywhere near the $5000 range. The reason is simple…it is the liability. New car dealers are held to a higher standard and no matter how many times people are told cars are sold “as-is” they expect a reputable dealer to stand behind what they sell. Should a dealer sell a cheap used car and the brakes fail and somebody gets hurt, there will be a new name on the dealership shortly.

Private Sellers

Given that, a private seller is the only way to go and you will need to have patience and diligence to find the elusive $5000 car. I will offer up a few tips to help you on your long journey.

  1. First, have realistic expectations. Everyone wants the $5000 Honda but you’ll get a nicer, lower mileage car in a domestic brand. Every case is different, but sometimes the domestics are half the price of the popular imports. Trying to find a truck or SUV in the $5000 range is a total waste of your time, they hold their value too well.
  2. Keep in mind, too, that simple is better. If you go back into the decade of the early 2000s and look for an older Mercedes or BMW, there is a lot more to go wrong than if you look at a 10-year old Chevy Malibu or Ford Taurus.
  3. Try to focus more on the mechanical side than the cosmetic side. If you find that $5000 car that is mechanically stable, you can do the cosmetic fixes as you go and end up with a car you can be proud of.
  4. Check the vehicle history report if you are about to pull the trigger on a purchase. It is the best money you can spend. You are looking for major prior body damage, flooding, or title problems that will render the car worthless, like an odometer discrepancy.
  5. Ask around your circle of family and friends to see if anyone knows someone selling a car. You will be much better off if there is some sort of connection and you’ll get more truthful answers about the car’s condition.


Lastly, watch for scams. Usually, deals that look too good to be true, are. There are a LOT of scammers out there, pricing cars way too cheap, to get you to send them money that you’ll never see again. You have to be really careful. The $5000 car can be found, and one that won’t nickel and dime you to death, but it is not easy by any stretch of the imagination.

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I've got a 2005 Toyota Corolla LE, automatic, power everything, cruise and 162k miles on it. It's an excellent running car and as an ASE certified tech with factory used car certification training I can stand behind the mechanical condition. I can't find a buyer for it.

It's got dings and scratches... So nobody wants to buy the car for $3300.

It's frustrating to watch customers, friends, and family go out and buy shiny pretty domestic cars with 200k on the clock, only to lose a transmission 10k into ownership; all while passing up a mechanically sound car because it's not as "clean". I bought this Corolla for my oldest daughter to practice driving with and as a backup car, I guess I'll just hang onto it for the younger daughter, she'll be driving in a couple years anyways.
The Car Pro
Steve, I think you are just not advertising it in the right place. That car should sell for that. You might add "or best offer" to the $3300 price and put it on craigslist. You'll like get a $3000 offer ASAP. Good luck!

Jerry Reynolds
Arnold Moos
2 years ago I sold a 1995 Ford Explorer EB with just under 100,000 miles for $2000 .Never had a problem ,never used a drop of oil .The market was so full of them the price was average for one in my area ,
Lynda D.
I was recently T-boned and my Ford Escape was totaled. I need a new car for the 2nd time in less than a year. I almost feel there is bad ?car-ma? with the Ford Escape as both accidents occurred in this model as much as I loved both cars. I am looking for a car with:
1) good clearance (I live in CO on a dirt road)
2) easy access (I transport the elderly so the car has to be easy to get into)
3) good gas mileage
4) reliable (long life in mileage)
Are there are cars that match all these requirements?

Jerry Reynolds
There really are not any cars that fit your criteria. I think you?ll have to go with an SUV. If you don?t want an Escape, look at Subaru Outback or Forester, that would be a great SUV for you. GOOD LUCK.

Jerry Reynolds, President
Car Pro Radio Network
Gloria W.
Thanks, your newsletter has helped me a lot. I have been thinking about getting a new car but didn?t really know what to with my present one. I bought it new (a Nissan Altima) in 2004, has 100,5000 on it, limo tinted windows, all leather seats, etc. runs great. Everyone asks me when I mention I want a new car ?why do you want to sell it? I am 73 yrs. old and feel that a new car will be safer for me to drive around in.
What is your opinion.
Jerry Reynolds
I agree with you. There is so much more in the way of safety features today than when your car was new. I think you are on the right track. When you decide what you want, let me know and I?ll let you figure everything out.

Jerry Reynolds, President
Car Pro Radio Network
ruth b.
needed a suv or van for 2 only older folks price of 10k- 13k.

is there such of a thing.....thank you
Jerry .
Ruth, the SUV market is really hot right now, so you?ll have trouble finding one in that range unless it has a lot of miles. I?d look at a Dodge or Chrysler minivan, you should be able to find one in that range with 60,000 or so miles.

I appreciate you listening to the show! Good luck in your search.

Jerry Reynolds, President
Car Pro Radio Network
Bill J.
Howdy, I live in San Diego and I need to outright sell my truck since I now have a company provided vehicle. I own a 2013 F-150 XLT / extended cab short bed / 6cyl / sirius radio./ 18,000 highway miles. I currently owe $26,500 and CarMax has offered $20,000 I've had it posted on Craigs List and Auto Trader for over a month at $23,995. Is the any other options to sell outright my lowest price today would be $22,000 HELP!!!!!!!!!
Jerry .
Bill, a couple of things. I would run it by a Ford dealer, they may be a better buyer for it than CarMax. I would also add OR BEST OFFER to all your listings. Make sure you have lots of pictures, pictures sell cars. Otherwise, you are doing all the right things.

GOOD LUCK, I hope you are able to get rid of it!

Jerry Reynolds, President
Car Pro Radio Network
Shane .
STAY AWAY FROM THE TAURUS! Unless you enjoy wondering just exactly when your transmission is going to fail. Will it be at a stop sign? Or, like me, will you have the pleasure of being on the highway? A lot of mechanics agree, that Ford has a crappy transmission/torque converter design. If you look up the complaints about their transmissions, you will find brand new cars that already have had to have a new tranny put in. Most occur between 20,000 and 60,000 miles, and some are on their fourth transmission already. So spend the extra money, and buy a Honda, Toyota, or Subaru.
My 93 Taurus was the best daily driver I ever had. Over 266,000 miles, original engine and transmission, when I sold it. Any car can be a lemon, and just about any car can be a great driver if you take care of it.
The transmission in my 2013 Fusion crapped out at 40,000 miles. Ford replaced it and gave me a loaner while they did the repair. I now have ~91,000 and no issues.
I just sold my 2001 Taurus with 103K miles. Original trans, engine burned no oil. I Liked the car, but decided to go the SUV route (Ford Edge). Sold the Taurus for $2000.
The Car Pro
Don, good to hear Ford took care of the issue, that's a little unusual for a Fusion, but glad it all worked out!

Jerry Reynolds
The Car Pro
Kirk, thanks for the feedback. That seems about right for an 18 year old Taurus. I am glad you got it sold.

Jerry Reynolds
I dunno if I'd add Subaru to that list.......sure, their Aisin transmissions are pretty darn good but their head gaskets are reliably problematic.
The Car Pro
Steve I appreciate your opinion, but the head gasket issue was quite some time ago.

Jerry Reynolds,