By on September 26, 2018

This week marks the first of a three-part QOTD series where we’ll discuss everyone’s favorite topic here at TTAC: used cars. And for this first installment, we’re on a tight budget.


This week’s post about the current state of the used car market painted a grim picture of things. The growing supply of off-lease vehicles, which was anticipated by people who think about supply and demand, is meeting with greatly increased demand. Used car prices are thus on the rise, not helped by new car transaction prices that recently increased to a heady average of $36,848.

All this puts pressure on the used car buyer. But are there still gems out there? As buyers ford through the rough and sometimes dirty waters of the classified ads and used car lots, where should they turn? We aim to help.

Today’s budget is pretty low. Cash for Clunkers ensured the destruction of many of the potential “good $5,000 used car” examples, and not enough time has elapsed since for a renewal of older and cheap used cars. That in mind, our bottom of the barrel budget is $8,000.

For our budget buyer, some qualities to consider:

  • General availability
  • Likely miles on odometer
  • Reliability/longevity
  • Not popular

Now glance back to the title at the top. Today we’re looking to hit ‘em where they ain’t. That means the standard easy recommendations of Camry and Accord are off the table. As the top two no-brainers, we don’t need to talk about those – at all.

Let’s talk body styles. To help as many people as possible here, how about considering:

  • Sedan
  • Truck
  • Wagon
  • SUV/CUV
  • Minivan
  • Hatchback

The $8,000 budget buyer is generally going to trend away from the convertible, and likely the coupe, as well. But I suppose if you’ve got a really great idea for those two, go for it. Hitting the used market where other buyers aren’t is a good way to get more car for less money. Let’s hear ’em!

[Image: Jaguar Land Rover]

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106 Comments on “QOTD: Can You Hit ’em Where They Ain’t? (Bottom of the Barrel Edition, Pt. 1)...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    What are we suppose to do here Corey, recommend a $8K used car? Ok, any mid-level cross-over at about 6-8 years old with about a 100K miles on it. Practical, reasonable and because of there overwhelming popularity, still very much in style. Examples, Rav4, CR-V, Ford Escape, Chevy Equinox

  • avatar
    TheDutchGun

    There is a 2008 lower mileage mazdaspeed3 not far from me (130,000 km which is about 80,000 miles). Unmodified and no accidents. Listed for $6890 CAD. That’s my pick, niche market car and good bang for buck.

  • avatar
    gtem

    So it seems like it’s pretty open ended overall, $8k budget, no “easy” recommendations like a 1990s Camry with a maintenance record plus cash left over for maintenance?

    I’ll assume something like an early 2000s Avalon would fall under that same “that’s too easy” category.

    SUV: R51 Pathfinder. Generally pretty sturdy rigs that don’t hold their value very well on the used marketplace. Thirsty, have a few historic issues with timing chain guides and transmission/coolant cross contamination and rear A/C lines rotting prematurely, but nothing too scary or expensive.

    Larger sedan: most buyers wouldn’t like this because it’s “so old” and “grandpa car,” but a mid 90s H body Lesabre in the best condition I could find, with $5k left over for maintenance/repairs.

    W210 Mercedes: Not impossible to find one that’s been reasonably cared for with a full record of dealer servicing. I’d only recommend this to someone that is savvy enough to do a bit of internet research and DIY work and/or willing to hunt down a good indie mechanic. Rock solid cars, just seek out a non-rotten one.

    Midsize sedan: also older, but I’m increasingly a fan of Mid-2000s Hyundai products. 4th gen Sonata, XG350. Key is finding one that hasn’t been ridden hard and put away wet, and has a record of the t-belt being changed (60k on these older Hyundai V6s).

    Smaller sedan: “XD” (00-06) Elantra. Seek out a non-rotten one with decent ownership history, they make for roomy, reasonably efficient, and cheap to run cars. Kia Spectra of this same era is mechanically the same.

    Mazda Protege/Mazda 3: Don’t carry Civic/Corolla resale on the used market as I found out when selling my friend’s ’09 this summer. Same as all the other cars, avoid rot boxes and ones with negligent POs.

    My overall impression is that people stretching that $8k budget and trying to buy something as new and as low mile as possible end up buying used up crap. I’d rather shop a cheaper older and higher mile but get a higher quality car (in terms of reputation of the make/model) with a better ownership history, and then have a comfortable cushion for catch-up maintenance and inevitable repairs.

    Oops just saw the whole “not popular” stipulation. That leaves my older Sonata (pre ’06), XG350, and possibly W210 E class suggestions.

  • avatar
    gtem

    I guess I’m confused: general availability and “not popular” seem to contradict each other directly.

  • avatar
    spyked

    For that money, for something that will last awhile but also have cheap parts and maintenance costs, with a decent amount of safety, I suggest:

    1st generation Ford Fusion (or Mercury Milan if you’re fancy). They are very solid cars in both I4 or V6 and they’ve aged just fine. Service the transmission fluid at recommended intervals – cheap and anyone can do it.

    1st generation Mazda6 with four cylinder is also a decent plan (ABS became standard in 2005, optional for 2003-2004). Again, change the fluid in the 4 speed auto (don’t worry, this isn’t like the 4 speed auto in previous Mazda 626).

    • 0 avatar
      spookiness

      I would second the Fusion recommendation. Or any Ford sedan without a Power shift. Low mileage senior-owned specimens can be found. For the extreme budget, the dreadfully ugly but solid 08-11 Focus can be had for pennies with decent kit for its time. SES/SEL trim is sweet if you can find them.

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    Charger, 200, Sonata circa 2010, even Fusions are pretty cheap too (again circa 2010) – all at or under 8K. These are all well worn/well known platforms so reliability should be at least average.

  • avatar
    gtem

    Jeep Patriot with the refreshed interior and 6spd Hyundai automatic. Cheap and cheerful, should be able to find one with 70-80k ish miles in that price range.

  • avatar
    gtem

    Easy mode: anything compact and non-Civic with a stick shift. I think $8k would get you a clean 1st gen Cruze LS with the 1.8L non turbo motor, that’s a nice solid driving car on a budget. 2011+ Focus with a stick or a 2011+ Elantra if you can find one. Kia Soul with a stick, Chevy Sonic, the aforementioned Patriot. You might find a Versa S sedan with a stick that’s literally only 1-2 years old with warranty remaining, that’s if the emphasis is getting something as new and as low-mileage as possible.

  • avatar
    MatadorX

    8K?! Well beyond the usual sum I’d spend on a older car, I’m more in the 2-3.5k range, there are some clean gems out here on the west coast for that.

    x2 on the Fusion/Milan. Our 08 has 190k, Mazda 2.3/FNR5 and has done well. As a Toyota guy, I have to admit, an 08 Camry 2.4 with 190k would be staring down ring replacement, its 3rd water pump, and have a droopy headliner/cracked dash. Realistically 2500-3500 all day long, 4k will get you a gem. Mazda reliability without the Mazda tax (08 Mazda3 will set you back 6-7k here in the west coast)

    Speaking of, huge fan of the gen 1.5 Mazda MPV (96-98). Go anywhere with the 4wd, and incredibly reliable if you stay on the timing belt. Ours is a 96 4wd LX has 255k and finally needed headgaskets. Almost finished that and back on the road she will go. 1500-2500k gets one anywhere in the country.

    Finally, for the Californian, you DO NOT want anything Japanese pre 2000, you simply won’t be able to pass smog. So the 92-93 Fat Camry is off the table. Cali expects it to blow a 34ppm HC, with one single cat set 3 feet away from the engine…However close runner up, 00-01 with the 1MZ-FE/5 speed manual. Yes a unicorn, but not as impossible to find as you would think. Passes tough California smog if the CEL is off, no sniffer required. Only thing that sets the CEL is really the charcoal canister, $200 and good to go. Part availability through Toyota is still stellar. It will run as long as you want to drive it. Our 2000 v6/5spd, trimmed out with LE Package, and every single conceivable option rang up 28k 18 years ago, and in 2015 set us back a skimpy $2200. 2K-3500 should net you one. Be warned though, if you don’t love it, don’t expect it to stop running anytime soon facilitating the breakup.

    • 0 avatar

      The MPV unfortunately only works in areas where there’s not much moisture or a winter. They just can’t stand up to salty winters. Here in Ohio, they’ve been gone for a number of years for the most part.

      Gtem knows this too!

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Can confirm, sadly. if it weren’t for rust the MK 1-1.5 MPVs are damn near indestructible mechanically, and very simple to wrench on (though certain replacement parts are hard to find and pricey).

      Matador I’ve had a thought before about doing some fly-and drives of rust-free 90s J-cars and Euro stuff, and even stuff like pickup trucks from Cali back to the midwest. CEL? No problem, Indiana doesn’t give a hoot. But to make an actual business plan of that didn’t really hash out unless you focus on desirable niche/enthusiast stuff, the transportation costs eat up a lot of the margin. I guess it’d be more of a retirement hobby, find cool old cars to do road trips in and sell them at a rate of less than 5 a year.

      • 0 avatar
        MBella

        I always have wondered if enough people would be willing to pay the premium required to make it work to sell cars from the West coast in the rust belt. I too don’t think so, but no one has really tried. The problem is, the car would be more expensive when you buy it, and even more expensive when you have to ad shipping.

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          I would argue that to some extent, MBella. It seems that when used cars go on auction down south (Tennessee/Alabama/Georgia area, for instance) they are shipped north to become winter beaters in the mid- to north Atlantic regions, including New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, etc. Since I-75 runs from Florida all the way up into Michigan, they have a pretty broad Rust Belt market to work with that’s also a reasonably short run if you own your own truck. Add I-24 and I-65 and everything east of the Mississippi is pretty well covered. A 10-15-year-old vehicle in decent condition could sell for thousands more than its Southern value. Making such a trip from the Southwestern states would be more expensive and there’s no guarantee they’d be in all that much better condition outside of the lack of rust.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    The 8k price point in a lot of ways is very difficult to shop. While selection is relatively high the value you get for your 8k can swing widely. If Honda and Toyota are your desire one should expect north of 100k on the odo, and if in the mid west the beginnings of rust. If you are in the west, no rust but 150k on the odo for sure.

    Pick up truck? 8k in CO gets you a 200k F150, Enjoy!

    So the question is how to do you tell the difference between a value 8k or a money pit 8k. If it is up to me, I would steer well clear of anything German or ‘luxury’, sans Buick. An 8k LeSabre or Park Ave are pretty much the perfect 8k car. Parts are cheap and plentiful.

    Subaru for 8k? No thanks, almost certainly needs 2k of work: Struts, CV joints, Vape Odor removal etc.

    I would be looking for something with a timing chain and or proof the belt has been changed.

    I think I stand pat on my Buick LeSabre or Park Ave as the perfect 8k car. Award points for one owner estate sale.

    • 0 avatar
      jack4x

      Add the Lucerne to that list too, as long as you stick to the 3800 and avoid the Northstar you can get a lot of car for $8000.

    • 0 avatar
      arach

      I just sold my F150 in good running condition, crew cab, for $3500. I’m finding them readily available around 4 grand. $8 grand will get you like 70k miles and diaper maintained…

      I wouldn’t stay away from cadillacs. The Cadillacs in that price range (2nd gen CTS for example) had solid build quality and are cheap to maintain… all the parts are available at Chevy!

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    I’m one of those who would go for a coupe first and a wagon second; I wouldn’t buy a sedan for any reason, if I can avoid it. Sure, I’ve owned a few, but I never liked them because they are not only impractical but they just don’t LOOK good. I’ve never liked sedans and these four-door beasts that claim to be coupes are still only sedans… with a lowered roofline in back. It’s not the roofline that makes a coupe, it’s the number of doors.

    If you’re going for four doors, then the wagon is the better choice, as you now have the ability not only to carry the extra people comfortably but also their gear if you’re traveling. Volkwagen emphasized this point with their “squareback sedan” back in the late ’60s, showing a family of four crowding into their big, luxury sedan for vacation and being unable to load their luggage… only to switch to the much smaller VW and still manage to get all their luggage loaded, as well as the family.

    And wagons, like coupes, can be sporty. It’s really hard to make a sedan look sporty, even if it does have all the same running gear underneath.

    What would I buy? I’d have to go back almost 50 years; there’s almost nothing in today’s inventory I truly like outside of the Dodge Magnum wagon. Even with the Pentastar engine, it would be lively enough to be fun while still reasonably practical. The older liftback Camaro would be my next choice… not this generation but the third and fourth generations. While sporty and fun, when you drop the rear seats you have a surprisingly roomy load floor for carrying a surprising variety of cargo… even if it doesn’t have all THAT much room by cubic footage. I moved 800 miles in a ’96 Camaro, carrying nearly all my clothing, my important electronics, certain items I simply did not want to leave behind AND my cat… and while I made allowances for the cat to have necessary facilities, she never used them, meaning I could have carried even more things on the passenger-side floor that ended up left behind and ultimately lost. I can’t guarantee that any previous sedan could have carried as much. Oh, the cat rode the entire trip on top of my clothes. When I sold the car, eight years later, I was still picking cat hair off the headliner.

    Trucks? Honestly, I wouldn’t trust any used truck over about 5 years old and you’re certainly not going to buy one of THOSE for a mere $8 grand. Again you’d have to go back almost 20 years, at which point $8 grand would be a near-pristine model with relatively low mileage. In other words, a unicorn.

    So for me to play this game, I’d either be going for a ’92-’04 Camaro or a Dodge Magnum. There are very few other choices available.

  • avatar
    SixspeedSi

    In my personal experience, when shopping with friends around this budget, it always seems like there would be a bunch of good picks until you start actually looking. Here’s some I’ve thought of.

    Sedan – FG5 Civic Si. I had one, although the coupe version. Super Reliable, fun, high revving motor, no major issues. I sold mine at 98k for $7500. Would buy one again.

    Truck – One of the more hard categories honestly. The usual nicest Ranger/B4000 come to mind, however, if there is a decent condition Frontier out there, I would consider that.

    Wagon- Volvo V40/V60. Older Volvo’s hold up surprisingly well and I would have no problem recommending one to a friend. Find a quality V40 or the larger one and drive in comfort.

    SUV/CUV – I also find this category more difficult given how popular this segment is currently. Buy a CX-7 Turbo if you want financial suicide ;)

    Minivan – I think you could do worse than a higher mileage T&C or Grand Caravan. They hold up okay for what it’s worth and would be way less than anything from Toyota/Honda. Also, the Sedona would be a great choice if you could sneak one below 8k.

    Hatchback – Nicest Honda Fit, VW Golf 2.5 or Mazda3

  • avatar
    2drsedanman

    There are several 06-09 Avalons on cars.com in that price range, most at or approaching 100,000 miles. But that 2GR-FE V6 is bulletproof and most of these type of cars have had decent service during their life. Even those on dealer lots would seem to have plenty of room to negotiate due to the limited demand for sedans nowadays.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      FWIW a coworker just had a lower mileage (under 90k) 2GR ’09 Camry V6 blow a headgasket a few months after a failed water pump was replaced. Apparently it happens often enough to be talked about on the forums. But specifically at lower mileage. If the pump makes it past that period, it’s a good one and won’t cause problems.

      Sedan demand or not, any sort of used Toyota has a massive demand in the immigrant communities from Africa/India/etc, keeps prices nice and high, and keeps the market full of real slapped together/rebuilt junkers passed off as clean cars.

      That’s not to say I wouldn’t recommend a used Toyota, just that you have to work to get a good deal on a clean one.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        I have been seeing A LOT of ’09 era 4 cylinder Camrys with “needs engine”, “engine knocks”, “for parts or repair”. Almost all well below 200k. Those are looking like a good candidate for future “used cars to avoid” lists.

      • 0 avatar
        aajax

        I guess Consumer Reports subscribers are just lucky people, or else only drive 5,000 miles a year, because they rate 2002 – 2004 Camry a 5/5 for reliability, and all other years at least 4/5.

  • avatar
    toplessFC3Sman

    For a sedan, I’d have to go with either

    – A mid 2000’s Toyota Avalon (which is what we ended up with for my brother a year and a half ago – gem of a car for about $4k)
    – Mid to late 2000’s Buick LaCrosse – another unloved but gently used barge, with the 3800 even!
    – If you’re looking for something sportier, one of the 2.0T Saab 9-3’s. Pretty wide manual availability, all the wear parts, seals, & suspension are shared with other GM & Opel so its been cheap to keep running, and the 2.0T has plenty of torque for a relatively light sedan (~3100 lbs!). They have good rust-proofing, lots of people are scared away from them due to the dead brand, and if you go 2007 and later, you avoid many of the pricer Saab-specific electronics inside. Mine’s got over 215k on it now, and has been quite reliable (besides the times I’ve worn things out prematurely doing HPDEs with it).

    Vans: Late 2000’s thru early 2010’s Mazda5 – there are some out there with a manual, generally simple, solid little vans with 3 rows inside… but AVOID RUST LIKE THE PLAGUE! Our 2006 was quite cheap, but it is probably heading to the scrap yard in the next couple years due to rust.

    • 0 avatar
      TDIandThen....

      THANK you, I was reading this all the way down whispering to myself (c’mon, 2008+ Saab, c’mooooon). Any model seems to do very well but the 2.0Ts are particularly steady.

      +1 on 20 year-old Volvos as well.

      Finally, a naturally aspirated Porsche 944 after 1985. Surprisingly useful and surprisingly comfortable for longer trips. As well as, race car.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Does the Mercury Marauder count? If Im dropping $8k I may as well get something fun, many shared Crown Vic bits too.

    For economy cars go with the Pontiac Vibe.

  • avatar
    incautious

    Tons of Altimas out there.Buick’s take a big hit on depreciation and are usually well maintained by an older owner. A Passat with the 2.5 is nearly bullet proof. Of course anything with a stick will save you a thousand or over a comparable automatic. Mazda 6 with a stick now your talking.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      “Tons of Altimas out there”

      Horrible in many, many ways. Up north the ’02-’07 cars have a comical propensity to rot the floor panels out, when’s the last time you heard of a car with THAT issue? 1st gen CVTs are generally trash but certainly there have been more than a few that have crested 200k. Early QR25s motor have a problem with ingesting throttle plate screws as well as sucking up pieces of the cat converter back into the combustion chamber, ruining the motor. Now, if I could find a VQ35 powered Altima SER with a stick shift, from a salt-free climate, that is something I’d consider.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        I’ve found Altima had handling issues as well. I drove a 2005ish for a few months and it would get weird (as in scary weird) if you threw it in a corner at speeds most cars wouldn’t have a problem with. The 2012 era cars handle absolutely awful in the rain, again to the point of being scary.

        Aside from that and the CVT issues you mentioned, I have found that their suspensions tend to wear out fairly early, and the interior doesn’t hold up worth a damn. I see a lot from this era needing major repairs with not that many miles going for pennies.

        If going with Altima, go 2001 or older. Back when Nissan actually GAF about quality.

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          “The 2012 era cars handle absolutely awful in the rain, again to the point of being scary.”

          Sounds like a tire issue, or something weird with the alignment on that particular example. When they were new, the ’08-’12 Altimas were actually praised for being surprisingly engaging and competent to drive for the midsize class that they were in.

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus

            Its more than one example. I know several people with them, they all have the same complaint. All four swear they’ll never have another one. I know for a fact that three have had more than one set of tires, and not the cheaper stuff either. Still fishtails in the rain.

            Oh, and three out of the five (so far) have had complete CVT failure.

            Keep in mind, we tend to get torrential downpours down here in the dirty south, but even moderate rain can make them squirly. My Taurus (as well as my parent’s 2012) handles the rain just fine, so did my Honda Accord (as well as several people I know with newer examples).

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus

            * I know five people with them, I know four of them closer than the 5th, those are the four that swear they’ll never buy another. The 5th I don’t have a lot of contact with other than knowing hers had CVT failure at about 50k miles and she does not like driving it in the rain.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            @JohnTaurus: I understand what you’re saying and I’m not going to claim you or they are wrong, though their commentary does sound questionable.

            My absolute first question would have to be: How much tread is left on the tires? Squirrely in the rain is usually an indicator of tire wear or, at worst, tires not really designed for wet roads. If they’re going for the cheapest tire available, that could be the core of their problem.

            And no, I’m not trying to cast aspertions on these owners, I’m just surprised by the commonality of the problem with little to no troubleshooting efforts–at least per your description. But then, there are other potential issues that could cause it too… again tire related but now more on the fact that if there’s been a diesel spill on the road surface you can still find the road slippery in the rain six months later (personal experience after watching an 18-wheeler lose one of its fuel tanks on I-83 going around Harrisburg, PA almost 20 years ago and driving that stretch rain and dry several times over the ensuing months.)

            Would really like to know what tires those four Altimas have under them.

      • 0 avatar
        Erikstrawn

        My son’s driving an ’06 Altima. He rear-ended a pickup and trashed the grill, hood, headlights, core support, etc. We picked up everything at Pull-A-Part to rebuild it and in four hours had it back on the road. The car is Lego-simple to work on. If you want a cheap beater, I don’t think you can go wrong with an Altima. At this price point you’re not being picky about if it fishtails in the rain, because on bald tires everything is going to fishtail in the rain.

  • avatar
    e30gator

    Old people cars. If senior citizens were buying them new, usually the younger generations were not.

    Senior-owned cars are generally well-maintained, driven cautiously, and usually have lower miles.

    Older Buicks and Mercurys with extremely low miles that look like they came right off the showroom floor abound here in SW Florida.

    If I were looking for a cheap, reliable ride, I’d be searching the classifieds for an older, one-owner Lexus ES. I’ve seen them on CL with less than 80k miles for around $4k, and you’re getting Toyota reliability, a premium nameplate, and superior comfort for peanuts.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    I’ll jump on the Fusion bandwagon, specifically a 2010-2012 Hybrid version under the assumption that if you are going budget you’ll want something with low operating costs too.

    Because of that assumption of low operating costs I’ll round out my picks with some other Ford Hybrids. 2009-2012 Escape, though an 08 will do in a pinch and early C-Max.

    Not so coincidentally those are my wife’s last 3 cars, in that order, with the last two purchased for well under the $8k budget.

    The Fusion was well over that budget however because it was bought at 3yo and ~45k miles and was an almost fully loaded model. It went off to the great wrecking yard in the sky when my wife wrecked it at ~145k miles. In the 100k of ownership the only things done to it were tires, oil, oil filters and a headlight bulb. Lifetime MPG ~39 with a lot of that time spent on non LRR tires.

    The Escape was purchased because the Fusion was gone and my wife was fighting me on spending much money or getting a loan because by that time both of our kids were in college, and despite the fact that funds had been set aside for that and my daughter was racking up scholarships and grants she suddenly felt the need to be cheaper than normal. So when I saw this dirty as hell Escape for $5k after months of her saying “that is too much” and “we don’t need a car payment” all the while driving our 15mpg SUV, I said, screw it, this is what you get. In the ~40k (from about 140k to 180K) that we had it I did have to replace the blend door motors, one because it wasn’t properly matching the desired temps and the other because it was a little noisy. It also needed a new sway bar end link and rear brakes. Lifetime MPG ~29 and that was the AWD model.

    The C-Max came to us for similar reasons though the Escape was not totaled she did smash the front, ripping the bumper cover, breaking the headlight mounting tabs on both sides and smashing the impact bar and brackets with no damage to the sheet metal. Because I was entering the busiest time of the year for me I didn’t even put up a fight. I found the C-Max for $6k and brought it home within a week of her smashing the Escape. Once spring had sprung I pulled out the Escape, patched the bumper cover back together from the inside, bought some cheap aftermarket head lights, impact bar and brackets and then put another 5k miles or so on it as my daily driver before trading it in on a car for me that is out of the budget for this round of this game.

    The C-Max did get new tires within 3 days of purchasing it because the Bridgestone Ecopias that had less than 5k miles on them were absolutely the worst tire in the wet I have ever experienced. I also have replaced the Audio Control Module twice. The unit used in the Focus and C-Max is known for a poor solder joint, that causes popping, static and the unit to go into shut down until it is rebooted. $80 on Parts market got me a used unit which unfortunately failed in the same manner, but thankfully within the warranty period and I’m happy to report they quickly sent out a new one and didn’t even want me to return the other unit. Lifetime MPG ~37.5 and none of that was on the LRR tires.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    Gen 1 MKZ – better than a Fusion
    ’08 CTS
    Scion iQ, xB
    Kia Soul

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    A Buick with a 3800 engine.
    A Nissan sedan (Sentra or Altima) with a manual transmission (thus eliminating the CVT and getting a discount over other Japanese manufacturers).

    If you can find one either a Kia Rondo or Mazda 5. Particularly with a manual.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Ooh, Kia Rondo is a perfect contender for this mental exercise. Just a useful as heck, perfectly decently screwed together car that is about as un-sexy looking as possible and carries the Kia badge so a great value. They offered these with the 2.7L V6 too, although I think sticking with the I4 is the smart move here. Mazda5s are also a great pick. Many families passed them up for larger minivans, and no one else wanted to drive a thing shaped like a van. Incredible used value, although I find the ride harsh and the corrosion protection lacking (just buy a clean one and Fluid Film/Krown it).

      Speaking of Kias and vans(others have already mentioned), the second gen Sedonas seem to hold up great with miles, offer competitive powertrains, and have the resale value of a week old ham and cheese sandwich.

      • 0 avatar

        Now, I know Canada had the Rondo longer than the US. And I’m not sure which came first between the two – but I think that i30 wagon would be pretty good and well within budget.

        I’m sure it’s just an Elantra with a different body, which is what I’d guess the Rondo was as well.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          Canada still has the Rondo. However Kia Canada must be reconsidering it, as there is zero advertising/marketing and no deals offered regarding it. Thus our contemplating a Soul, when we would probably prefer a Rondo.

          The 1st generation Rondo was actually based on the Optima/Sonata (mid sized) platform. the 2nd generation is based on the smaller (Forte/Elantra) platform.

          Agree re: Mazda 5, either get one that has been Krowned or have it Krowned ASAP (also regarding any MPV’s that are still around).

          The Elantra Touring (i30) was a small wagon. From all reports quite strong on reliability. Considered a ‘Golf alternative’ in Europe. However in N.A. many safety features were optional extras. Nearly pulled the trigger on a low mileage MT version as a ‘kids car’ but nixed the deal due to the lack of stability control, etc.

  • avatar
    Alfisti

    You could do a lot, lot worse than a 2008 Saab 9-3 FWD V6 Wagon. This assumes you have Saab/Euro service in your jurisdiction, we happen to have 3 still in Toronto.

    Reliability for this model has been solid, with no glaring weaknesses as it was refreshed in 08 but harks back to 03. I have a 2T and maintenance has been pretty basic but for a bad batch of 2007 – 2008 valves that needed replacing and was expensive, so plumb for the big motor.

    My car lives outside and the condition of the underbody, body panels and silly things like door hardware on the jams are all outstanding, it has really held up extremely well.

    So what does it get you? A handsome wagon with obvious utility, large enough for family duties with smaller kids but not a land yacht. Power and leather everything, outstanding seats and a wonderful engine. Not to mention excellent crash (not passive) safety scores, when the door shuts it is with a solid germanic THUD.

    At the proposed budget mileage will be in the 60-80,000 mile range.

    Bargain.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Just this year my buddy had to cut an ’06 Aero (2.8L V6 turbo, stick) loose that he was initially over the moon about when he bought it a year prior, 110k mile car for $4500 as I recall. Clean inside and out. Then the electrical gremlins started… he fought with it for a while but ultimately sold it for $2500 to some Saab masochist.

  • avatar
    gespo04

    I was able to purchase a 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid with 69,000 miles for $6,000 with little haggling. So, that’s my suggestion.

  • avatar
    tonyola

    Ford Five Hundred/Taurus as well as the associated Mercury Milan/Sable. These are incredibly roomy cruisers that were sadly overlooked in the day. Mostly driven by older folks. Later cars will have the 3.5-liter engine and more power plus AWD was available. Even the best ones are under $8,000 – just be sure to avoid the troublesome CVT.

  • avatar
    Add Lightness

    For $8,000, I would go for a nice example of a cool car that has a terrible reputation for about $7,000 IF a beatup parts car can easily be found for $1,000.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Just checking AutoTrader –

    2008 Lucerne with 3800, white with tan leather, 51,000 miles and a price of $7995

    2000 Ford Taurus SEL with DOHC 3.0 and cloth interior, 77,000 miles (although I did see a cigarette burn in the pic…) $4495

    1989 Lincoln Town Car 60,878 miles but I don’t trust the 5 digit odometer… $5990

    2013 Chrysler 200 Touring V6 FWD, 75,000 miles… $7500

    2006 Cadillac STS V8 – 92,000 miles… $7995

    2000 Buick Lesabre Custom, 85,000 miles… $5,777

    Not a truly “bad” choice in the bunch.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m going Lucerne, LeSabre, STS, in that order.

      The Taurus is just sad these days, and driving them makes me hate life. The 200 is the bad one before it was the new model, and the TC is too old to DD.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Lucerne and Chrysler 200 are the only ones in that bunch that I would go near at those asking prices, the others are overpriced (IMO).

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Those are just starting points for negotiation.

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          Lesabre-$3k
          Town car – $2500 assuming true miles
          Taurus – $3k
          caddy – $4k

          Even at those “offers” I suspect the sellers would be doing well.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            Ironically no one mentioned that the DOHC Tauri tend to eat transmissions. (SOHC version 150 hp, DOHC version 200 hp)

            I still find the DOHC Sable wagons sexy but I have a wagon sickness.

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus

            @Dan, no Taurus or Sable ever had a SOHC engine. You’re thinking if the OHV 3.0L, referred to as the Vulcan.

            The DOHC Duratec cars had the AX4N standard, which was more reliable than the previous versions. The AX4N was used in some Vulcan models starting in 1994. My 1995 has the AX4N with 244k on it. I just drove it to Arkansas and back with no issue (about 6 hours each way).

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Christ on a bike, who is pricing those things?

      08 Lucerne – 3K
      00 Taurus – 1200-1800
      89 TC – high teens
      13 200 – That’s about right
      06 STS – 3500
      00 Lesabre – 1500

      Frak me.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        A clean Taurus with sub-100k will easily pull $3k around here come tax time (anything midsize in clean condition and working A/C will), but $4500 puts them squarely $1500 above the rest of the market. Lesabre falls into the exact same category. Low miles are nice, but again the sweet spot seems to be about $3k for an older clean midsize/fullsize sedan. I’m talking retail/private sale prices, not wholesale.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        This is why I never hesitate to ask “stoopid” money for my trade in. Dealers make up the numbers as they go along.

        BTW that Lucerne was REALLY REALLY CLEAN inside and out.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Those may be asking prices but when they are twice or more the real value of the car, like the Taurus, TC and STS it is crack pipe all the way.

  • avatar

    Ha, I’m actually looking for a semi-daily car for myself, and $8K is my budget. I’m looking for a practical car that has a good history of reliability, plus something I can sell for a good amount when I done with it (I’m also saving for an +12 XK in the future).

    Quick stats: 41, married with two kids (3 and 2 months), work from home, dog, lives in Portland OR

    I’ve narrowed it down to two choices:

    1) Honda Civic – more specifically, of the eighth-gen variety. I used to have a 2007 LX coupe, and I regret selling it to this day. However, I’m looking for at least an EX coupe or sedan. Although I would prefer an auto, I would entertain a manual…even a Si.

    2) Toyota Sienna – this is more because I can’t fit into an Odyssey and I don’t care much for the other choices in this price range. I’ve found a few that have had recent service (timing belts and what not). I can stretch it all the way to 2007, which IIRC, has the updated engine. Also, I love minivans.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Would this be the primary kid hauler? if so then I’d say go for the Sienna, and focus on condition and maintenance records over year and to a degree mileage. I wouldn’t poo-poo the 3MZ V6 either, what it gives up to the 2GR in power and having a timing belt, it gets back in rock solid reliability. The first few years of 2GRs in Siennas had an issue with an oil return line(?) on the back of the motor that liked to leak IIRC, there was a TSB. There were also some instances of piston slap and occasional water pump failures. Check the steering rack for leaks. Buy one with a good bill of health and suspension with life left in it, drive the heck out of it, and you should be able to resell for a very good percentage of the initial price years from now.

  • avatar

    Decided I’d look for some locals.

    2013 Forte5
    https://cincinnati.craigslist.org/ctd/d/2013-kia-forte5-ex-4dr/6696127760.html
    04 SRX 3.6L
    https://cincinnati.craigslist.org/cto/d/2004-cadillac-srx-awd-third/6708089078.html
    07 Cobalt SS manual
    https://cincinnati.craigslist.org/ctd/d/2007-chevroet-cobalt-leather/6708082031.html
    07 Santa Fe AWD Limited
    https://cincinnati.craigslist.org/ctd/d/2011-hyundai-santa-fe-all/6708080154.html
    04 Tacoma base manual
    https://cincinnati.craigslist.org/ctd/d/2004-toyota-tacoma-base-2dr/6707974586.html
    2010 Fusion low miles
    https://cincinnati.craigslist.org/cto/d/2010-ford-fusion-se-1-owner/6705322750.html
    09 Civic Coupe low miles
    https://cincinnati.craigslist.org/cto/d/fully-loaded-immaculately/6707689152.html

    And finally, for half budget, a lower miles LS400 from 1997
    https://cincinnati.craigslist.org/cto/d/1997-lexus-ls400/6693170617.html

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Dang 28 days better be driving down to scoop up that LS. If I wasn’t ballin on a budget in my ersatz RS4 I’d be mighty tempted to make the 2 hour drive myself!

      EDIT look at the paint match between the trunk lid and the right rear fender on the pic of the rear of the car. Might be how the factory paint faded, but I suspect there may have been some body work in this car’s past.

      • 0 avatar

        Mhm, also noticing what look like big blue jeans stains on the passenger seat. It’s very close by to me, so I could do a drive-by just to peek.

        I don’t like how he admits to using regular unleaded. Stop being cheap, this is a luxury car.

  • avatar
    Dingleberrypiez_Returns

    For my money, it’d probably be any one of the following in the best condition (roughly in order of preference) : 1) 98-2000 Lexus LS400, 2) ES330, 3) second generation Avalon. Maybe a Buick Lucerne or civilian Crown Vic/Towncar.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    If only gtem, if only.

  • avatar
    01 Deville

    For a family of 5 and more
    2008 Chrsyler TC/Dodge GC with good maintenance history. For 8k you can do under 100 miles.
    If you need to tow 07+ Expeditions have come down in price lately and should serve you well. Look for the rust under the doors.

    For all others
    Get the latest and lowest mileage 06+ Impala you can get your hands on.
    Sedans not cool? K. Get a ford escape.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Why would you recommend an ’08 specifically? IMO those are some of the most trouble-prone Chrysler vans ever made. First year of a substantial body/chassis change, they were an absolute sh*tshow. $8k will get you into the 2011+ 3.6L Pentastar era these days, a very worthwhile interior upgrade, and a few years of refinement to work out bugs.

      • 0 avatar
        iNeon

        They sold the 3.3 and 3.8 in the breadbox vans, dude.

        Nothing kills those.

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          No, but the electrical systems were G-D nightmares (TIPM), build quality and body sealing horrible, brake issues. You’d have to be insane to buy the first year of a recession era Chrysler. My point is that the updated version of that basic body style is within budget and oh-so-worth it.

    • 0 avatar
      stuckonthetrain

      +1 re: the Impala. Around here in suburban NYC, they are deeply unloved and you have your pick. The 8th and 9th generation W-body models seem pretty bulletproof and repairs and parts seem chep.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        I’d take a end of production W-Impala with 3.6 VVT and 6 speed auto if I just wanted to gobble up the miles by myself on my commute.

        The backseat in the Ws was so terrible I wouldn’t subject anyone to it on a regular basis.

    • 0 avatar
      stuckonthetrain

      …also, if you feel like rolling the dice a little more, and have the time and energy (and maybe travel expense, depending where you find it), a Fiat 500 GQ cabrio might work. Except for some interior bits, trim and wheels, it’s identical to the Abarth cabrio, and much less likely to be hooned. I got ours for $9500 earlier in the summer, and it’s been terrific so far.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    For $8k, I could get into this JDM cruiser:
    https://southcoast.craigslist.org/ctd/d/1992-nissan-gloria/6683427632.html

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      $7k would land you this Gtem Special: refreshed S130 Toyota Crown formal sedan.
      https://greenville.craigslist.org/cto/d/jdm-rare-1992-toyota-crown/6684233078.html

      • 0 avatar

        That is beautiful and brilliant.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        Oof, why would anyone drive anything else?! Body on frame, Peak-Toyota inside and out, velour interior, classic straight-six JZ engine… be still my beating heart! Although I’ll admit, lately I’ve been on more of a X90 body Mark II kick. I love the rear styling on those with the narrow taillight strip.

        • 0 avatar
          bumpy ii

          https://www.japaneseclassics.com/vehicle/1993-toyota-mark-ii-grande/

          $5 under budget! I’m not a fan of the X90s or S140s. Too big and round for my tastes. X80 all day long for me:

          https://richmond.craigslist.org/cto/d/1989-gx81-toyota-mark-ii/6665370934.html

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            Nice! Kind of a rare setup too, base 2.0L I6 and a stick shift. I guess I’d rather go auto+turbo 1JZ though. These things are absolutely ubiquitous in Siberia in various states of tune and repair. The locale is slowly taking its toll, unfortunately.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    No brainer, $8,000 will get you a very nice Lexus GS or LS. These cars are incredibly reliable, Toyota easy to fix, durable like crazy and cheap! With 2JZ or 1UZ power, the engine and whole driveline are bullet-proof. The interiors are of better plastics than most cars, the leather is good quality. Plus there’s still a few one or two-owner, dealer-serviced cream-puffs out there. And, they are not one bit popular with most enthusiast types.

  • avatar

    RE GS/LS:

    You see, I thought of this. For this money, you only have a couple of options.

    Pristine Gen 2 GS that’s old
    Ratty Gen 3 GS that’s got high miles

    Or, a late gen 1.5 LS400
    Early LS430

    Both of those LS options will have miles on them as well. And that’s before we get to timing belt considerations – often not done on a used car in this price range, and that’s a $1500 service easy if you’re looking for DD status.

    I don’t think GS and LS are the answer in this price point.

  • avatar
    TheDutchGun

    Question for the Americans here – geographic and type of vehicle variables aside, what is generally considered the benchmark for “high mileage”? Here in Ontario, 200,000 km would generally be considered getting up there. Just curious. Obviously in USA there are much larger climate differences from State to state.

  • avatar
    wdburt1

    Just bought a 2006 CR-V for $7000. Spent its life in Maryland. I need a winter vehicle for upstate NY. I have a 2007 Accord for summer driving. Love’em both. Straightforward and uncomplicated by tech. Both fun to drive. The Accord (37,000 miles) cost $11000.

  • avatar
    Jagboi

    I would get a 2004-08 Jaguar XJ sedan. Either XJR, Vanden Plas or Super V8. Aluminum body so they don’t rust, luxurious interiors and totally bulletproof.

    Probably the highlight of modern Jaguars that are affordable, and tied for Lexus in the JD Power reliability surveys when new-3 years old. A very underrated car for little money.

  • avatar
    manu06

    If I’m buying strictly a commuter, I’m looking for a Honda Fit. If I want a little more fun
    I’m looking at a Mazda MX5. It’s easy to find low mileage examples of the Mazda for
    less than 8k that were never abused.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    $8k seems to be a rather lavish budget. But, I’ll play along.

    Sedan: 2008+ Ford Taurus. Solid drivetrain, the 6 speed auto didn’t have the same issues as the earlier GM products using their version of the same trans. Excellent MPG for its size and power, they tend to hold up well inside. My parents 2012 looks like it has far less than 120k on it. I’ve seen the interiors of modern Nissan cars look worse before 80k.
    An example to show you can easily find a newer, loaded model with decent miles well under budget: https://seattle.craigslist.org/sno/cto/d/2013-ford-taurus-limited/6701643662.html

    Truck: Nissan Frontier. I might have chosen a Frontier crew cab 4×4 if I hadn’t found my ’04 Sonoma crew cab so cheap.

    I’ll combine SUV/CUV, minivan and wagon into one: Ford Flex. Second choice for SUV would be a 1998-2001 Mercury Mountaineer with V-8/AWD. The engine is as reliable as the sun, and the trans/etc should be as well with regular maintenance.

    Hatchback: Ford Focus with manual transmission. Second choice, Mazda3. Third choice, though likely less reliable with more expensive repair/parts cost than the first two, VW Golf.

    Yes, mostly Ford products, but I know them rather well so easy to recommend the ones I’d buy given the same parameters, although I’d probably go with a 2004+ F-150 over the Frontier, but it is too obvious of a choice given the premise Corey laid out.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Where are you seeing $8k Ford Flexes that aren’t totally dogged out? If you did find a high-mileage one, I’d set money aside for a pricey water pump job and repair to the PTU. Clean Freestyles and Taurus X are within range however, sadly the same 3.5L engine and PTU concerns still apply.

  • avatar
    arach

    $8000 is porsche cayenne territory… Shares most its parts with a tiguan, is cool as heck, and really practical. rare but common, and everyone think they cost more than $8000, but 8 grand will get you a low mileage good condition one. the ratty ones are closer to 5-6k now.

    But seriously I had to laugh at this.. 8k is cheap? I didn’t spend 8k on a car until I was in my 30s. 8k is BMW, Porsche, cadillac CTS, etc. territory. You can buy great condition Hyundai Sonatas, Chevy Impalas, or about anything else…

    So really the recommendation is simple- you’ve got plenty of money to buy anything you want, so go out and buy it… haha.

    I think the sonatas are a great choice for the budget buyers. Impalas are great for the big car buyers. I highly recommend the CTS for the “luxury” buyer at this price point because it has Chevy levels of reliability and repair costs (unlike the BMWs, which may cost $6 grand for an e90, but will cost you 2 grand a yera in maintenance). the Porsche Cayenne is a good car for someone who wants an AWD SUV, expecially if you can get a 2008 at that price (close), since its uber-reliable with is DI motor. The hyundai Veracruz is a great SUV choice with 3 rows (reliable, and big). The Jeep Commander is a good choice for the outdoorsy type at this price point.

    If you want a truck, its F150 all day. No better bargain than the 2004-2008 F150s, even if the big engine was prone to stuck plugs. crew cabs are Readily available well under budget even with 4×4 and suitable mileage.

    If you can handle a small car, the ford focus is a good bet. The engine is actually pretty unbreakable and they hold up pretty well.

    Another odd pick is the Rendezvous. Not the most glorious car, but not an awful car and they are readily available in this price point with low mileage.

    Lastly, I’m going to commit blasphemy in the car world and suggest the Dodge Journey. I’m finding Journeys with mileage in like the 50s that are only a couple of years old in the 7-8k range. It may get some bad marks, but if you get the pentastar motor its pretty durable, and its not an awful VALUE.

    but seriously, am I the only one that doesn’t feel like $8k is a “budget car”? I feel like thats pretty strong pricing territory. To me budget is 3500/less, and theres still some good buys there. Maybe I’m the odd man out here in the midwest, but anything over 8k is living the life… haha.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Hey I hear ya, I get a kick out of driving on the cheap. I love cars, but don’t like having money tied up in them. Most folks would rather not have to worry about repairs or wrenching, and I get that. But for those of us DIY-inclined, the door is wide open for affordable and interesting options.

    • 0 avatar
      Ermel

      “$8000 is porsche cayenne territory… Shares most its parts with a tiguan”

      No it doesn’t, you probably mean Touareg. Tiguan is MQB like everything else (except the pickups and vans you don’t get in the US anyway). And even Touareg and Cayenne, while based on the same platform, probably don’t share too many parts … all the body parts are completely different for a start, and so are the engines unless you talk Diesel.

  • avatar
    Ermel

    $8k is “bottom of the barrel”? My most expensive car ever, by far, cost less than that — and it was a reasonably nice 1970 VW Bug Convertible, which I heartily recommend if you can find one for that price today. :-)

  • avatar
    aajax

    ’09 or ’10 Acura TL AWD. Under $8000 in private sale. Great car.

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