Best Used Cars Under $5000: Five Mistakes to Avoid When Buying a Cheap Car

It is true that new cars in Australia have never been more valuable.

Lots and lots of all-new hatchbacks can comfortably be had for under $20,000, and while prices will inevitably go up, they don’t look like they’re exploding anytime soon.

This is incredible value for money considering the level of modular technology and safety equipment you get with a modern car, but it also means that used cars are also, in real terms, incredibly good value.

The truth is, you can buy a lot of usable cars for just $5,000.

But it’s also true, you can buy at least many dollars in pain and heartache if you get it wrong and end up pretty cheap.

With so many people now searching for their first car in the face of COVID-19, and wanting to extend social distancing into transportation, it seems like it’s time to go over the list of essential things to avoid.

Wrong make and model

Don’t buy the wrong make and model. It sounds simple, but if you stick with well-known brands that have a proven track record of reliability, you’ll have a much better chance of staying smiling.

Do some research (this site is a great source for such information) and see if a particular car has a list of common problems that will keep you in a poor house.

Lots of owners swap out their cars before service is due, so be sure not to buy a car that will need a new timing belt, tires and battery in the next few weeks.

Engine and transmission

Although the $5,000 budget isn’t that big, if you buy smart, you can still ride a relatively new car (in general).

And since modern engines last much longer than ever before, you don’t have to worry too much.

However, we still like to hear the car start out from the freezing cold (be wary of a dealer who warms up the engine before you arrive) and check for signs of wear like blue smoke from the exhaust.

Any clicks, bangs, or rattles from the engine compartment should move you to the next possibility.

Modern engines last much longer than ever before, but you still want to hear the car starting out in the freezing cold.

Also, make sure the transmission doesn’t have any nasty surprises in it.

A modern automatic gearbox should engage gears smoothly (without knocks or noise) and you shouldn’t have to count to three before it picks a gear from Park.

The odd-looking, gearbox-like continuously variable transmission (CVT) slips really does work as it should.

the outside

Make sure any vehicle is inspected in strong, natural light.

Relying on the torch after dark asks for trouble; You will inevitably miss important details.

First, what you are looking for is the overall image that the car displays.

Make sure to inspect any vehicle in strong, natural light or else you may miss important details that could indicate any poorly executed repairs. Make sure to inspect any vehicle in strong, natural light or else you may miss important details that could indicate any poorly executed repairs.

Does the car look straight? Are the panels lined up? Does it sit level? Is the whole car one color? Are the fenders hanging at funny angles?

All these items will help you determine if the car is in working condition and poorly repaired.

The general rule is that if repairs are visible, they will not be done correctly.

Rust is the big killer of cars of course, so beware a car with bright new paint.

It can hide all kinds of horrors including bad repairs and rust.

We would rather buy a car with a few chips and scratches in its original paint than buy the same car with a shiny coat of new paint.

Let’s face it, chips and scratches will happen first in the supermarket anyway.

A neat trick is to run a magnet (a low-energy type of fridge magnet is best) over potential rust areas.

If the magnet does not stick to the car, then there is something other than metal under this coating.

Don’t forget, however, that some new cars have plastic panels that don’t attract magnets.


It seems that some cheap cars rely heavily on the use of hard plastic in their interior design.

These hard surfaces can scratch and wipe easily and can look very used fairly quickly.

Designer kids will turn the car’s interior into a no-fly zone very quickly too, and while you’re checking out the car, you can inhale. Literally. Did the car spend much of its time transporting dogs?

But the big check inside is that all the electrical bits and pieces are working.

This means testing every switch, knob and lever, making sure the air conditioner is blowing cold, the stereo is working properly, the cruise control is working and all gauges and tools are doing their job.

And don’t forget to check the dashboard for a check engine light, as it could be a roadworthy item.


Speaking of roadworthiness, don’t be tempted to buy a used car that doesn’t have a roadworthiness certificate.

Buying from a licensed used car dealer means that the car will come with this important document, but private sellers are in no way obligated to provide the same piece of paper.

Purchasing from a licensed used car dealer means that the vehicle will come with a valid road certificate. Purchasing from a licensed used car dealer means that the vehicle will come with a valid road certificate.

Think of it this way: If the seller isn’t selling the car with a road-going car, what’s wrong with that?

Even a few small safety issues that require a fix before a driver’s license is issued can cost more than you paid for the entire vehicle.

And suddenly, this cheap car doesn’t look cheap at all.

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