College students or people who live in minimum wage jobs know very well that $3,000 to $5,000 is the place to buy reliable used cars. But what if we find some really cool underrated cars or maybe pickup trucks versus a big car? You can find drivable and turbulent cars from the last century all day long and usable as project cars in our price range, but there are only a few vehicles that can be had at this price and they drive perfectly nice. North America is a big place, and depending on where you live, you can find a great sleeper or a car that isn’t appreciated in your area on the cheap, but we tried to stay as cosmopolitan as possible, and that’s what we found.
10 1998-2008 Ford Taurus
Ford made a lot of these things, and many of them still work today. Surely you must have known by now that the abundance of a car and its spare parts plays a big role in its low price, and Taurus is no exception.
The Taurus isn’t an exceptional car, but it’s a decent full-size sedan. Try to avoid the 2003 Taurus or any older model from 1998, but even they yield a good bargain at this low price. However, the 2001, 05, 07 and 08 models are the ones to look out for.
9 1992-2005 Toyota Camry
It has to be the most famous car on this list. Camrys have been here forever, and they seem to last forever, too. Camry’s early 2000s models are the ones that impressed the masses, proven their quality and reliability, and made the Camry a bestseller.
They provide adequate amounts of strength, comfort and ease of ownership. Finding it under $1000 isn’t hard, just make sure to avoid a repeat of 2007 which is universally considered the worst (least decent in this case) model out of them all.
8 From the seventh to eighth generation of Honda Civic
Like the Camry, the Honda Civic is another popular choice in the new and used car markets. These are reliable, customizable, cheap to own, and great to drive. In some cities though, Civics components or the cars themselves are prone to theft a lot, so you might want to check this out before jumping on craigslist.
Regardless, once you can find a Civic for under $1,000, you can rest easy knowing that it won’t cost you a lot of time or money to keep going. There is a Civic Blog for everyone, but with our budget in mind, a 7th or 8th generation Civic would be the best.
7 2004-09 Mazda 6
You should be thinking, “Another list of cheap and good cars; another Japanese car from the 2000s.” What can we say except that it is so good? The Mazda6 i Sport, which costs a thousand bucks, can easily be found.
The drive was more fun than most other family sedans, the manual transmission is smooth, the power delivery was smooth and convenient, and the car feels good on its own! Mazda is a well-known and trusted brand, so most reliability issues are taken care of, and costs of ownership are kept to a minimum. Easy choice if you find one.
6 1998-2012 Ford Crown Vic
The Crown Victoria is an example of longevity in the automotive industry. Left many Japanese cars in the dust, the Crown Vic can last up to 500,000 miles (!) if cared for properly. There is a reason it has been used by the government for a long time.
It debuted in 1992 and was sold until 2012, but we think any model after 1998 will serve you well, like the 2005 LX Sport with just over 100,000 miles on the odometer. The only downside is that people close to you may think you are an undercover cop. But on the flip side, you can easily modify these things with Mustang parts and they are available everywhere.
5 2001-02 Dodge / Plymouth Neon
The name might throw you off, but the Neon is low-key fun to drive, especially if you get one with a manual transmission. The chassis of this compact car makes it agile and attractive, even with front wheel drive. On top of that, there’s plenty of room for tweaks and customizations, so it also makes for a good cheap project car.
The resale value is pretty poor, so you can find a 2001 and 2002 Neons regardless of a Dodge or Plymouth Badge for under $1,000 without any major damage or accident attached in the history reports.
4 1997-2008 Nissan Altima
Today, the number of cars sold with a manual transmission is less than 5%. But for those of us who still prefer a stick change, the Nissan Altima is one of very few family sedans available in a 6-speed manual.
You may even find one with a sunroof that works! Nissan knows how to make a good, reliable car, and the Altima might be a bit bland compared to other brand offerings, but for $1,000, that’s as good as it gets. The 2007 Altima, for example, has a good, powerful V6 engine, a decent CVT, a fun interior, and a spacious cabin. What more could you ask for?
3 1994-2003 Ford Ranger
Who said you can only own sedans and hatchbacks for less than a thousand dollars? If you fancy yourself a good pickup truck for a cheap price, then the Ranger might be what you’re looking for. It is a reliable labor that is built to last the lives of many people.
The 1994-2003 Rangers would be more readily available, they have big V6s or V8s that deliver a lot of power, look really good on the outside, and run really well on the inside. Although, for our budget, you might end up with adequate but relatively less powerful trim from a 6-cylinder two-wheel drive rather than an AWD V8.
2 1999-2004 Chrysler Concorde
Concorde Chrysler is a large car with a lot of space. If your need for a more practical vehicle overshadows its ability to make a smile while driving on winding roads, the Concorde will get the job done.
The truck’s large area, very spacious cabin, surprisingly handles a large vehicle and isn’t too expensive to maintain. This Chrysler is more than a decade old so there will be no original components, but it does seem to last longer than we expect.
1 1997 Geo Prism
You may remember the Chevy Prizm, it sells for over $1000. But just like in the movies, there is a twin that not many people know about. Step into the Geo Prizm, a boring-looking sedan. But the reason it is here is because it is the result of a joint venture between General Motors and Toyota. We see the Geo branding on the outside, but it’s all Toyota Sprinter on the inside.
We all know late ’90s Toyotas are almost bulletproof when it comes to reliability, which is why Toyotas hold their value and can’t be had as cheaply as this. Sure, the Geo blends into the road like a chameleon, it’s not eye candy, but it’s one of the most reliable cars you can get for under $1,000 with good fuel efficiency, low maintenance, and hassle-free ownership.
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