Here's The Scenario. You want and need a new car or truck. But your credit rating or bank account, or both, are not cutting it. You have a maximum of $10K to spend. Can you get a decent set of reliable wheels? We think so.
There are numerous options out there on the used car market -- from sedans to SUVs to minivans -- that can be had for a very agreeable price and in good condition with relatively low mileage.
To help you out, our editors each picked a vehicle that is selling for less than $10,000. These cars are affordable, reliable and, all in all, offer a lot of bang for the buck.
Click through to see what we found!
It may surprise some to see a luxury marque like BMW appear on our $10,000-and-under list, but the truth is, for that scratch you can own one of the greatest cars ever made. After all, the legendary 3-Series practically invented the luxury sports sedan segment and continues to define success in the category.
The 4th-generation BMW 3-Series was produced from 1999 to 2006, making Car & Driver's coveted "10 Best" list each and every year, part of a 21 consecutive year run that continues today for the German automaker's best-selling model. Bimmer fanatics can argue which iteration of the esteemed 3-Series is best until they're Roundel-black-and-blue in the face, but we selected the E46 as it's the most likely to be found at a $10K price point in good shape, with relatively low miles*. That said, you really can't go wrong with any modern 3-Series, so long as you're willing to put up with the added cost of maintaining "the ultimate driving machine."
*Adjust your mileage expectations. 100,000 miles on a well-maintained BMW is like 50,000 on many other used cars of this generation.
Research Used BMW 3 Series Listings
We found a 2004 Honda Odyssey EX with 95,000 miles on it for $9,600.
This was the last year of the second generation Odyssey, which made its mark by having a third row of seats that fold away into the floor.
Editor in chief David Kiley owns one of these and reports that some of this generation had costly transmission and head gasket issues. His did not. At 95,000 miles either the one listed did not have the problem. Or it was fixed. Check service records before buying if possible.
This V6 engine of Honda's is practically bulletproof. Do scheduled maintenance and this Odyssey should be good for another 100k miles. Bargain with dealer to nudge the price down. And ask them to do a thorough steam cleaning detail job if not already done. Minivan interiors take a beating.
There is no substitute for a minivan if you are hauling around four kids or more. If a minivan is what you need, and $10K is what you have, this is an awesome choice thanks to Honda quality and durability.
Research Used Honda Odyssey Listings
It's easy to pick a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla for this list, as they are truly excellent cars to buy used and you'll have no problem finding one for under $10,000. But let's look at something a little bit different: A 2006 Mazda5 minivan.
A cursory search turned up several options with less than 100,000 miles and a price tag between $7,500 and $10,000. For what you're getting with this car, that's a pretty darn good deal.
Though the Mazda5 is quite a bit smaller than other minivans like the Chrysler Town & Country and Toyota Sienna, it still offers a lot of versatility, with three rows of seating and adequate cargo space. Combine that with solid fuel economy, sharp looks and the fact that this vehicle is genuinely fun to drive (yes a minivan can be engaging on the road) and you've got a winner in my book.
Mazda isn't quite on par with Toyota and Honda when it comes to reliability, but with proper care and maintenance, even a Mazda5 with 100,000 miles should last you a pretty long time.
Research Used Mazda5 Listings
This generation Ford Explorer is probably one of my favorite SUVs to drive. No, it's not going to save you an ounce of gas. It's big. It's comfortable. You feel like you rule the road when it's snowing out. And this year's model comes with the optional stability control, so you can put to rest any fears of rolling this bad boy over.
Sure, the inside is a little blah. And for city driving, you'll only get about 14 mpg. But every time you fill up, you can remember back to the good old days, when gas prices were $2 a gallon and we all thought we were going to make it rich by buying bigger houses than we needed and flipping them in a year. This SUV comes with an optional third row, too, which makes it great as a family hauler.
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Back when little pickups were actually small, a low mileage 2004 Ford Ranger for $9,000 is a steal. One model I found had less than 70,000 miles on the odometer and was powered by Ford's 3-liter V6. It manages to get up to 23 mpg on the highway.
Really, there is no true small pickup available that is new. The top selling Toyota Tacoma is huge compared to this '04 Ranger, and Ford stopped making its Ranger last year.
Small pickups are great little runabouts. They provide that open bed for Home Depot projects on weekends, can carry all of the camping gear or bicycles for getaways and make moving across town easy. It's a great first vehicle or single person's ride -- as upward mobility often means moving from apartment to apartment. The Ranger makes those moves a lot easier.
They also make great commuter vehicles.
This model comes with a standard cab, meaning you may only be able to carry two passengers, but then again, that is not always a negative.
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So here’s your quandary: You want to join the legions of Americans flocking to fuel-efficient vehicles and save some money at the pump, but you can only afford used-car prices.
Good news. Sky-high fuel efficiency does not need to mean sky-high sticker price. Check out this 2006 Volkswagen Jetta TDI sedan I found using a budget of $10,000 or less. There’s a lot of things I love about this vehicle.
First, its price of $9,799 is seriously undervalued in the used-car marketplace. Most of the other Jetta TDIs currently on the market at this price range have 145,000 to 200,000 miles on the odometer. This one, at a dealership in Manassas, Va., has completed 108,000 miles.
Second, the fuel efficiency is phenomenal. The EPA rates this four-door sedan at 36 city/41 highway, but many TDI drivers report coaxes even higher numbers from this 1.9-liter, four-cylinder, diesel turbo engine. Don’t be afraid if you’ve never driven a diesel before. You’ll pay a bit of a premium at the pump, but you’ll go a lot farther on that tank of gas.
A terrific, stylish car that will, in the long run, save you and your family money.
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