Need a car for your family? Have a credit score so bad that the bowling alley won’t loan you shoes?
If you have some cash saved, you can get a car that’s safe, reliable and practical —but you’ll have to go back in time.
Back to when Tom Cruise had the guts to jump on Oprah’s couch, Pontiac was still around and your visor CD-holder wasn’t complete without a “Now That’s What I Call Music” CD.
That’s right, we’re looking in the mid 2000’s.
Year Range: 2005-2008
Why: The Dodge Magnum proves that wagons can be cool. Introduced in 2005, the rear-drive Magnum wowed shoppers with its muscle-car bravado and an available Hemi V8 to back it up. Though on a $5,000 budget, you’ll be looking at more benign models like the SE and SXT, which come with 200 and 250 horsepower V6 engines respectively.
The Magnum is an deceivingly practical car —with loads of cargo room and all-wheel drive available. Some models even have a rear-seat DVD player to keep those minions of yours entertained. The Magnum is a great car for a smaller family trying to keep some remnants of “cool.”
What you’ll get for $5,000: A quick search on Mojo Motors yields plenty of 2005-2006 models with anywhere from 90,000 to 140,000 miles on the odometer. But judging by how many were also for sale with 180,000+, we know these cars go for a while
Year Range: 2002-2005
Why: Most families have ditched them by now, but nothing will ever be more family-friendly than a good-ole minivan. Unfortunately, Japanese stalwarts like the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna are pricey even as they get above 150,000 miles, but the lesser-know MPV from Mazda is nearly every-bit as reliable and far more budget-friendly.
Like any car from Mazda, it out-handles its rivals, making it fun-to-drive while running errands and practical when it’s time to drop the kids off at Lacrosse practice. The MPV will seat 7 total, but it doesn’t offer quite the same amount of cargo space as other minivans. If you truly need more space than this van can offer, you should be looking here.
What you’ll get for $5,000: You’ll find numerous MPV vans from 2002 and 2003 for under 5k, but try to stick with 2004 and above when disc brakes became standard on all models. The best example we found was a 2005 MPV with 118,000 miles.
Year Range: 2000-2007
Why: In spite of its plebeian, wide-eyed look, the Taurus was one of the most popular cars in America, gracing Ford showrooms from 1999 to 2007. Even as the model aged, it fiercely competed in the midsize sedan market, offering a lower starting price and a lineup of reliable engines.
Now a decade after its prime, there are still thousands of these cars on the road, but they haven’t held their value nearly as well as their Japanese competitors (which is good for you.) Properly equipped, the Ford Taurus can seat 6, although we can’t say that’ll be a comfortable set up. Wagon versions have an available rear-facing third row option that bumps the seating up to 8. Now your car will have something in common with a Tesla Model S!
What you’ll get for $5,000: We managed to find a 2006 Ford Taurus with only 90,000 miles for the magic price of $5,000, and it even had the premium Duratec V6! It wasn’t alone either. There were plenty of them from 2003-2006 with less than 100,000 miles that fit comfortably in our price range.
Year Range: 2000-2006
Why: If you have a large family, a small budget and big ambitions, a full-size SUV is what you need. And there’s no SUV quite like the Chevrolet Suburban. Believe it or not, the Suburban is one of the longest running model lines in history, spanning over 80 years and 12 generations. The 10th generation Suburban, produced from 2000 to 2006, is your best bet if you’re looking in the $5,000 price range.
This was when SUV surge was at its peak, so there are plenty of Suburbans from this generation still around to pick parts from.SUVs come from the factory with enormous price tags, but with gas prices on the rise, the resale value of large SUVs has taken a big hit. Now it’s easy to find older models in this price range. It will be thirstier than a frat boy on the 4th of July, but when you have a big family, there really isn’t much choice.
What you’ll get for $5,000: These trucks are durable, so don’t be too intimidated by high-miles. On Mojo Motors, 5 stacks will find you a Suburban from the early 2000’s with around 120,000 miles. Just remember that you should only get a full-size SUV if you truly need all the utility. There are plenty of other ways to carry 7 or more people.
Year Range: 2006-2010
Why: Hyundai has evolved considerably from the bargain brand it used to be. Just as Honda did during the 1990’s, Hyundai has worked hard to deliver an exceptional product at a low costs in order to change the public’s opinion of them. The fifth generation Sonata, produced from 2006 to 2010, was a big part of that effort. With a comfortable ride, generous amenities and a bullet-proof engine, it was the first model from the company to truly go head-to-head with the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.
That’s why there are so many of them still on the road today, but they’re still reasonably priced. Best of all, the Sonata is one of the safest midsize sedans on the road. The NHTSA gave it a perfect 5-out-of-5 stars in every category (except rollover protection), so you and your family should be well protected in an accident.
What you’ll get for $5,000: Buying a car under ten years old for $5,000 is difficult, but not impossible. We found several 2006 and some 2007 Sonatas on our site in our price range, and most had between 120-150,000 miles. Not bad for a car that can run passed the 200,000 mile mark without breaking a sweat. You can also look into the fourth generation Sonata, but poor quality was an issue on many models from the generation.
Year Range: 2003-2007
Why: Crossover SUVs appeal to families because they are more fuel-efficient than traditional SUVs but offer more space for passengers and cargo. They also feel safer because crossovers sit higher than sedans and provide a better view of the road. That’s why models like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 have taken off in recent years. The problem is that these crossovers, especially the big-name ones, are still pretty expensive.
Families on a budget should check out the Ford Escape, which isn’t quite as fuel-efficient or refined, but offers similar reliability and practicality for an affordable price. They’re one of the most popular cars among cab drivers in New York City, giving you an idea of their wherewithal.
What you’ll get for $5,000: You can find Escapes within the $5,000 range from 2003 all the way to 2007, but it’s best to find one right in the middle of that range with the lowest miles possible. We even found one from 2006 with less than 100,000 miles!
NOTE: While shopping, you’re likely to come across hybrid models which have depreciated just enough to fall into your price range. While the better fuel economy may be appealing, you’re taking a chance that you will have to replace the battery while owning the car, which can be extremely expensive. We recommend sticking with the gas versions.
Year Range: 1998-2005
Why: The Subaru Forester has always been a little misunderstood. It’s kinda-sorta shaped like an SUV, yet the elongated space between the rear door and the hatch makes it look like a station wagon. It also doesn’t help that the Forester sits like a normal sedan, even if it offers 8.5 inches of ground clearance, which is average for an SUV. Perhaps due to this ambiguity, the Forester never sold like the Subaru Outback, which has a more distinctive look.
And that’s actually a good thing for you. The Forester shares pretty-much all of its same running gear with the Outback, like as the 2.5 liter boxer engine and standard symmetrical all-wheel drive, which comes in handy during snow storms. But for whatever reason, they’re cheaper on the used market than similar Outbacks.
They’re known to be incredibly reliable and run well passed the 200,000 mile mark (with proper care and maintenance, of course.) And although acceleration can sometimes be sluggish with the non-turbocharged engine, the Forester makes up for that by getting great gas mileage. For a family with versatile needs, the Forester is a great choice.
What you’ll get for $5,000: We happened to find a bunch of clean Subaru Foresters for sale within our price range, with low miles, that weren’t more than 25 miles away. We even found a 2004 SXT, which comes with a turbocharged engine and all available options (but of course, the turbocharger is another part that will require maintenance.) We’d stick with the base engine for less headaches.
Year Range: 2000-2007
Why: If the Mazda MPV didn’t do it for you, the Dodge Grand Caravan surely will. This is the quintessential minivan, with deep roots to every middle school soccer field across the United States. But families grow up and these vans got replaced. Now Grand Caravans crowd the used car market, waiting patiently to reclaim their former glory with a new family. And they’re all cheap.
When you think about it, big depreciation in family-oriented cars makes sense. Minivans are only practical for a very short period in someone’s life: when they have kids. And since people tend to have kids during their prime money-making years, families usually upgrade their cars after only a few years of ownership. That leaves an abundance of perfectly good used minivans on the market, spoiling low-price shoppers with choice.
What you’ll get for $5,000: It’s hard to believe just how good of a deal you can get on a used Grand Caravan. We found a 2008 model (only 7 years old!) with only 135,000 miles for $4,500. We also found a 2007 model (which is pre-redesign) with only 107,000 miles for $4,450. That leaves an extra $550 for back-to-school clothes!
Year Range: 1999-2004
Why: This gas-guzzler is not an obvious choice, but I recommend it because I have seen first-hand how a dependable Grand Cherokee can serve a family rich in love, but not much else. That was my family.
Though my parents eventually upgraded their cars, the Grand Cherokee remained in the family as the go-to vehicle for road trips, towing and conquering blizzards. There were some repairs made along the way, but at 180,000 miles I can’t say our Grand Cherokee asked for much. Everything still works just as it did the day we brought it home, hardly showing signs of age.
It’s launched boats that have greatly exceeded the towing capacity. It held up as three teenage boys learned how to drive for the first time, and then later withstood being raced home to make it in time for curfew. It was once stolen by delinquents, hooned through the woods and returned to us by the police on a flat bed, needing nothing more than a new front tire and set of keys. It owes us nothing, yet the Grand Cherokee perseveres.
Of course, my opinion is biased. Perhaps we got lucky, because it’s hard to image another car enduring the abuse we put our Jeep through with the same level of enthusiasm. But if there’s a chance that another Jeep Grand Cherokee could serve a family as passionately as it did ours, it would be worth it.
What you’ll get for $5,000: Try to stay between 2001 and 2004, which was post face-lift. We easily found dozens of clean Grand Cherokees with less than 130,000 miles for under $5,000.
Finding the car is just the beginning.
Written by Tristan Cathers