Bye-Bye, Rainy Day Fund

Staff Picks: The Used Cars We’d Buy Right Now for $5,000 or Less


Simple thought experiment: you’re given a tax-free $5,000 limit and told to buy a car. Any car. We know what we’d buy — not that we didn’t spend a few hours debating and competing with each other for the “best” pick. This will be an ongoing series — other spending limits will follow — but why not start with the car we’re all most likely to purchase, perhaps on a whim? Check out our picks below… and please keep us in your thoughts as we annihilate our bank accounts.

What car would you buy with five grand? Click here to tell us — we’ll publish a bunch of the responses in an upcoming post.

1991 Volvo 240 (5-speed)

If you asked a four-year-old to draw a car, the result would probably look like the Volvo 240, but therein lies its charm: It’s an honest car. The 240 has built up a reputation as a dependable, safe and comfortable car, so despite its age, it should do you well as an old-school means of practical conveyance. A beautiful forest green paint job and a five-speed manual only sweeten the deal. If you’re looking for something fast, look to whatever my coworkers have dug up — but if you’re only spending $5,000 on a car, I assume practicality trumps speeds. – Andrew Connor, Associate Staff Writer

Mileage: 177,000 miles
Original MSRP: $19,975

1986 BMW 635 CSi

It’s probably not as “mechanically sound” as they say it is, and it’s driven the equivalent of the distance to the moon, but… It’s white on white and has gold wheels and it’s pretty. – Henry Phillips, Deputy Photography Editor, Gold Wheel Enthusiast

Mileage: 265,754 miles
Original MSRP: ~$47,000

1987 Audi Coupe GT

Permanent AWD, locking center and rear diffs, five-speed manual — it’s a rally car for the rest of us. – Bryan Campbell, Staff Writer

Mileage: 156,450 miles
Original MSRP: $18,895

2005 Lexus LS430

Bulletproof Toyota engineering meets top-tier mainstream luxury car. These things are maxed out with plush features and tech without being snooty about it, and they’ll run for a bajillion miles. I’ll definitely get my money’s worth. When I mentioned on Reddit that there’s a gorgeous LS430 parked by the office every day, another user gave me solid advice: “If it ever comes up for sale, you have to buy it.” – Nick Caruso, Associate Editor, Does Not Have a Garage

Mileage: 265,754 miles
Original MSRP: $54,005 – $68,000

1984 Porsche 944

It’s a RWD 4 banger with flip-up headlights that’s not a Miata. It’s German. It’s a Porsche. It has the three-pedal arrangement. Also, those yellow on black gauges are to die for. – Hunter Kelley, Design & Photography Apprentice

Mileage: 133,063 miles
Original MSRP: $21,990

2003 Saab 9-3 Linear

Perfectly cliché, perfectly idiosyncratic, thank you very much. New in 2003, this was the car that rekindled my love for Saabs (and got me into the dealership). It came with a variety of engine options and wonderfully impossible-to-interpret aerospace model names like Arc, Linear, Vector (and Viggen!). This find is rather dashing in red and the Linear trim model comes equipped with perfectly spirited 175 horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged engine and — score — a five-speed manual transmission with low mileage. Oh, and how can anyone get tired of a center console mounted ignition key, cockpit instrument cluster design, or a dashboard with “night mode?” – Eric Yang, Editor in Chief, Overzealous Car Shopper

Mileage: 70,968 miles
Original MSRP: $33,105

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