We hear the question all the time, “Where can I find a good cheap reliable car?”
The people who ask this question obviously have limited funds but are looking for the best car that can be purchased with the least amount of money. Unfortunately, finding a car that’s inexpensive AND good AND reliable can be very difficult. Although not impossible, it’ll take a lot of looking, test driving, and inspecting before the right car is found, at the right price.
Cars with prices in the $1000-$3000 price range (cheap) will nearly always be cars that are at least 10-15 years old, with lots of miles, considerable wear-and-tear, and may have been damaged at some time in its life. Again, this doesn’t necessarily make them bad cars, but it’ll take some effort to prove otherwise.
We also often see questions about which vehicles are the most reliable. Although some vehicle brands such as Honda and Toyota have exhibited outstanding reliability over many years, it doesn’t mean that every Honda and Toyota is reliable, especially those with lots of miles, accident damage, and those that have been driven hard and maintained poorly. It’s not wise to assume that an old Honda or Toyota, or any other brand, is going to be a good (or bad) buy based on the brand’s reliability reputation.
The best way to determine the actual current condition, reliability, and value of a used car is to have it inspected by a professional mechanic before making a purchase decision. Many service shops and national chains such as Pep Boys will do a thorough inspection and provide a detailed problem report for about $75-$125, which is a good investment considering the risk of buying a car that can have much more expensive problems. The mechanic can also tell you the approximate cost of fixing any problems he might find — so that you can factor that cost into your buying decision.
Before you spend the money for a professional inspection, you can do a preliminary inspection yourself using our 50-point used car checklist. This might help you eliminate some cars that have obvious problems. But even if a car passes this checklist, you still should get a mechanic to check out the car. Never rely on a dealer or seller’s declaration that a car “has no problems” or “runs great.” They all say that, whether it’s true or not.