Best Used Cars Under $5,000 Australia: How to Buy a Cheap & Reliable Car

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What’s the best used car under $5000 Australia wide? Glad you asked, because that’s precisely what a lot of people are asking right now.

Maybe you want a super-cheap used car just to make getting around on weekends easier. Maybe you’re keen to avoid public transport in the new Covid-normal world we find ourselves in. Maybe you’re just sick of riding the bus and want some more freedom. What ever the case, you can – believe it or not – find a used car for around the $5000 mark that can provide years and thousands of kilometres of faithful service.

That is, of course, if you get it right and buy the right make and model and the right example thereof. But how do you do that. Social evidence suggests that if you’re shopping for a sub-$5000 cheapie, you’re possibly not a car person in the first place. So bear that in mind as we go through a few of your options in the bargain-bin of second-hand cars.

Let’s start with the basics. To find the best cars under $5K Australia is a pretty darn good place to start. Our climate is kinder, our driving conditions ditto. To be honest, Australia is pretty kind to older cars. But there are still rules and conventional wisdom that shouldn’t be ignored.

Anything Toyota is probably going to be an okay choice. Some Toyotas are better than others, but all seem pretty robust. Same goes for South Korean cars (Hyundais and Kias, not Daewoos) of the last 20 years or so. The later the build-date, the better these are, but they’re generally regarded by the trade as okay.

The rest is the rest. Some models from a particular make will be okay, some will be dogs. The thing is, just because a car is still around at an age where its residual value has dipped to $5000 or less, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a tough-as-nails survivor. Some of these things are as cheap as they are for other reasons. Mainly because nobody wants them.

With the broad-brush stuff out of the way, what about specifics?

Absolutely one of the best used small cars under $5000 is the Hyundai Getz made from 2002 to 2011. These were nothing to write home about dynamically, but they’re tough and seem to go forever.

A couple of Toyotas are next, starting with the Corolla from 2001 to 2007. A fairly frumpy looker, the Corolla nevertheless possessed all the toughness that made the brand what it is today.

The Toyota Camry of 1997 to 2002 is third on the ladder. This is a big enough car for families, and also has a reputation for being unkillable in both four and six-cylinder forms.

The Mazda 3 from 2004 to 2009 is next and it’s the one everybody remembers, mainly because you still see them everywhere.

Subaru’s Liberty from 1998 to 2003 is another wallflower to look at, but it’s tough and reliable and with its all-wheel-drive also falls into the best P plater cars under $5000, too. The wagon is super handy as well.

Ford’s second-gen Focus from 2005 to 2011 is another car that has dumped lots of value despite being a good buy. It’s a bit more stylish than some, but seems to last well if serviced correctly.

And finally, there’s the Mitsubishi 380 which is now super-cheap because it’s the forgotten Mitsubishi and likes a drink of ULP. But it’s big, strong and good for family transport.

There are plenty of other cars that represent decent choices, too, but on balance, those few are the star performers in the world of cheapies and are likely to have fewer problems per thousand than most of the alternatives at this price-point.

So what are the golden rules to making this sort of purchase?

Do some research (this website is a great source of such information) and check whether a particular car has a list of common problems that will keep you in the poor-house. A lot of owners trade-in their car just before a major service is due, so make sure you’re not buying a car that will need a new timing belt, tyres and a battery in the next few weeks. Spending thousands on a car that cost $5000 or less makes no sense.

Find a car with a service record. Knowing that the car has been maintained at least according to the very basics is a great way to minimise the risk of buying a dud. Modern engines are much longer-lived than ever before, so there’s less to worry about. Even so, we’d still want to hear the car start from dead cold (be wary of a seller who has warmed the engine before you arrive) and check for signs of wear such as blue smoke from the exhaust. Any knocks, bangs or rattles from the engine bay should have you moving on to the next prospect. Make sure the transmission doesn’t have any nasty surprises, either. A modern automatic gearbox should engage gears smoothly (no thumps or noises) and you shouldn’t have to count to three before it selects a gear from Park.

Make sure you know the legalities of buying a second-hand car in your state or territory. Some states require a roadworthy certificate before the you can legally transfer the registration into your name. If the car doesn’t come with one, you need to ask why. What’s wrong with it? Discovering that the thing needs thousands in repairs just to make it legal is another great way to turn a cheap used car into a really expensive one. If you’re buying from a dealer, this is less of a hassle as much of it is the dealer’s responsibility. But if you’re dealing with a private seller (where the real bargains live) then you need to know your stuff.

If you don’t know what you’re doing, take a friend who does. Don’t get all starry-eyed at the thought of your own car. Make sure you’re pragmatic when you inspect it and, if you doubt your abilities in this, again, take a mate who will view the car with a more a critical eye.

Don’t be afraid to travel to find the right car. Big cities like Sydney and Melbourne will have more choices in a tighter geographical space, and the real cheap cars are often at wholesale car-yards in those metro centres. But be careful with that, as buying from a wholesaler doesn’t always include the same buyer protections as a `normal’ car yard. And, of course, beware any car yard demanding cash payment, or that pressures you to buy today.


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