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Buying Guide: Finding A Car For $0 - $20,000

Posted by Josh Chang on Fri, Sep 21, 2012 @ 03:12 PM

We all know that money doesn't grow on trees (although that would be awesome), Money Treeso when buying a car, everybody is willing to pay a different price. If you're a poor college student
coming right out of college (like we all were once), you probably won't be spending nearly as much as the married business person who's looking to upgrade from their BMW 3-series. We've gone ahead and made this fancy little guide to help you figure out what kind of car you can actually buy for your budget! We'll describe the type of car you can realistically consider and also throw out some suggestions.


I may be chuckling as I write this, but in this day and age, it is pretty hard to find a car for this price. The cars you do find for under $5,000 might be older than your kids in high school ordescribe the image college, and will have more miles on them than most cars should ever have. Despite me saying all this, it is possible! Most used car dealers might not have many cars this cheap but some third party retailers or auto shops might! Although it won't look as old as this red Corolla to the right, it might be close.


So we've all been here before, looking for the cheapest possible car because all we need is a machine with none of the frills that gets us from point A to point B (relatively) safely. For this price, you are almost definitely looking at a used vehicle and most likely one with very high mileage, think over 65,000 miles. A lot of the times, the older the model year, the cheaper the car. So for example a 2006 model with 70,000 miles on it will be cheaper than a 2008 model with 70,000 miles on it.

Your best bet is to find a good reliable car such as the Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic so that the high mileage isn't as damaging a factor. For some less reliable makes (*cough* Chrysler/Ford), my advice is to stay away because with so many miles on them, they're bound to have issues sooner rather than later.

$10,000 - $15,000:

As we hit this price range, we begin to move out of the car-buying bargain basement. Again, you'll be able to find high mileage used cars, but now they won't be as rough around the edges and you'll be able to find slightly more upscale cars compared with the previous price range. Think Toyota Camrys, Nissan Altimas, etc.Toyota Yaris

You'll also be able to start looking at NEW cars, although they will be at the mid to high end of this range. They will either be extremely compact cars or will be the base trim levels of some models. Examples of good new cars you can find at the higher end of this range are base models of the Ford Fiesta, Toyota Yaris, and Kia Rio. Just keep in mind with these cars, you won't be able to get any frills or features for this price. If you want to go super compact, the Scion iQ and the SmartCar are also options for you here. 

$15,000 - $20,000:

The jump to this range is more significant. Here, you'll definitely be able to buy a quality new car from a variety of manufacturers. You'll even be able to start buying features like power doors, AM/FM/Satellite Radio, sunroofs, although probably not too many at a time :). You'll have options of all the new cars listed in the section above with some features or in a higher trim level, plus cars like the Kia Sportage, Mazda3, Ford Focus, Chevy Cruz, and Toyota Camry. This range and the previous range have a lot of overlap with the cars you can choose, it all depends on the trim level and features you want.BMW 328

For used cars in this range, the options start expanding. There are so many different varieties of used cars in terms of make, model, mileage, and condition, so it'd be impossible to list out every combination in a short blog post. But, if you're looking at a midscalesedan or compact SUV, you'll be able to find cars like Toyota Camry, Rav4s, Honda CR-V, and Nissan Altima with less than 35,000 miles on them. You'll also be able to go a little upscale with cars like the BMW 328, Mercedes C-Class, or Audi A3/A4 with 45,000ish miles or more on them. My friend bought an awesome BMW 328xi in black with a leather interior for $20,000 and it had about 47,000 miles on it. The key to buying a used car is more than the mileage however, and lots of other factors come into play. We'll go into this in one of our future blog posts or buying guides!

Check back next week as we look at your options over $20,000. This is where it starts getting fun.

Topics: Toyota, Buying Guide, New Car, Honda, Used Car

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