Best Places to Find a Decent Used Car For Under $1,000

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I suppose my pre-Uber generation might be the last one to equate having your own car with fun and freedom. In high school, I would comb through the “Under $2,000” section of the newspaper classified ads every day. How it looked didn’t matter as long as it meant I could go places without my parents. More recently, I bought a cheap beater car on Craigslist in order to learn how to drive a stick shift. Goofing around in that thing was great nostalgic fun, although I sold it soon after.

This Car and Driver article compares the various places that you can find your own cheap-yet-decent car:

  • Impound lots
  • Junkyards
  • Airport Auctions
  • Public Auctions
  • The Spare Car on Facebook
  • Government Auctions

The author Steven Lang has been an “auto auctioneer, car dealer, and part owner of an auto auction for nearly two decades”. Amazingly, even after inflation the target price point is under $1,000.

Here’s the uncomfortable truth: To spend less than $1000 on a car, you have to be willing to risk that money and spend maybe $500 to $1000 more to get it back into tip-top mechanical shape. So do yourself a big favor and don’t be lazy in your pursuit. Go where you can have the least uncertainty and invest in the automotive beauty that lies within.

While I still enjoy learning tips about the “hunt”, these days you will find me driving around in a comfortable and reliable Toyota Minivan. My philosophy is now “buy new and drive it for at least a decade”.

See also: Top 10 Best Dirt Cheap Beater Car Models?

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  1. I hit a decade with my 2008 Ford Focus — great car, no issues whatsoever. Bought it new for 15,000.
    I was thinking that a decade would be ideal. But, do you buy a new car after a decade or buy used?

    Side note, I really want a pickup truck for ease of transporting materials for landscaping and regular homeowner stuff. But, honestly, I will probably have an empty truck bed 95% of the time…so that seems like a waste of money. Perhaps I should just rent one of those “$19 for 2 hours” trucks available at Lowes/HomeDepot.

  2. Stuart Weissman says

    My first car I bought in 1995 (Honda Civic Hatchback stick with AC). I got it into the driveway for $12,900. In 2015, after the engine cracked, I sold it for $500. The only part that was not original was the alternator and the wires (except for the normal things that need replacing (batteries, brakes, muffler, etc.). Old Reliable got 43 MPG right up to her death. I replaced it with a 2015 Mazda 6 GT. I figure, if I am going to drive a car for the next 20 years, it might as well be comfortable and good looking. Reliability was #2 behind Lexus in CR when I bought it. 50,000 miles in and she appears to be well-built. No issues whatsoever.

  3. Michelle says

    I work for a non-profit organization and we have a Used Car lot that repairs and re-sells donated vehicles. Most of the ones that run are probably over the $1000 amount but I think the average is between $2k-$4k? Everyone who buys a car from us is helping support our programs. So maybe check your local community to see if there are any places like ours near you!

  4. I am typically a big fan of people being frugal, but I think because of how deadly automobiles are (over 9.5 million deaths since Americans started driving), this is an area you should not be cutting corners if you have the resources to spend more.

    Thankfully our car companies have continually made enormous strides in vehicle safety. What that means for consumers is that, generally, you want to go with a newer car if you want to reduce chance of injury/death.

    WSJ has a great chart showing the fatality rate among crashes of different year vehicles. New car v new car = low fatality rate. New car v old car = medium fatality rate. Old car v old car = high fatality rate.

    This is why the main reason people with less education/money die at far higher rates than people with more education/money.

    If you don’t care about your chances getting maimed or killed on the road, that’s one thing, but a lot of us drive families and friends around, and we want to make sure we invest in safe automobiles. So if you have the resources, I would invest money in a newer, safer car.

    • I hadn’t seen that WSJ chart before, that’s an interesting study. Thanks for sharing.

    • I agree with your point here. Old cars are much less safe and its a compelling reasons to get a car thats no more than 10 years old.

      But I will nitpick that this statement “the main reason people with less education/money die at far higher rates” is NOT true. There are far many other reasons people die and auto accidents is just one factor.

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