When someone mentions buying a car, we usually picture a budget of somewhere around $20,000 to upwards of $100,000. If it is a used car, we take it down to about $5,000 to $50,000 if it’s really what the buyer wants. But we seldom consider getting an automobile for less than a thousand bucks. Imagine for the same price as a new iPhone 13 Pro, you buy a dank ride instead. Given the super low price, the ride may not be that dank but with some work done on it, you can get a pretty great bargain on a cool little daily driver without breaking your bank.
College students or people living on minimum wage jobs know very well that $3,000 to $5,000 is the sweet spot for buying reliable used vehicles. But what if we find some really cool underrated cars or maybe even pickup trucks for a grand? You can find non-drivable, beaten-up automobiles of the previous century all day long that can be used as project cars in our price range, but there are only a few vehicles that can be had for that price and drive perfectly nice. North America is a big place, and depending on where you live, you can find an amazing sleeper or an underappreciated car in your neighborhood for cheap, but we tried to stay as universal as possible, and this is what we found.
1998-2008 Ford Taurus
Ford made a ton of these, and a lot of them are still running today. Surely you must have known by now that the abundance of a vehicle and its spare parts play a big role in its low price, and the Taurus is no exception.
The Taurus is no exceptional vehicle, but it’s a decent full-size sedan. Try to avoid the 2003 Taurus or any model that’s older than 1998, but even they yield a good bargain at such a low price. That said, the 2001, 05, 07, and 08 models would be the ones to look for.
1992-2005 Toyota Camry
The most popular car had to be on this list. Camrys have been here forever, and they do seem to last forever too. The early ‘00s Camry models are the ones that impressed the masses, proved their quality and reliability, and made the Camry best-selling.
They offer adequate amounts of power, comfort, and ease of ownership. Finding them below $1,000 is not difficult, just make sure to avoid the 2007 iteration which is universally regarded as the worst (least decent in this case) model of them all.
7th-8th Gen Honda Civic
Like the Camry, the Honda Civic is another popular choice in both new and used car markets. These things are reliable, customizable, cheap to own, and great to drive. In some cities though, the Civics’ components or the cars themselves are prone to get stolen a lot so you might want to check that before you jump on craigslist.
Regardless, once you manage to find a Civic under $1,000 you can rest easy knowing that it won’t cost you much time or money to keep it going. There is a Civic for everybody, but keeping our budget in mind, 7th or 8th Gen Civics will be the ones to get.
2004-09 Mazda 6
You must be thinking, “Another list about cheap, good cars; Another Japanese automobile from the ‘00s.” What can we say except they are just that good? A thousand-buck Mazda6 i Sport can be easily found.
It was more fun to drive than most other family sedans, the manual transmission is slick, the power delivery was smooth and apt, and the car looks good in its own right! Mazda is a known and trusted brand so most reliability issues are taken care of, and the ownership costs are kept at the minimum. Easy choice if you find one.
1998-2012 Ford Crown Vic
The Crown Victoria is the epitome of longevity in the automobile industry. Leaving many Japanese cars in the dust, the Crown Vic can last as long as 500,000 miles(!) if it’s taken care of properly. There’s a reason why it was used by the government for so long.
It debuted in 1992 and sold till 2012, but we think that any model after 1998 would serve you well, like this 2005 LX Sport with just above 100,000 miles on the odometer. The only downside is that people nearby might think that you are an undercover cop. But on the flip side, you can mod these things easily with Mustang parts and they are available everywhere.
2001-02 Dodge/Plymouth Neon
The name might throw you off, but the Neon is low-key fun to drive, especially if you get one with a manual transmission. The chassis of this compact car makes it agile and engaging, even with the front-wheel drivetrain. Moreover, there’s plenty of room for mods and customizations so it makes for a good cheap project car as well.
1997-2008 Nissan Altima
Today, the number of cars sold with a manual transmission is less than 5%. But for those of us who still prefer the stick shift, the Nissan Altima is one of the very few family sedans offered in a 6-speed manual.
You might even find one with a working sunroof! Nissan knows how to make a good reliable car, and the Altima might be a bit bland compared to the brand’s other offerings, but for $1,000 this is almost as good as it gets. The 2007 Altima, for example, has a good and powerful V6 engine, a decent CVT, a pleasing interior, and a roomy cabin. What more can you ask for?
1994-2003 Ford Ranger
Who said you can only have sedans, and hatchbacks for under a thousand dollars? If you fancy yourself a good pickup truck for cheap, the Ranger could be the one you are looking for. They are reliable workhorses built to last many people’s careers.
The 1994-2003 Rangers will be more easily available, they have big V6 or V8s that offer plenty of power, look really good on the outside, and function well on the inside. Although, for our budget, you might end up with an adequate but relatively less powerful 6-cylinder 2 wheel drive trim rather than an AWD V8.
1999-2004 Chrysler Concorde
The Chrysler Concorde is a big car with plenty of room. If your need for a vehicle that is more practical dominates its ability to bring a smile while driving winding roads, then the Concorde will get the job done.
Big truck space, very spacious cabin, handles surprisingly well for a big car and isn’t very expensive to maintain. These Chryslers are more than a decade old so there’ll be no pristine elements, but they do seem to keep going longer than we expect it to.
1997 Geo Prizm
You might remember the Chevy Prizm, it sells for more than $1,000. But like in movies, there’s a twin that not enough people know about. Enter the Geo Prizm, a boring-looking sedan. But the reason why it’s here is that it is a result of a joint venture by GM and Toyota. We see the Geo branding on the outside, but it’s all Toyota Sprinter on the inside.
We all know late-90s Toyotas are virtually bulletproof when it comes to reliability, and that’s why Toyotas hold their value and can’t be had for as cheap as this one. Sure, the Geo blends in the road like a chameleon, it’s not an eye-candy, but this is one of the most reliable cars you can have for under $1,000 with good fuel efficiency, low maintenance cost, and hassle-free ownership.
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