A $3,000 Used Car: Worth the Gamble?

Fire truck and Trans Sport

This Trans Sport driver has the right idea...

I’m in a car-buying conundrum.

I try to stay responsible with my car ownership and just be happy with the vehicle I have. I really do. I bought my current car new in 2007, got a good deal, paid it off within two years and planned on keeping it until the proverbial wheels fell off.

I’ve had the car almost four years now and, just for fun, tried out the DealFinder Price Analysis, which said my car is worth around $11,000. That gave me an idea…

Whenever I glance at the car now, all I see staring back at me is a hefty pile of hundred-dollar bills, a pile that gets a little smaller every day (screw you, depreciation).

$3,500 semi

Hmm, only $3,500...

So I’ve been casually searching some used car listings for vehicles that cost between $2,000 and $4,000 and flirting with the idea of selling my car, buying a cheaper one and inflating my savings account with the balance. It’s pretty tempting.

The trouble is sifting through the cars in that price range that are fairly reliable, ride comfortably and, preferably, don’t spontaneously combust. You see, I’m finding a lot of mid-’90s Pontiac Trans Sports, which, at least in my experience, tend to randomly catch on fire. That just won’t do.

A late-’90s Honda Civic or Accord might fit the bill. Or a ’90s Toyota 4 Runner. Perhaps even a GM pickup or Suburban/Tahoe. I even found a semi tractor trailer for $3,500, complete with a 10-speed transmission and Detroit Diesel engine. Talk about dropping my kids of at school in style!

There are thousands of options around the $3K mark, ranging from the Acura Integra to the Nissan 300ZX… so I’m wondering, if you had that much to spend on a used car, what would you buy?


Find Used Cars in Your Area at CarGurus

Used Pontiac Trans Sport
Used Honda Civic
Used Honda Accord
Used Toyota 4Runner
Used Chevrolet Suburban
Used Chevrolet Tahoe
Used Acura Integra
Used Nissan 300ZX


  1. In January 2009, my dad bought a 1992 Honda Accord EX 4-door with 286,000 miles on it. He bought it from the original (female) owner with all the service and repair records, including a rebuilt transmission a few months earlier. It drove fine, interior was in perfect condition but it had never been garaged, so the paint was in bad shape. But even with the bad paint, there wasn’t a spot of rust or a single dent on the entire car!

    He paid $2500 for it and planned to drive it ‘as is’ even though it looked pretty rough! My brother-in-law is a painter in the body shop at a large Honda dealership. I had him paint the car as a Father’s Day gift a few months after he got it. I only had to pay for materials and shop fee (around $650) but the labor was free. It looks incredible and he’s had offers as high as $6000 trying to buy it! =)

  2. @
    I bought a 90 Toyota Corona wagon Diesel engine auto box $300 at auction July last year put in 1 cv joint and a used brake rotor and it still runs great Starts every time and gets 38mpg in town and its worth $320 as scrap, wot depreciation?

  3. @ Chris
    A manual is a must-have! Especially on those small commuter cars like the 3 or Civic or even an E30 3 Series or something!

  4. I’m waiting for the Mazda Protege/3 hatchback’s to go under $5,000. When this happens, I plan on retiring my massive f150 to only weekend hauling duty and using the Mazda for my commute. It has to be a manual. I’ve missed driving a manual for about 6 years now.

  5. I have had incredible luck with Toyotas. I am especially a fan of older, early 90’s Camrys and Corollas. Anything that has minimal computer intervention in the operation of the vehicle.

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