Can you find a reliable car for less than a few grand?

Finding Reliable Transportation When You're Broke

by Stephanie Lynch

Most retailers, fast food joints, and just about any company that makes you fill out an online and/or paper application will more than likely ask if you have reliable transportation?

What does this mean exactly? Does the bus route count? Does your mom's car count? In simple terms, the company just cares if you can make it work on time, every time.

Living without a car can be a challenge, especially if mass transit is limited or non-existent in your area. It can also be a struggle if you can't afford to pay monthly car payments, which can make it hard to get a job. Without the job, how can you pay the bills? This is where a conflict arises.

So where do you draw the line? How can you have reliable transportation for the smallest amount of money?

Many frugal people (like me) have gone to Craigslist or even a local auction to find a reliable car for less than $3,000. Now, keep in mind this car won't be the greatest looking car, but it will work well if you do the following:

Consider a manual transmission

Even if you don't know how to use a manual transmission, you can learn how to use it within ten days. Manual cars will be cheaper and the maintenance will be a lot cheaper in the long run. Automatic transmissions are known to die more often than a manual, and if so, you're stuck with a bill that can be north of $2,000. A manual transmission, however, can cost as little as $500 to replace the clutch. With a lot of manual cars, some original clutches can last up to 200,000+ miles.

Consider a four cylinder

Four cylinder cars are known to have cheaper parts and will also offer you better gas mileage. The reason? The engine bay is roomier than a six+ cylinder, allowing a mechanic more room to work.

Related: Best Ways to Research Used Car Values

Purchase a car five years or older

The longer the car is on the market, the more you will find out about the problems with the particular model. With anything that's released, you won't want to jump the gun and purchase it the minute it comes out because companies often find out major problems when millions of users start to use it. Remember that their development team can only test so much. If the car is older than five years old, you can check out websites, such as, to see what other people are reporting as well as if any recalls have been issued. Pay close attention to these complaints to see if the car is worth it. If you're seeing a lot of electrical and engine failures, it's probably best to look at another year/model.

Know your brands

Any frugal car buyer will tell you to pay close attention to the brand. Doing research online, I have found Toyota and Hondas are highly reputable when it comes to the longevity of its components. Some people have claimed to be able to purchase a used Toyota for less than $3,000, and it has lasted them for years. Some people also claim used cop cars at local auto auctions can be a great choice since the departments keep up to date with the maintenance.

CarFax has a wonderful search engine that allows you to search cars under a certain amount in your area. With this search, it will also show you if any accidents were reported, how many owners had the car, and if service records were recorded.

Are you heading for debt trouble? This simple checklist can help you find out and provide options for doing something about it.

Be smart

If you're going to work with anyone other than a dealership, be sure to be smart with your purchase. Always take the car for a test drive, and while doing so, listen to anything that doesn't seem right. Don't forget to check everything like the power windows, heat, air conditioner, and tires. If you have access to a mechanic, take it in for a quick look over. This $100 checkup could save you thousands in repairs. It also doesn't hurt to purchase a CarFax report to see if the car has been in an accident or had any flood damage.

Compare auto loans before you car shop.


The price you see isn't the price you have to pay. If you're paying with cash, it will be a lot easier to negotiate than working with a loan. Whenever you do purchase a car, however, be sure to know the KBB value and also see what other cars are selling for by using AutoTrader or Getting the car for the lowest listing within 75 miles can be considered a success, and as long as you're willing to walk away, there will be many other cars waiting for you. Never let your emotions get the best of you.

Summing it up

Purchasing a reliable car for less than $3,000 can be done if you're diligent and smart with your search. Even if you can't afford it up front, a $3,000 loan will only be $100 per month for less than three years, making it very affordable for most. By applying the tips mentioned above, there's no reason you can't get a car that can get you around town for years to come.

Reviewed December 2017

Take the Next Step:

  • Get free quotes on local used cars.
  • Make sure you are not overpaying for auto insurance. See how much you could save with just a few clicks. Fast, free quotes and online comparisons.
  • Get proactive about tackling your debt. Get the TDS ebook How to Conquer Your Debt No Matter How Much You Have and begin the journey to financial freedom today!
  • Start saving for your future today. Consider these 11 ways to save $1000 while living paycheck to paycheck.
  • Stop struggling to get ahead financially. Subscribe to our free weekly Surviving Tough Times newsletter aimed at helping you 'live better...for less'. Each issue features great ways to help you stretch your dollars and make the most of your resources. Subscribers get a copy of Are You Heading for Debt Trouble? A Simple Checklist And What You Can Do About It for FREE!

Stephanie Lynch resides in Gilbert, Arizona, with her two sons and husband. She is the co-founder of, a cost-helping database designed to help consumers find out what unknown services/items cost in life.

Share your thoughts about this article with the editor.

Stay Connected with TDS

Little Luxuries

to the Dollar Stretcher newsletter and get a copy
of our ebook
Little Luxuries:
130 Ways to Live Better...For Less
for FREE!

Your Email:

View the TDS Privacy Policy.

Debt Book