Buying a used car is often an economical way to upgrade your ride if you’re shopping on a budget. But, if you’re looking for the best used cars under $2000 the current used car market is going to offer few choices. Thanks to semiconductor supply shortages, the U.S. used car market has seen prices skyrocket in recent months, which is good news if you’re selling a used car, but not as much if you’re looking to pick one up on the cheap.
What to Look for When Buying the Best Used Cars Under $2000
In the current used car market, finding a used car under $2,000 is going to be a challenge — especially if you want one that runs reliably, is moderately intact, doesn’t have a salvage title or a blown engine, and isn’t a rust bucket. Your options are going to be limited to older models, likely with high mileage, but that doesn’t mean you have to strike out in your search for a used car on a tight budget.
It does mean you’ll want to do your homework on the used car before making a purchase — a well-maintained service record can help ensure you don’t end up with a lemon. And, if at all possible, see if you can get the car inspected by a reputable auto shop before finalizing your purchase.
Below, we’ve outlined some of the best used cars under $2000 for sale on the market today along with some common problems to be on the lookout for while you’re shopping around. If you absolutely need a used car and can’t afford to save up for a vehicle in the next price bracket, here’s your best bet for a reliable older car under $2,000 that might still have some mileage left.
Chevrolet’s popular flagship sedan has been in production for a number of years. If you’re looking for a used car under $2,000, look to the eighth or ninth generation Impala produced between 2000 and 2016.
The base models came with a standard V6. Inside, you can expect a plain cloth interior and all the basic features of an early 2000s sedan. You’ll likely be looking at a base, LS, or LT package with mileage north of the 200,000 mark, so be on the lookout for engine or transmission issues.
Commonly reported problems with the eighth generation Impalas included electrical issues and intake manifold gasket failure resulting in a coolant leak. Ninth gen Impalas were slightly better in regards to reliability.
The best-selling Ford Focus has long been a favorite option for those looking for an inexpensive and reliable used car. However, prices on the older Focus generations are creeping up, and if you want to find one under $2,000, you’ll have to settle for a first or second-generation model from 2000 to 2010.
And before you get your hopes up for a hot hatch, most of the versions on offer under $2k will be the sedan either with Ford’s S or SE trim package — and likely in a rather bland silver or white exterior.
Mileage runs more in the 150,000-175,000 mile range so if you can find one in good condition, you can coax it along for a few thousand more miles. The 2007-2008 Focus was one with reported issues; specifically, the ’07 was known for going through alternators, and both year models were notorious for excessive tire wear, with some owners reporting getting only 35k miles on their tires.
From 2000-2010, the Honda Civic was available as a compact four-door in the States (you might also stumble across the rare Civic Hybrid from this era, too). The sedan, though nondescript on the exterior, has long been a popular used car choice for drivers looking for a reliable car.
A running Honda Civic under $2k will likely have north of 200,000 miles. If it was treated to proper maintenance throughout its life, you might be able to hold one together to hit the 300,000-mile mark.
You should be on the lookout for a couple of common problems, especially in the early 2000s models. The transmission in the 2001 and 2002 Civic was a known and costly failure. The 2006 Honda Civic was known to have issues with cracked engine blocks — it is probably best to avoid this model year altogether unless you like testing your luck.
Based on the same platform as the Hyundai Accent, Kia’s subcompact sedan originally hit the market in 1999 and has been in production ever since. You can currently find used Rios from the early to mid-2000s in the $2,000 price range, usually in the base or slightly upgraded LX trim package.
Though the Rio is not much to look at on the outside, it was Kia’s best-selling model globally in 2012 and 2015. As a utilitarian sedan, it doesn’t have a ton of bells and whistles, but the basic interior is at least thoughtfully designed. Used models for sale under $2k are currently running around 150,000-175,000 miles.
If maintained properly, the Rio seems to hold up well over the years. Although when issues are reported, they seem to plague the engine (always a costly problem that can quickly exceed the cost of your $2k car). The 2001 Rio was specifically plagued by an intermittent loss of power.
The Toyota Camry is one of Toyota’s best-selling models, which means used car buyers have a decent variety to choose from on the used market. You can often find the base CE trim or the bumped-up LE luxury edition for sale on the cheap.
Late ’90s and early 2000s high mileage models can be had under two grand. And the good news is that since it’s a Toyota, as long as it hasn’t been driven like a beater, there’s a good chance you can take a 190,000-210,000-mile Camry all the way up to the 300,000-mile mark
In terms of issues, Camry’s have relatively few reported programs. Though you should avoid the 2007 and 2009 Camry which apparently got a lemon of an engine that guzzles oil and will eventually need some costly repairs. Otherwise, the earlier generations seem to have benefited from Toyota’s reputable reliability.
Volkswagen has been making its popular compact family car since 1979. In either its sedan or wagon iteration, the Jetta is a functional, utilitarian daily without many frills in the base GL trim. If you can find a GLS, you’ll enjoy some added perks including a sportier engine.
If you don’t mind a high mileage model hovering around the 200,000-mile mark, you can find early to mid-2000s Jettas in the $2k price range. If properly cared for, the Jetta could prove reliable enough to make 300,000+ miles.
Newer Jettas have more reported problems than their elder counterparts, though 2006 and 2009 were problematic years with brake and engine problems reported. Though Volkwagon might not have the same reputation as Toyota or Honda for its reliability, if you can find a well-maintained VW, your chances of keeping it running (with a little TLC) are good.
Check, Double Check, and Triple Check
Shopping for used cars under $2000 doesn’t have to be stressful and a few simple checks can at least give you an understanding of how the car has been treated and whether it’s likely to have issues.
- Oil: A quick dip of the stick should tell you whether it at least has oil in it and whether there could be an underlying problem … a brown sludgy mess could be a sign of a head gasket failure.
- Coolant: Most cars of this age and mileage won’t be clean and clear so expect to see dirty brown water — at least make sure the reservoir is full.
- Tires: Condition is everything; make sure the sidewalls aren’t cracking and that there is some tread left and that they’re inflated.
- Electrical: This might sound basic, but check that everything electrical is working as it should. This means the stereo, wipers, lights and brights, turn signals, power windows, mirrors, and locks, and anything else you can think of.
- Panel Gaps: This is a little more involved, but checking for panel gaps is a great way of seeing whether the car has had a cheap repair.
- General Condition: Any seller that can’t work up the enthusiasm to clean a car before trying to sell it probably didn’t look after or take care of it well in the first place. The condition of a car is only as good as its owner’s habits.
Best Used Cars Under $2000: Do Your Research
In the current market, if you’re searching for used cars for sale under $2000 dollars, you’re going to have to lower your overall expectations. But with a little time, effort, patience, and careful research, you can hopefully find a reliable option that has a few more miles left in it — which is all that you really need.