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Top 10 Best Used Cars Under 1500

Enjoy your ride even if you only have a few nickels to rub together.

cars under 1500

In today’s world, it’s not uncommon to take your car to the shop and spend $1,500 on repairs. That’s why many people have trouble thinking about purchasing a car under $1500, but they are out there. While you want to be careful buying a cheap used car, it’s possible to find some of the best used cars under 1500 if you look carefully.

Bills, income, and debt might be keeping you from investing in a new vehicle. Just because your options are limited doesn’t mean you should forget about having a reliable car. While many cars under 1500 aren’t going to be worth your time, there are still plenty out there that have been loved.

Here’s how to find the best used car under 1500.

1. Reduce Your Expectations

You aren’t going to find perfect cars under 1500. Anything you find will most likely be at least ten years old and might even have a couple of mechanical issues. You can bet that it will come with a worn interior and some cosmetic problems. In addition, you won’t find one with under 100,000 miles, but if it’s been well-maintained, it should still have life in it.

If you must stick to a budget, don’t allow your expectations to get the best of you. You won’t have the latest tech or safety innovations and you might even have to manually roll your window down. Focus on what’s important and you’ll be satisfied with your purchase.

2. Search the Right Places

You aren’t going to visit your local new car lot to find used cars under 1500. The best places to go would be some independent used lots, public auctions, or even online. If you choose to go to the auction, remember that you’ll have to make a quick decision. This allows for less time to inspect vehicles, so you probably won’t know what you’re getting.

Used cars lots are more convenient, but you often can’t negotiate too much. Just make sure you don’t visit during these ten worst times to buy a used car. If you decide to go with a Buy Here Pay Here location, make sure you also avoid these 7 costly mistakes.

If you prefer online shopping, you’ll have to look through a lot of car listings. Some are going to feature terrible photos, vague descriptions, and you’ll have to dig deep to find some in your budget. Trust your instincts and move on from anything that looks too good to be true.

3. Inspect the Condition

The most important factor you face is the condition of the vehicle. It does no good to purchase cars under 1500 if they need another $2,000 worth of repairs. Start by getting a vehicle history report and an inspection from your mechanic. This stretches your budget slightly, but the cost is well worth your peace of mind.

You can save money by paying for the monthly option on the vehicle reports. This gives you access to as many reports as you need during the month you’re looking for cars. Overall, it will save you money in comparison to buying each report individually.

While you probably won’t find a cheap used car that is free of problems, you want to focus on what’s important. Ask the mechanic to check for anything that might leave you stranded on the side of the road.

If you find a car without any major issues, we still recommend trying to set aside $500 to take care of the smaller concerns. Get the mechanic to list the work that could be done and the potential costs. Then, you’ll be able to address them as you can. Consider doing an oil change, getting new tires, or installing new brakes first.

4. Watch for Red Flags

You may spot some potential problems as you shop for used cars under 1500. Here are the major ones to be on alert for.

  • Insanely low mileage
  • Salvage titles
  • Environmental damage
  • Rust and corrosion
  • Water damage

Run the other way if any of these appear to be the case with the car you’re looking at. These situations only spell trouble.

5. Ask Lots of Questions

You should never be afraid to ask questions. With your vehicle check and inspection, the answers to these questions will tell you more than you could imagine.

  • How long have you had the car?
  • Has it ever been in an accident?
  • Does it need repairs?
  • Why are you selling it?
  • Do you have the title?
  • Is it currently registered?

6. Negotiate the Price

Just because you’ve decided to pay a minimal amount for your car, doesn’t mean you should neglect the negotiation. It’s safe to assume that the car is priced a couple of hundred dollars more than what the seller hopes to walk away with. That means you might be able to look at vehicles priced slightly above 1500 if the seller is willing to negotiate with you. If you find out the car needs repairs, use this as a way to get the price lower.

Make sure you go online and determine the value of the car before negotiating. Make sure your first offer is less than what you’re willing to pay to allow for the counteroffer.

Best Used Cars Under 1500

We did a quick search in our area to find out what we could find under 1500 that was worth buying. Here are some examples of what we came up with.

2004 Nissan Sentra

While you won’t be able to get a top-of-the-line Sentra, a base model should fall within your budget. This functional car offers nimble handling and plenty of standard features. It’s nothing flashy and certainly won’t turn heads but it is reliable and will get you where you need to go. Just keep in mind that the backseat is small, and doesn’t tend to hold full-size adults well.

This is one of those vehicles that are worth spending a little more for if you have it. Just adding another $500 to your budget can make a world of difference in what you get. While it one be one of the best cars under 1500 at that point, it will still be a cheap ride.

2002 Chevrolet Malibu

If you need something with a little more room, you might consider a Malibu. This sedan offered a roomy and comfortable interior; making it an ideal family car. There were two models available in this year, but both featured a speedy 3.1-liter 3100 V6 engine that produced 170 horsepower.

At the time, it featured a lot of standard equipment as well. The base model came with a four-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel antilock brakes, four-wheel independent suspension, and battery rundown protection. You’ll also get their theft deterrent system, air conditioning, a remote trunk release, and a tilt steering wheel. That’s a lot of perks for a car under 1500.

As far as safety measures, the Malibu was ahead of its time there as well. You’ll find dual airbags and child-safe rear door locks on any model from this year. The one thing you won’t get is traction control.

1997 Ford Escort

If you need a super cheap used car, the Ford Escort should top your list. You can grab a 1997 or 1998 for under $500. This Ford is the cheapest on our list of cars under 1500. With that said, you aren’t going to find the perfect model considering the age, but if it was maintained, you should get more life out of it.

The 1997 model was the first in a redesign by the company. Several improvements were performed that made the Escort even more lovable. This long-standing Ford model brought to the table some upgrades that helped them compete with other automakers at the time. For example, they upgraded the powertrain to a 2.0-liter overhead-cam engine which produces 130 horsepower.

Ford also implemented a refined one-piece body construction. It was also the first year with the new Integrated Control Panel. In addition, the more modern sheet metal construction offered better aerodynamics and a rounder appearance. There’s plenty of cargo space in this fun little car, but not much rear seating room. Because it doesn’t come with any airbags or electronic stability control system, it might not be the best option for an inexperienced teen to drive.

1991 Lincoln Town Car Signature

The one thing you want out of cars under 1500 is for them to last a little while longer. Lincoln Town Cars are known for going over 200,000 miles in the New York City livery service. If they can handle those tough streets and still keep going, they’ll surely help you with your daily commute. Sure, they aren’t the most modern cars to look at, but you’re guaranteed to have very little problems if the car was maintained properly.

This second-generation came with only a few options because most of the features were standard. ABS was listed as an optional feature, so that’s something to look for in your search. The 1991 Town Car also had four-wheel disc brakes and a driver’s side airbag.

The Town Car also came with a 4.6-liter overhead-cam V8 which gave it a little oomph on the road. While this car will go the distance, it is the oldest on our list. With that in mind, you have to consider the deterioration of the vehicle when you go to test drive one. Make a close examination of the body and mechanical components before forking over any money.

2001 Chevrolet S-10 Pickup Truck

There’s always a good time to have a pickup truck. What’s even better is that you might be able to find a used truck under 1500 if you search hard enough. The regular cab S-10 with a good amount of miles on the odometer should fit the bill.

They come equipped with a 2.2-liter four-cylinder, rear-wheel-drive, and a manual transmission. Don’t expect to sit in the lap of luxury; this is just a basic weekend pickup. You’ll have the utility you need at a price you can live with. Plus, you’ll save yourself some money on a rental the next time you move. You can’t say that about too many used cars under 1500.

Another perk is that it performs pretty well off-road. For the price, it would make a great adventure vehicle. One thing to keep in mind about this particular year is that it didn’t receive good crash test scores. In addition, the seating positions are a little lower than what you might be used to from a truck.

1994 Volvo 940 Turbo Wagon

A 1966 Volvo broke the Guinness Book of Records because of how many miles were driven by one owner. Irv Gordon racked up three million miles on his Volvo, which just proves that this brand made cars to last. The 1994 Volvo 940 Turbo Wagon is said to last for well over 400,000 miles if properly maintained.

Not many people want to drive a wagon these days with the release of all the fancy crossover models. With that said, if you can’t afford a new crossover, this wagon is your next best option. It’s one of the best used cars under 1500 and is often hailed as one of the best production cars from the 1990s. Plus, it is highly refined.

The 940 comes with a passenger airbag and a turbocharged 2.3-liter engine. Even the basic Turbo model came with air conditioning, power seats and a rear child booster seat. It’s the best way to fit seven people on a budget.

1997 Cadillac DeVille d’Elegance

It’s possible to purchase one of the best luxury cars under 1500 if you don’t mind going back a few years. You may even be able to make a little money on it when you’re done driving it because the parts are worth money. It’s hard to find an interior as large and roomy as this is. It also comes with the Northstar 4.6-liter V8 engine that produced 275 horsepower. This was a big step up from the 1995’s V8. This was also the year they introduced a new transmission, Cadillac’s Integrated Chassis Control System, and Road-Sensing Suspension.

For 1996, the models come with personalized door locks and seating positions, recirculating air function, and valet lockout. They also came standard with daytime running lights. What you might not like about this beast is how it handles. Imagine driving a cruise ship through humongous swells to get a picture of the handling. In addition, the seating feels slightly unsupportive and low.

2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo

This Jeep is known to offer longevity with the right care. It features a 4.0-liter six-cylinder engine which produces 195 horsepower and will last well over 200,000 miles. It a great option for anyone who wants to head off-road thanks to the four-wheel-drive system. Then, head off the trail and pick up the kids from their soccer practice just as easily.

All models came standard with a four-speed automatic transmission. There was also a number of upgrades and options available. You might find rain-sensing wipers, a tire-pressure monitor, power adjustable pedals, or side-curtain airbags on the model you pick. They also improved the air conditioning in this model year for exceptional comfort. If you need an SUV under 1500, this might be your best option.

1999 Ford Explorer XLT

If you want to find the best used cars under 1500, but lean toward driving an SUV, this Explorer might also be wise to look into. Some of them can be found closer to the $1,000 price point depending on what work they need. If cared for, you should easily get over 200,000 miles without any major issue.

The Explorer offers a commanding view of the road and there were multiple engine choices for this model year. They were regularly hailed as having one of the most comfortable cabins of their time which made them great for families.

For the 1999 model year, there were new fog lamps, wheel moldings, exterior colors, rocker panel moldings, and running boards added to the lineup. In addition, the options during that year included rear-load leveling and a reverse sensing system. If you’re lucky, you may even find one for sale that came with side-impact airbags. Just don’t buy this vehicle if you were hoping for good gas mileage because you won’t find it.

2000 Buick Century Custom

It seems only fitting since we highlighted a Lincoln and Cadillac to add this Buick to the mix as well. You’ll easily find one of these priced between $1,000 and $1,500. Just keep an eye out for body rust or damage when inspecting the vehicle.

This roomy sedan does have a solid reputation. The 3100 V6 engine produced 175 horsepower and was a 15 horsepower improvement over the 1999 model. The four-speed automatic transmission came with electronic controls for smoother shifting. This Buick also came with standard dual-zone climate control, remote keyless entry, daytime running lamps, automatic power door locks, battery rundown protection, traction control, antilock brakes, and a tire inflation monitor. That’s a lot of bang for your buck if you ask us.

Final Thoughts

Now that we’ve revealed our best tips for finding used cars under 1500 and we gave you a few options make sure you check out the 7 Used Cars You Should Never Consider Buying. No matter what type or style of car you wish to buy, remember that you aren’t going to find the cream of the crop for under 1500. Remain realistic, do your homework, and you might end up with a vehicle that gets you from point A to point B for many years to come. Good luck!

About Brian Jones

Brian Jones spent over 30-years at various dealerships as an ASE Certified Master Tech. These days he works with those dealerships to create quality automotive content while spending more time with his family near Dallas, TX. In his spare time, you'll still find him playing with tools, cars, and many other "manly" gadgets. Brian's passions include traveling, pickup trucks, and anything related to motorsports.