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Drive Away in One of the Best Used Cars Under 4000

Save yourself some money with one of these cars under 4000 dollars.

Did you know that it’s possible to shop for a used car on a limited budget and still get a solid automobile?  All that’s required is a little digging to find out what reliable vehicles are still on the road. If you do your homework, you’ll easily be able to score one of the best used cars under 4000. We’ve put together our top ten list to make it easier for you while car shopping.

What to Look for in Cars Under 4000

You don’t want to purchase one of the first cars under 4000 that you find. That wouldn’t be wise. Instead of rushing to finalize a purchase, it’s imperative that you take your time and evaluate your options. Make sure a proper inspection has been done on the vehicle you’re considering.  It does you no good to walk away from a sale $4000 poorer with a car that needs more work.

Not only do you want to evaluate the mechanics of the vehicle, but the exterior condition is essential as well. While you don’t want to deal with major repairs, it’s possible that some small, minor repairs might need to be made. What’s most important is that there’s no rust to the body or engine. This is an indication of future issues.

While searching for cars under 4000 for sale, you also want to take a test drive. Make sure you try it out on the local roads and highway. See how the performance is and try out the brakes. Keep your ear tuned to any sounds that don’t seem right.

Even if you’re evaluating the best cars under 4000, if you spot leaking fluid you need to walk away from the sale. Park the vehicle in a clean area during your test drive and then wait a few minutes to see if anything is coming out.

Most importantly, if you don’t know what you’re looking at, take a qualified mechanic with you. A few dollars now can save you hundreds if not thousands in the future. Then, finish up with a vehicle history report to ensure everything is on the up and up. By simply taking your time, you give yourself the chance to purchase one of the best cars under 4000.

1. 2004 Subaru Outback

2004 Subaru Outback - drivers side viewThis sedan is known to be one of the best cars under 4000 because of its reliability. With the 165 hp 2.5-liter H-4 engine, it achieves a 22-25 mpg which isn’t shabby. It also features all-wheel-drive which makes it great for people that live with hard winters or need to travel on unpaved roads.

The interior is extremely roomy, so there’s plenty of space for passengers and cargo. It’s the perfect road trip vehicle for the family. Because of its higher ground clearance and sporty suspension, the ride is slightly rough when it’s not driven on a smooth road. One thing you can count on with a Subaru Outback is that there’s little to fix, as long as it’s been maintained properly.

2. 2004 Toyota Matrix

2004 Toyota Matrix - right side viewThis Toyota isn’t just affordable, but also quite versatile. It’s been rated as one of the best used compact wagons on the market, and you won’t find much like this for such a low price. The Matrix was only released in 2003, so not much changed in 2004 as far as the features go.

This wagon offers a spacious cargo area and plenty of passenger space, just like the Outback does. The difference is that the ride is smoother because this isn’t designed as much for rough-road travel. You’ll notice some decent gas mileage, generous features, and you might find a model with all-wheel drive if you look close enough. The downside is that the engine is slightly sluggish and the drive isn’t overly adventurous.

3. 2006 Mazda3

2006 Mazda3 - right front viewEveryone knows that Mazda creates zippy compact vehicles that are fun to drive. This Mazda3 replaced the Protégé to become the entry-level addition of the company’s lineup. It was available as both a five-door hatchback or four-door sedan. There was also a choice of engines between the 150-hp 2.0-liter four or 160-hp 2.3-liter four.

Both of those engines came with variable valve timing which improved efficiency and response. In comparison to many other cars under 4000, the Mazda3 offered superior handling and ride. In relation to many other economy cars, this feels like a big step up. Even when looking at the interior, you’ll notice center stack controls, a telescoping steering wheel, and high-quality materials throughout the cabin.

Overall, this car is fun to drive because of the refined suspension, sharp styling, superior brakes and steering, plus the smooth engines, and quality build. Some people might think the ride is slightly stiff, but it’s not enough to be disturbed. We don’t recommend this car if you plan on having rear passengers often because the legroom in the rear is a tad tight.

4. 2003 Acura TL

2003 Acura TL - right front viewIt’s possible to find some luxury cars under 4000 as well. The Acura TL proves that to be true. This vehicle offers the ideal combination of affordability, sport, and luxury to give you a complete package.

At the time, the Acura TL was a tough competitor against the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, Infiniti I35, Mercedes C-Class, and Lexus ES 300. It became a very popular luxury sedan and helped put Acura on the map. Not only is the value of a used Acura excellent, but the front seats are some of the most comfortable on our list. There’s also some impressive power if you get behind the wheel of a Type-S. On top of that, the majority of trims came with an extensive offering of standard equipment.

The only downside is that when compared to other luxury vehicles, the interior materials are sub-par. However, for 4000 dollars or less, we don’t think anyone’s complaining.

5. 2004 Subaru Forester

2004 Subaru Forester - right front viewWith a list of the best used cars under 4000, it just makes sense to include another Subaru. Ask most owners and they’ll tell you that their vehicles never seem to let them down. That’s because the Forester is practical, fun to drive, and also well-built. It offers the perfect balance of some upscale features with all-weather drivability as well.

During 2004, Subaru even added a turbocharged XT to their lineup, so be on the lookout for that. This model features a 210-hp engine which replaces the standard 165-hp variant. With standard all-wheel drive, class-leading crash test scores, and plenty of room for your gear, you’ll have everything you need to hit the road in style while keeping some money in your pocket.

You’ll notice that you might need to do a little digging to get the right model in your price range as these retain value fairly well. In addition, there’s not quite as much legroom in the back as there is in the Outback model.

6. 2004 Toyota Corolla

2004 Toyota Corolla - left side viewIf you need an economy sedan that’s known for reliability, you want a 2004 Toyota Corolla. Many of these are still on the road, especially if they’ve been well cared for. This solid vehicle is known just by name alone for its durability and low cost of ownership.

It also comes with a roomy and refined interior, superior gas mileage, and high crash test scores. You know you’ll have the room for passengers plus you’ll be able to travel safely. That’s priceless in our eyes. Aside from that, however, this sedan doesn’t have much to get excited about in the way of performance.  The personality is slightly bland and drivers often find themselves sitting in an awkward position. Still, it’s going to be one of your cheapest options on our cars under 4000 list.

7. 2005 Honda Civic

2005 Honda Civic - left front viewIf we are going to discuss the Corolla, then the Civic needs to be added as well. It was that generation’s most refined vehicle for people on a budget. It also offered high levels of reliability, a spirited performance, and a number of trims. In fact, it was available as a hatchback, coupe, or sedan during that year.

This design often appealed to the younger generation, which makes it a perfect choice for college students. The drive is comfortable which is why many people use them as commuter cars as well. There’s even a hybrid version in this year if you prefer better fuel economy.

There’s no doubt that a 2005 Civic will keep you on the road for many more years to come. Not only do they provide environmentally-friendly and fuel-efficient engines, but they also have a reputation for quality, excellent crash test ratings, and a roomy interior. Antilock brakes were only available on the LX and DX trim levels, but you probably won’t find these high-end models in your price range as of yet.

8. 2000 Buick Century

2000 Buick Century - left side viewLet’s take a step back a few more years and we’ll have access to the Century for a reasonable price. Yes, the Buick is the same car Grandma drove when you were a kid, but it’s worth taking a look at. It may not be the most stylish thing you could get behind the wheel of, but it will outlive anything else in your neighborhood. You can thank the reliable 3.1-liter V6 engine for that. Heck, maybe they named it the Century because that’s how long it will last?

This economical sedan is full of value and gets you where you need to go. For the 2000 model year, there was even a Special Edition model that featured a monochrome exterior and blacked-out trim. Some other features included cruise control, cassette player (awesome), steering wheel controls, and six-way power driver’s seat.

Expect to get about 30 mpg highway, which is a nice bonus. Standard features included keyless entry, daytime running lamps, automatic power door locks, battery rundown protection, traction control, and antilock brakes. This is more than many cars five years later were offering.

In addition, no one will be cramped when sitting inside the Century; there’s plenty of room for all your friends. Of course, it’s still a Buick which is something to get over.

9. 2003 Pontiac Vibe

2003 Pontiac Vibe - left side viewIf you can get past the Pontiac name, you’ll see that underneath it all this is just a Toyota Matrix. The difference is that it’s not likely to get stolen. The similarities include a durable car that’s going to last you for many years.

This sport wagon handles like a smaller sedan but it’s designed to be a five-door hatchback. It’s longer, wider, and taller than a Honda Civic, so there’s lots of room inside. There were three models offered, the base, GT, and AWD. The base model came with a 130-hp 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, dual front airbags, air conditioning, tinted windows, and tilt steering. AWD models add an independent rear suspension, but the added weight makes them a little sluggish.

The GT bumps things up with a 180-hp 1.8-liter four-cylinder, four-wheel-disc brakes, and leather-wrapped steering wheel. All three models came with a 60/40-split bench seat to hold additional cargo.

You might even find a model with some additional options such as electric windows or locks, cruise control, keyless entry, and seat-mounted side airbags. The Pontiac Vibe doesn’t have the same resale value that the Matrix does, so while you’ll be able to find one cheaper, it’s going to continue to lose its value quickly.

10. 2009 Chrysler PT Cruiser

2009 Chrysler PT Cruiser - left side viewThere were two camps when it came to the PT Cruiser: you either loved it or you hated it. Whatever your feelings are about the design, it had high reliability markings and fabulous overall scores from most auto publications.

The interior might have been cheap looking, but it was comfortable despite that. If you find a model with a higher trim level, you’ll do better with the power-adjustable seats and leather. It does feature a spacious cabin that allows everyone to be comfortable. On top of that, the ride is smooth.

On the other hand, the biggest downfalls include the design, unimpressive fuel economy, and lagging acceleration.

Used Cars Under 4000 to Avoid

1 – 2003 Ford Explorer – transmission repairs seem to plaque this year along with paint issues as well.

2 – Dodge Intrepid – the 1999-2003 model years suffered from oil sludge in the 2.7-liter V6 engine.

3 – Chevy Aveo – avoid all years because the 103 horsepower engine won’t take you anywhere in a hurry. It’s also known to have issues with the audio system, brakes, and fuel system.

4 – Chrysler Sebring – avoid the 2002 and 2003 year especially. They were known for engine issues such as blown head gaskets, knocks, and leaks.

5 – 2002 Pontiac Aztek – the electrical system caused numerous complaints plus the motor mounts rub through the wiring harness.

6 – Chevrolet Blazer – these are popular on used car lots, but many years received poor safety ratings and terrible reliability. From fuel problems to transmission concerns, you don’t want to the hassle of dealing with the trouble from this SUV.

7 – Kia Sedona – if you need a minivan, stay away from the 2002-2006 model years. Electrical problems are only the start of what they experienced. There’s also many reports of airbag failures, failing suspensions, and paint issues.

8 – Nissan Pathfinder – avoid the 2005-2010 model years because they were known for a coolant leak caused by a defect in the system. If that’s not bad enough, this leak often went into the transmission resulting in complete transmission failure. There are also reports of paint problems and trouble with the fuel system.

Final Thoughts

Whether you are a college student or simply need to stick to a budget, there are plenty of cars under 4000 out there up for grabs. Take your time and do your homework. You don’t want to purchase a cheap car only to find out that it needs hundreds or thousands of dollars more work. That would blow any savings you achieved in the first place.

Just because you need to stick to a budget, doesn’t mean you have to neglect to get a vehicle you love. Don’t rush into any decision and do some shopping to see what’s available in your area. With a little luck, you’ll find cars under 4000 that make your dreams come true.

Brian Jones
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.