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Best used cars under 2000 dollars: How to find a deal

Austin Melton Modified: October 20, 2011 at 9:39 am •  Published: October 20, 2011

If you are on a budget, finding a used car under 2000 dollars is tough, however, with some knowledge you can find a reliable used car for less than you might think possible.

As always with buying a car you’ll want to consider the make, the model, the age, the mileage, the condition and to pull the CARFAX report if possible to check for previous wrecks, fire or flooding damage.

Here's a quick guide to the kind of used car you might expect to get for under 2000 dollars.

Make & Model AgePrice Mileage Use How Cheap?
Kia Optima 10 $1,290 147,000 Used Cars Under 1500 Dollars
Saturn S Series 10 $1,385 150,000 Used Cars Under 1500 Dollars
Chevrolet Prizm 10 $1,575 180,000 Used Cars Under 1750 Dollars
Chevrolet Cavilier 10 $1,600 180,000 Used Cars Under 1750 Dollars
Ford Taurus 10 $1,640 140,000 Used Cars Under 1750 Dollars
Nissan Sentra 10 $1,835 175,000 Used Cars Under 2000 Dollars
Mitsubishi Galant 10 $1,875 155,000 Used Cars Under 2000 Dollars
Mazda 626 ES 10 $1,900 172,000 Used Cars Under 2000 Dollars
Honda Civic 10 $1,950 200,000 Used Cars Under 2000 Dollars
Toyota Corolla 10 $1,985 215,000 Used Cars Under 2000 Dollars
Buick Regal 10 $1,995 190,000 Used Cars Under 2000 Dollars

*Based on Kelly Blue Book values for private party retail

Inspect the car before you buy it

If you’ve found a used car for under 2000 dollars it may well be unreliable. If you ask any mechanic their opinion on the best cheap used cars they will all likely give you a different answer; however, there are some guidelines to stick to.

With the average used vehicle inspection running around $100 dollars it is worth the money to spend 5% of a 2000 dollar budget to prevent costly repairs down the road. Many used car repairs can run several hundred if not thousands of dollars. In general, luxury makes are more expensive to fix than their standard counterparts.

Replacement costs for common mechanical and electrical faults

• Timing Belts — 300 dollars

• Transmission — 1,800-3,300 dollars

• Brakes — 150 dollars

• Catalytic Converter —up to 2000 dollars

• Spark Plugs — 300 dollars

• Tires — 200-700 dollars

Try local used car dealerships

Most dealerships tend not to carry inventory less than 2000 dollars on their lots. “We get one every once in a while,” said Bob Howard Chevrolet Salesperson John Mullens on his selection of used cars under 2000 dollars. “We will stick it on our lot before it goes to the auction”. The truth is dealerships don’t make much commission on cars under 2000 dollars, so it’s often not worth the trouble of selling them.

Finding a quality cheap used car on a dealer lot is not impossible however; some dealers, such as David Stanley Dodge, feature dedicated selections of these vehicles on their website, and occasionally have more available if you call.

When is the best time to buy a used car?

Fall is the time to get the best deals on any used car as dealers thin out their lots to prepare for the slow winter months. You should also keep your eye open for big used car sales, annual sales events, and closeout sales. With dealers eager to sell, many times you can offer substantially less money than they are asking and walk away with a car otherwise out of your budget.

Try used car auctions

With dealers sending most of their used cars under 2000 dollars to auction, some of the best deals can be had here. The used cars they carry are varied in condition, year, and mileage so your odds of getting one of the best used cars under 2000 dollars are much greater—you just have to find the right one. Before you go, make sure the auction house is open to the public and be prepared to pay on the spot, in cash.

Can you finance a car purchase for under 2000 dollars?

Since banks and credit unions typically require a car loan to be at least 5000 dollars and the vehicle to be less than five years old, traditional financing is not a viable option. If you are looking to make monthly payments, consider shopping at a “buy here, pay here” dealership. They offer a wide variety of late model vehicles.

“We have a large selection cars, trucks, and SUV’s,” said Travis Riley with Integrity Auto Finance. “We stock all makes and models, and we can finance anyone.”

While buy here, pay here dealerships typically won’t offer vehicles in the under 2000 dollar range, they do provide the opportunity to finance and open you up to a wider range of vehicles—many of which may have lower mileage and a warranty.

Should I buy an American or a foreign car?

The perception over the past decade has been that foreign-made used cars are more reliable, and in general that holds true — at least when you are looking at used cars under 2000 dollars. “Foreign cars like your Hondas and Toyotas tend to hold up better,” said Evan Splawn the service manager at Christian Brothers Automotive in Edmond, Oklahoma.

These cars are not without fault, however; Distributor caps are a problem for foreign used cars under 2000 dollars, while domestics are faced with faulty fuel pumps. Some foreign used cars are known for their specific issues like Hyundai and Kia. Once you figure out what make and model you’re most interested in, research the specific problems they have at the age and millage you’re looking at.

The only way to make sure you get the best used cars under 2000 dollars with no surprises is to get an inspection prior to buying. Splawn highly recommends inspection because it is the only way to make sure you are getting a quality vehicle. “Many times you are buying from a dealership and the car was traded in because of a problem,” he added.

Things to check when you buy a cheap used car

• Tires – Stick a penny in the tread. If you see Lincoln, it’s time to consider replacing.

• Coolant — A dirty brown residue in the overflow means it has never been flushed

• Fluids — Look for any obvious leaks or stains underneath the car.

• Electronics — Watch for unusual sounds or dimming when activating equipment.

• Service Records — Inquire about any service records that may have been kept.

When buying a used car under 2000 dollars, just be sure to know what you are buying, and know how much possible repairs cost. Ask the right questions and make sure you know what you’re buying before you sign on the dotted line.


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