My first car was a 1978 Chevy pickup.
It cost my Mom and Dad around a thousand dollars, I think.
That even included a new cherry red paint job.
It wasn’t the prettiest, fastest truck on the road. But it got me back and forth to school each day just fine. It didn’t break my parents bank account either.
Plus, having that truck taught me a lot about how cars work and how to properly maintain a vehicle (I was under the hood quite a few times making minor repairs).
There are plenty of reasons to own a car that costs under $1000. Maybe you only have $1000 to spend. Maybe you are buying your kid’s first car. $1000 seems like a reasonable amount to spend on a spazzy, texting, speeding teenager.
Maybe you are on the Dave Ramsey total money makeover plan. Dave recommends getting out of all consumer debt except the house. What quicker way to get rid of debts than to dump your expensive (but financed) car and look for a car under $1000 that you can pay cash for?
Today I’m going to try and answer two questions:
- How do you find cars under $1000 that aren’t completely disgusting?
- How do you ensure you are getting a good value (i.e. the car won’t cost you more in repairs).
Where to Look for Cars Under $1000?
If you’re sitting in front of your computer, likely the best place to start your car search is at craigslist. Here you can find individuals who are desperate to get an old car out of their driveway.
They aren’t in the business of selling cars, and may not have even priced it properly. Look for the “car+truck” section in the for sale area of your local craigslist.
Be sure to limit your price to a maximum of $1000. You can also limit the search to by-owners, by-dealer, or both. I’ve found the best results by sorting by highest price and looking within the by-owner results.
Remember to negotiate the price once you find the one you want. Use KBB.com and Edmunds.com to ensure you aren’t paying too much.
Ebay Motors is another place to look online to find cars under $1000. They have a really good search feature that lets you narrow your search down to your local area and limit it to a max price.
I tend not to like Ebay motors for this though because Ebay is going to give the car a nationwide audience. This is good for the seller. But not so good for you.
Here’s a great video on finding cars under $1,000. The speaker suggests browsing car forums as well…
If you don’t like the results you are getting online, it’s time to take your search offline. Find a local paper and scan the classifieds. There may be something available there that you missed in your online search.
Ask your friends. Post on your Facebook wall that you are looking for a used car. Ask people at your Church or school. Tell everyone you know about your goal to get a car for under $1000.
Other places to look are with your local bank (they may be disposing of repossessed cars), or at car repossession auctions. You could also go to a dealership and inquire about cars they intend to sell for scrap. If someone drove it to the dealership for trade in, odds are it’s in good enough condition to drive out.
Finally, understand that a car worth less than $1000 often isn’t worth the time that it takes to clean up and list for sale. So some of the best deals out there aren’t publicized. Keep an eye out for cars in your neighborhood that you see parked for long periods of time.
Inquire with your neighbors about any old cars they may be looking to get rid of. You may even be able to get a free car just for taking it off of their hands.
How to Ensure You Aren’t Buying a Lemon
The scariest thing about buying a car for less than $1000 is the chance that the car will be unreliable and need several expensive repairs shortly after you make the purchase. No one wants a $1000 yard ornament.
For starters, you can have a Carfax report ran on the vehicle using the VIN. This will tell you if the car has title problems, major repairs, etc. It might also clue you into any tinkering with the odometer.
Be sure to ask the seller as much as you can about the vehicle. For example: how many owners has the car had?; has it ever been in an accident?; has it had any repairs or replacements?; do they have maintenance logs? If you have a car savvy friend, bring them along to look at the car with you.
Inspect the car for signs of an accident. Look for oil leaks. Is the driveway stained where the car is sitting? Test drive the car and listen for odd noises. Feel the smoothness of the suspension and transmission. Look at the tags. Ask about any failed inspections.
Once you have a car picked out, my best advice here is to invest $50 to $100 with a local mechanic to have the car inspected. Tell the mechanic the reason you need this car (e.g. get to work and back each day) and have him give you his expert opinion whether this is a good car for your purposes or not.
Have you ever purchased a car for under $1000? What was your experience like?