How to Find Reliable Cars for Under $1,000

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).

But was it worth it in the long run? I sure think so, and I think it can be a great thing for many others, too.

Is it Worth Buying a Car for Under $1,000?

There are plenty of reasons to own a car which costs under $1000.

  1. Maybe you only have $1000 to spend.
  2. Maybe you are buying your kid’s first car. $1,000 seems like a reasonable amount to spend on a spazzy, texting, speeding teenager.
  3. Maybe you are on the Dave Ramsey total money makeover plan. He recommends getting out of all consumer debt except the house.

What quicker way to get rid of debts than to dump your expensive (and/or financed) car and look for a car under $1,000 you can pay cash for?

Let’s answer two burning questions people ask when buying a car on a tight budget or out of practicality:

  • How do you find cars under $1,000 (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 $1,000?

There are lots of places you can purchase a car at or under $1,000, including:

  • Classifieds
  • Impound Lots & Scrap
  • Junkyards or Salvage Yards
  • Surplus Auctions

Craigslist

Let’s start with one of the more common, your local classified ads of 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.

Start by looking for the “car+truck” section in the for sale area of your local craigslist, which will look like this:

craigslist ad screenshot dallas

Use the filters on the left to limit your price to a maximum of $1,000.

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.

eBay Motors

eBay Motors is another place to look online to find cars under $1,000.

They have a really good search feature which lets you narrow your search down to your local area and limit it to a max price.

However… I tend not to like eBay motors as much, though, because eBay is going to give the car a nationwide audience. This is good for the seller; but not so good for you.

Remember to negotiate the price once you find the one you want. Use Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds to ensure you aren’t paying too much.

Facebook Marketplace

Facebook Marketplace is another online classified ad where you’ll be able to search for cheap cars.

Similar to the others, you’ll be able to use the filters on the left to narrow your search and find what you’re looking for.

facebook marketplace screenshot dallass

But even if you the inventory doesn’t have what you want, stay on Facebook and simply ask your friends. There are lots of way to get word on the street of a cheap car someone needs to get rid of:

  1. Post on your Facebook wall you are looking for a used car.
  2. Ask people at your Church or school, or workplace.
  3. Tell everyone you know about your goal to get a car for under $1,000.

Impound Lots & Scrap

Other places to look are with your local bank (they may be disposing of repossessed cars), or at car repossession auctions from impound lots.

Check your local area and ask any local towing company if they have cars they need to liquidate which match your budget and vehicle type.

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.

Junkyards or Salvage Yards

Understand that a car worth less than $1,000 often isn’t worth the time it takes to clean up and list for sale. So some of the best deals out there aren’t publicized or just get sent to junkyards and salvage yards.

Search your area for junkyards and salvage yards which have vehicles in running condition – it’ll be a difficult ask, but it does happen. Just be aware of the title condition, and be super picky if safety of the vehicle is even slightly in question.

Also, keep an eye out for cars in your neighborhood you see parked for long periods of time (which might look like their next stop is the junkyard).

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 and saving them the expense of towing it away.

Surplus Auctions

There are several types of surplus auctions, like:

  • Airport Auctions
  • Public Auctions
  • Government Auctions

Surplus auctions can be super hit or miss, and some may even require a dealer’s license to attend. However, if they have availability for public access, they can be great if you’re willing to do the work.

Of course, you may be going up against other people (or dealers) who are looking for cheap cars to flip, but you may luck out (or find a car they don’t want to mess with).

Some may have online portals, like your city or state, and some are more nationwide.

How to Ensure You Aren’t Buying a Lemon

The scariest thing about buying a car for less than $1,000 is the chance that the car will be unreliable and need several expensive repairs shortly after you make the purchase.

No one wants a $1,000 yard ornament.

For starters, you can have a Carfax report ran on the vehicle using the vehicle identification number, or 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.

Above all, make sure it’s safe. No amount of savings is worth driving a car which isn’t safe to drive.

Have you ever purchased a car for under $1,000? What was your experience like?

Avatar About Philip Taylor, CPA

Philip Taylor, aka "PT", is a CPA, blogger, podcaster, husband, and father of three. PT is also the founder and CEO of the personal finance industry conference and trade show, FinCon.

He created Part-Time Money® back in 2007 to share his advice on money, hold himself accountable (while paying off over $75k in debt), and to meet others passionate about moving toward financial independence.

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  1. Avatar Gradyjohnson says

    I have a menium amount of money but I need a reliable car so to say to get to and from work can anyone help,

  2. You should have mentioned the site “TrueCar”… they are probably my favorite place to buy used cars these days.  
    Also, You have to check the other associated costs (like gas, insurance, maintenance) before you buy. The car price tag might be cheap, but the repairs and everything might be expensive. You can find $25/month insurance from Insurance Panda sometimes, but only for certain cars. Also, you can fill up at the gas tank for like $15, but again that’s only for certain cars. Check out the costs with car ownership before you make that purchase.

  3. Avatar CaptainBetty says

    Timely as I have a newly licensed teen that will probably need a car soon and I don’t have ton of cash laying around to sink into a car. Although most of the advise here is common sense, I was reminded of car auctions – if you have a friend that goes to them, you can sometimes get really great deals.

  4. Hey nice post & informative too, I always suggest to buy used car if you have low budget under $1000.

  5. Avatar Mindy @ MyCarForAGrand says

    I have done research on cars under $1,000 and I have found that auctions / reputable sellers on eBay are your best bet. While you can find steals at $1,000, you’re going to find that many of them are going to need minor repairs that you can’t spot. I would recommend that you look into hiring a mechanic to help you point out problems that may lead to a $2,000+ repair in the future.