How to Find the Absolute Best Cars Under $1,000 [Guide]

How to Find Cars Under $1000My 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.

Cars Under 1000 - Craigslist Search

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 and 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.

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?

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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.


    Speak Your Mind


  1. 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. 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. 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.

  6. Danny @ Frugal Quack says

    The trick is not to get too emotional about a used car that looks good. Because it may look good on the outside, but what is lurking beneath the metal? Follow the tips above and do your due diligence – don’t get sidetracked by pretty paint.

  7. blkberrydiamond says

    Thanks for this post. I have yet to purchase a car more than $1000. My first car was a 1988 Cutlass Ciera which I paid for $600. That car ran very well for a while. My 2nd car is a 1993 Saturn SL. I paid $500 for that. I had to make some repairs but for the distance I drive both did/doing well.

  8. Hi PT, I am also interested in this. (Take a look at the most recent blog post on my blog for more info.) This blog post was a really good read, you have definitely given me some food for thought.

    All the best,



    Thank you for this timely post. I am retweeting it. I can think of many people who need to drive cars for $1000 until they get on their feet financially! I am a fan of Dave Ramsey also.

  10. Jo/GaelicWench says

    I saved this email in my email file; it’s an extremely perfect and timely article, as come spring I want to buy my daughter a car. Since she isn’t averse to driving in wintry conditions, I prefer to wait – that, and so I can have the needed CASH to buy it.

    Thank you very much for this and the links/websites you provided.