Usually the best ways to find cars for less than $5,000 are through private sellers, independent car lots and public auctions. Private sellers, especially those referred by others, are often the best sources of good deals on reliable used cars. They are typically found through friends and family or classified ads. Make sure to thoroughly inspect the car using a checklist, such as the one on DMV.org, and request a test drive. Additionally, ask questions about the vehicle's maintenance history.
Public auctions sell cars that have be repossessed, traded in, leased or totalled. Cars purchased through these auctions may be significantly discounted. However, they may also have maintenance issues that are not easily visible. Examine the auction catalog in advance, and research the history of any potential purchases. Cars labeled as salvage titles are ones that were totalled and later repaired. Many experts suggest avoiding these vehicles. Consider bringing a mechanic friend along to inspect the vehicles before bidding.
Independent car lots are smaller used car dealers. They tend to have better deals than larger lots; however, they may also employ more aggressive sales tactics. Make sure to thoroughly research cars in advance and know their market value. Additionally, take the time to carefully inspect and test drive a potential purchase before making an offer.