Top five under five

The best used cars you can buy (for less than $5,000)

By Chris Paik, Contributor

With the economic recession and growing student debts, most of us can’t afford even the cheapest new car on the market.  Here is a list of quality, cheap-to-own used cars under $5,000. All of the vehicles on this list have a low total cost of ownership, factoring in purchase price, gas mileage, insurance, and the cost of repairs.

Honda Civic/Acura EL, 2001-05

There are so many reasons to buy a used model of Canada’s most-loved compact car. It is reliable, well-built, fuel-efficient, and practical, making it an ideal car that will give you many trouble-free years of ownership. Some of the later model prices have now dropped below $5,000, which can be a great value if you buy a well-maintained one.

If it were my money: If you can afford it, get the Acura EL. It’s basically the same car underneath and it has more standard features. Stay away from earlier Civics (2001-02) with the automatic transmissions, as they tend to falter.

Mazda MX-5 Miata, 1990-2000

The MX-5 isn’t the world’s best-selling convertible sports car for nothing. It’s fantastically fun to drive, dead reliable, and cheap to own. Our budget gets you into a first generation version (1990-97), which came with awesome ‘80s-style pop-up headlights. Just watch out for damage on the soft tops, which can cost up to $800 to replace

If it were my money: Don’t even think of buying an automatic.

Subaru Impreza, 1998-2001

Subarus are awesome all-weather cars that are perfect for Vancouver’s road and weather conditions. Imprezas are easy to recommend and are a great, quirky alternative to your bread-and-butter Honda Civics and Toyota Corollas. Earlier Imprezas had head gasket problems, which can get expensive. Buy from owners with full-service history.

If it were my money: The 2.5RS model had 165 HP and came with sports suspension. They’re the most fun to drive and retain their value longer.

Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe 2003-06

These cars are dull to drive, but are reliable transportation that are cheap to insure and run. Consumer Reports listed the Pontiac Vibe as a “good bet,” which is also reassuring. The Vibe is a near identical twin to the Matrix, making it a sleeper bargain. As with any Toyota car, make sure it doesn’t have the sticky accelerator problems.

If it were my money: Buy an early model Vibe and benefit from the depreciation. Don’t get the AWD model unless you really need it.

Acura Integra GS-R, 1994-2001

The only reason to buy an Acura Integra GS-R is because it’s potent and it’s one of the sweetest handling front-drive cars ever made. It’s also a practical hatchback and still has that Honda sensibility.

Finding a good one is difficult. Most have either been abused to hell, neglected, or disgraced with aftermarket kits and obnoxious mufflers. Find a seller who mollycoddled and parked it on a bed of peacock feathers every night.

If it were my money: Buy the one with the least mileage and modification, and go have lots of fun.