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24 Mar 2022

How to buy a car for under £5,000: the models to shortlist (and two to avoid)

A limited budget shouldn't mean you have to put up with a car that's unsafe or unreliable. We explain what to look for and reveal the models you should consider.
Honda Jazz

If you've been looking for a new set of wheels, you'll no doubt have noticed that the car market is somewhat turbulent at the moment. Ongoing supply issues caused by the effects of the pandemic and the global shortage of semiconductors has resulted in ever-increasing lead times for new car orders.

This has led to a surge in demand for used cars. Our data shows that the average price of new cars has risen by around 11 percent since March 2020, with used cars experiencing a four percent increase on average.

Of course, this is excellent news for those looking to sell a car. However, it also means anyone looking for a quality second hand car will find once-affordable models are now far more robustly priced, reducing options for drivers on a budget.

That's not to say you can't find a low-cost model that will tick all the boxes. Whether you're looking for an economical city car, reliable family car or even something with a premium badge, our pick of the used market below will have something for you.

Of course, at this end of the market, there will also be some models you should steer clear of at all costs, whether it be due to woeful dependability or poor safety ratings. Read on to find out which two cheap cars we would avoid like the plague.

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What can you get for under £5,000?

Needless to say, you won't be able to pick up a new car for less than £5,000.

Cars in this price bracket are instead likely to be over ten years old with a fair few miles on the clock. Based on the latest Which? car survey, the average mileage for cars this age is 87,850 miles.

There's no reason to avoid a car purely because it has high mileage, though. Provided it has been properly maintained, a high-mileage car can be just as reliable as one that's done fewer miles - and will often be significantly cheaper.

Head to our guide to how to buy the best used car for our 11-point checklist when inspecting a prospective purchase.

Your choice of in-car tech is also going to be more limited in older cars. You're very unlikely to find a model that links up with your phone via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and advanced driver aids are likely to be missing.

However, depending on the model you choose, you should be able to secure a car with useful extras such as Bluetooth (for hands-free calls via your phone) and convenience kit such as cruise control.

Are cheap cars safe?

Man doing seatbelt

The older the car you're considering buying, the more outdated its safety credentials are likely to be.

Vehicle safety has improved massively over the past decade, with greater prevalence of advanced driver assistance systems such as autonomous emergency braking, which can prevent (or at least mitigate) an impending collision. Such kit is likely to have been optional in cars over ten-years old, if available at all.

Ideally, look for a car that has a maximum five-star Euro NCAP safety rating. Bear in mind that the Euro NCAP test is updated frequently to account for advances in safety, so results for older models aren't directly comparable with those for new cars.

You'll find Euro NCAP safety scores in our car reviews, along with ratings for our own tests (including hazard avoidance). Any car that receives a rating of three stars or less from Euro NCAP is made a Don't Buy. If a car has been available for more than four years and has not been tested by Euro NCAP, it cannot be a Best Buy.

Already decided which car you want? Read our expert advice on where to buy a car

Are cheap cars reliable?

Broken-down car

Dependability is another concern with older cars. While there's always the potential for any car to let you down, you can take steps to minimise the risk. Walking away from anything that doesn't have a fully documented service history is a good start.

Where we have sufficient data from our annual survey, we provide reliability ratings for three age groups (0-4, 5-9 and 10-15 years), so you can see the likelihood of your prospective new purchase letting you down.

You can view reliability ratings for all cars (new and used) in our guide to the most reliable cars, while our full in-depth reviews detail the most common faults experienced for each car, as well as their seriousness.

Three cars that should be on your shortlist

Now you know what to look for when buying a cheaper car, here are three models that should be on your shortlist.

All three score three stars or more out of five for reliability in the 10-15 year age group (either for the model or the brand as a whole). They also scored five stars out of five in their respective Euro NCAP tests. Click through to the full reviews for full reliability and safety details.

We've also listed typical prices for each. These are used prices are based on published dealer transaction prices directly sourced from multiple online markets on a rolling basis, including car supermarkets, franchised dealers and independent garages.

Of course, prices will vary depending on factors such as age, mileage and overall condition.

Once you've made your choice, our guide on where to buy a car explains where to get the best price.

Honda Jazz (2008-2015) - £3,687

Honda Jazz

The Jazz is a perennially popular model amongst Which? members, and it's not difficult to see why. Launched in 2008, this second-generation model retains the deceptively spacious cabin and comfy seating of the original, but has much improved suspension comfort compared to the original.

Those wanting an automatic transmission should look for a model from 2010 onwards, when the Jazz was updated with a CVT automatic, which is smoother than the automated-manual gearbox fitted to earlier cars.

It's a great choice, but there are some downsides.

Head to our full Honda Jazz (2008-2015) review to find out more.

BMW 3 Series Estate (2005-2012) - £3,351

3 Series Touring

BMW's 3 Series Estate is a masterclass in all-round ability, with a smart cabin, wide range of engines and a shot of driver appeal that's missing from most large estate cars.

At this price, you'll be looking at an older, higher-mileage example, but based on owner-feedback in the latest Which? car survey, this car resists faults admirably.

It's not the most spacious estate car available for the money, though.

Find out if there's anything else you need to consider in our BMW 3 Series Estate (2005-2012) review.

Toyota Avensis (2009-2018) - £4,278

Toyota Avensis

For reliability, few brands have a reputation as strong as Toyota. If you value dependability, the Avensis is a credible choice. For added peace of mind, buy a model that's under ten years old (and under 100,000 miles) - have it serviced at an official Toyota dealer, and you'll be given an additional year's warranty.

While this model does without the hybrid-tech available on newer Toyota cars, it has the same robust build-quality, comfy interior and feeling of security behind the wheel.

It won't appeal if you like a sporty drive, though, particularly if you choose the rather lethargic entry-level petrol engine. However, thanks to its decent practicality and relaxed driving experience, it's amongst the best large used cars we've tested for effortless everyday motoring.

Find out more in our Toyota Avensis (2009-2018) review.

Two cheap cars to avoid

Fiat Punto (2006-2018)

Fiat Punto

The Punto was the first ever car to be awarded a zero-star crash safety rating by Euro NCAP - a shock result that saw the Punto removed from showrooms soon after.

The reality is it should have been updated or replaced years prior to this, but Fiat let its small hatchback soldier on for well over a decade, as rivals such as the Ford Fiesta and VW Polo got ever safer and more advanced.

Even if it had better safety, the car feels very dated inside with poor ergonomics and a relatively cramped rear cabin.

Does the Punto impress in any area? Find out in our Fiat Punto (2006-2018) review.

Ssangyong Korando (2011-2019)

Ssangyong Korando

Ssangyong's latest cars may be more worthy of closer consideration, but its aging Korando crossover simply doesn't cut the mustard, even considering it was offered very cheaply when new.

You may be tempted by the amount of space you get for your money, but that's where the plus points end. Even when new, we criticised it for lacking safety equipment, while it also feels sloppy to drive. Lacklustre performance you may not mind to living with, but lacklustre braking you certainly would.

Find out what our experts thought of it, and which of its rivals we would consider instead, in our full Ssangyong Korando (2011-2019) review.