Reliable Inexpensive Car in Chicago


I’m looking for a reliable used car to take me and a child in a car
seat between the train station and my office. Given that this is not
our primary car and won’t be anywhere near where we live, having the car be trouble-free is more important than any other feature.

I’m looking to spend only about $5,000 but am flexible.

I have only bought new cars in the past and would be happy for any advice on getting a good used one.



There are tons of great cars out there for around $5000. Since reliability is your top concern, I would suggest focusing on Japanese sedans that are about ten to fifteen years old. That will get you the most reliability bang for the buck. Toyota (plus Scion and Lexus) and Honda (plus Acura) generally have the best reputations, but Mazda, Subaru and Nissan also offer excellent reliability and utility, often for a little bit less.

Here are some promising listings that I found after a scan of craigslist in the Chicago area:

2009 Scion XB with 65k miles for $5800

2005 Mazda 6 wagon with 69k miles for $4150

2001 Mazda Millenia with 34k miles for $5900

2005 Toyota Corolla with 78k miles for $5995

Keep in mind that you should expect to negotiate about 10-20% off from the posted asking price.

I also recommend finding a trusty mechanic in the neighborhood who can check out any car before you make a final offer and who will be available to maintain the car during your ownership. Here’s an article on the subject that explains this need in more detail:

Let us know what other questions come up as you progress in your search!


Thanks for the advice! I looked into these cars, and they turned out to be sold by small dealerships. I read elsewhere on this site that I should avoid buying from dealerships, but I’m not finding many cars like this on the market from private sellers around here. Would I be making a big mistake getting the car through a dealership?


I did find a few private sellers on cargurus. What do you think of either of these:

2008 Honda Civic Hybrid 91k for $5,625

2005 Toyota Matrix XR 85k for $5,299


No problem. It’s interesting that some of these cars are offered by dealerships because when I found them I searched on “for sale by owner” listings only. So that means the sellers are being dishonest right off the bat – not a good sign. If they’re trying to hide the nature of the listing, then they are probably hiding other aspects about the car as well. I would simply cross those cars/sellers off the list.

And, yes, generally it’s advisable to avoid dealership cars if you are trying to maximize value. That’s because dealerships need to charge a markup of at least 10% in order to stay in business. But if you find a nice car at a well-reviewed shop, then you might want to overpay a little, especially if you need something right away.

Otherwise, I would suggest staying patient and eliminating any listings (dealership or not) where you find evidence that the seller isn’t being 100% truthful.

There are honest sellers out there. Sometimes it just takes a lit bit of digging to find one. Unfortunately, that’s just part of the process of buying a used car. But it’s also one of the main reasons this site exists! : )