I Need A Cheap Ride To Help Me Get Back On My Feet! What Car Should I Buy?

What Car Should You BuyThe experts at Jalopnik answer your car-buying questions.

Joe has had a tough run. Last year, he lost his job and, subsequently, his apartment, along with his car. But things are looking up and he needs an affordable and reliable ride to get him back on track. What car should he buy?

(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. Do you want us to help you find a car? Submit your story on our form.)


Here is the scenario:

Last year my entire life unraveled. I lost my job. My apartment and my car. I’ve spent the last year getting things back on track and got a new job, but it’s a two hour commute by bus each way. Time for a cheap car.

This car should be cheap and easy to work on as I don’t have the space for a major engine rebuild or swap. Something I know will get me to work every day without exploding. I’d like it to be fun, but not holding my breath.

At this stage, I don’t have much money, but I could swing about $5,000. I would prefer a manual car so it’s more fun to drive, and since it is just me I don’t have to worry about size or practicality. The only thing I really ask that you do not recommend a Prius.

Quick Facts:

Budget: $5,000

Daily Driver: Yes

Location: Los Angeles

Wants: Affordable, reliable, preferably a manual.

Doesn’t want: Something that will break down, or be costly to repair.

Expert 1: Tom McParland - Sometimes A Car Is Just A Tool And That Is Okay


Joe, sorry to hear about your bad luck, but I’m glad things are getting better. First of all, good for you for not doing what most people do by taking out a huge car loan potentially putting yourself in a worse financial situation. Five grand isn’t a lot, but it can get a car that will get the job done.

I say find yourself a nice Scion xB. They aren’t fast, nor are they fancy, but they at least have all the reliability you would expect from the Corolla components with a lot more character. They are also pretty fuel efficient and can haul a ton of stuff. There are plenty of these to be had in SoCal, but be careful of ones with questionable modifications and/or salvage titles.


Here is a 2005 with a five-speed manual that looks like it’s in good shape, because you really want a first generation xB. Have fun and good luck.


Expert 2: Jason Torchinsky - There’s No Reason Why You Can’t Still Have Fun


It’s deeply shitty that life dealt you such a raw deal recently, but I’m glad things are looking up again, and I don’t see any reason why you can’t find something interesting and fun even on a limited budget. The key to feeling good about life is not feeling like important things—like your car—were something you ended up with as opposed to chose. That’s why I think you’d love this amazing $4300 JDM Suzuki Jimny!

In the survey Tom made you take it said you liked Suzukis, and that photo you sent suggests you like off-roaders, too. That makes the Jimny damn near perfect. We got these in the U.S. as Samurais, but this little tough guy is the original, right from Japan, and that means it’s right-hand drive, which is cool.


This little Jimny has the rare panoramic roof with the upper windows, some fetching little yellow foglamps set in the dash, and looks like a tiny version of some badass desert exploration vehicle.

It’s a turbocharged, three-cylinder, four-wheel drive, right-hand drive block of raw, Japanese fun. This isn’t a desperation vehicle, it’s an inspiration! You’ll love it.


(Oh, and if not, I was going to pick an xB, too, but that jackass Tom stole it.)

Expert 3: Patrick George - You Deserve Nice And Reliable Things


Joe, I’m sorry to hear of your troubles. And I think you’re being very smart here: sticking to a sensible budget, not messing with financing or leasing, and focusing on a car that’s reliable, but still fun. You’re doing exactly what I’d suggest people in your shoes do.

But! Being a bit down on your luck doesn’t mean you have to drive some deplorable garbage-box. And $5,000 will objectively get you a whole lot of car. You can even get something nice.


I suggest the mid-2000s Acura TSX. It’s not quite as opulent as its German competitors, but it’s more premium than your average Honda, all while keeping that famous Honda reliability. It’s fun, too, especially with the manual—a sharp-handling, revvy little sedan with a ton of practicality. Here’s a 2004 model for $5,000 and 130,000 miles on the clock. In Honda years, that’s a new car!

Expert 4: Kristen Lee - Loves Goddamn Colors


Hey there, Joe! Congratulations on being on the upswing now. To celebrate, why not get something happily named and spunky? Something like a 2014 Ford Fiesta?

You say you don’t need the most space in the entire world, but the Fiesta comes in two-door, four-door, hatchback and sedan variations. So many choices! Powered by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, you’ll get 120 horsepower to the front wheels.


The Fiesta gets great gas mileage, which will definitely come in handy on those long LA highway/stuck-sitting-in-traffic-and-pissed-off trips. And as an added bonus, you can certainly get them with manual transmissions, making those commutes infinitely more enjoyable and engaging.

Here’s a silver 2014 Fiesta sedan with 91,728 miles on it for $4,988. Car’s only three years old—and this one appears to have some original warranty still left over on it.

Share This Story

About the author

Tom McParland

Tom is a contributing writer for Jalopnik and runs AutomatchConsulting.com. He saves people money and takes the hassle out of buying or leasing a car. (Facebook.com/AutomatchConsulting)