After I asked you thrifty, frugal, and dare I say, cheap lot to give me the most dependable cars for less than the price of a new car's down payment, you answered with some astonishingly solid examples. Here are the most reliable and dependable cars on eBay for less than $5000.
This truck will outlast you, your kids, the next apocalypse, and maybe, just maybe, the next presidential term. This one has a touch more than 200k miles, which is barely broken in for this rugged people mover. It's as smooth as a baby's butt and designed to be overworked and underpaid for years on end.
I'll let BenLikesCars explain:
This is the last Toyota Land Cruiser sold in America with The Straight Six. The Straight Six, with its Inherent Balance, turns forever, and, forever. Hey, let's imagine a hypothetical road-trip... across the former Zaire, and of course slowing down or stopping to chat with heavily armed strangers is not a great idea. What do you take? A Dodge Ram with a Hemi? A Land Rover? A Gelandewagen? Hell no. You take The Land Cruiser.
Don't take my word for it. Get a whiff of the worship on ExpeditionPortal.com, on http://www.expeditionportal.com/forum/archive/… I think they have a handle on What Works on long trips. :)
(Suggested by BenLikesCars)
If you have $3500, you can buy any early '00-era Taurus, because they're all $3500, sort of like how every Lotus Elise ever made is $30,000. This silver on gray example is — you guessed it — $3500. It's not the best driving car in the world, but it's damn dependable. There's a reason why these were company cars and fleet vehicles almost exclusively, and that reason is trouble-free reliability. Buy one and drive it until the wheels fall off. Then replace the wheel and drive until something else falls off.
(Suggested by JCAlan)
I can personally attest to this model because it was my first car. Barring some minor wear and tear faults, the 1995-1999, 4th generation model was the most solid and reliable Maxima that Nissan ever made. It didn't have any variable cam timing, no variable runner intakes, just 3 liters, 6 cylinders, 5 speeds, a surprising amount of power and one hell of an engine note. It can do the quarter mile in mid 14 seconds, bone stock. It can last upwards of half a million miles on the original engine if you change its oil occasionally, the parts are dirt cheap, and the wealth of knowledge is plentiful. This '99 is the last year of the 4th gen, A32 chassis code, which did have a bunch of extra emissions equipment, but it's also the newest one you can buy before the body style changed. It's a great alternative to any new car today.
(Suggested by WINGZERO)
There's nothing more reliable than Japan's version of Germany's most reliable luxury car. This car one-upped the Mercedes S-class in nearly every conceivable way. It doesn't require any special engine-out services, has one of the smoothest V8s ever made, and looks just as stately today as it did 20 years ago. This one is a great example of what Lexus could do when it wasn't busy ruining sports coupes. This beats a brand new Altima any day of the week.
In my service/repair days these were regularly seen above 250k miles and looking solid as ever. Distinctly remember a regular customer with one over 400k. It may be a stretch at $5k but you might win out.
(Suggested by NotSoSlowAsThat)
This truck symbolizes the era when Americans needed trucks to be simple, dependable, rugged, and safe. This was the body style that solidified the F150 as the best selling car in the world, with good reason - you can still find great examples like this one 20 years down the line for a reasonable price, with no real downsides. For anyone that needs to haul, pull, or push anything for work or for fun, this is the truck for you.
(Suggested by BrianMadigan)
The "affordable" Lexus is actually pretty damn reliable when you realize that it's built with the drivetrain that Toyota has used in nearly every car in the 90s - the 2JZ-GE inline-6 engine. Parts are plentiful and reasonable, the electronics aren't super complex like they are in later LS and IS models, and the car is reasonable light, so that means that it's a great sporty drive. Plus you can modify the living hell out of it and make it decimate all, with about 10 grand in overnight parts from Japan. This nice silver example is a little over budget, with a contemporary look that would have you questioning why you'd ever buy new when you can get this amount of performance, reliability, and value in such an affordable package.
The engine is an NA 2JZ, a bulletproof engine. The transmissions are so good that they go 250K miles with minimal maintenance and when they do go bad, you can buy used replacements from ebay for between $150-500. Any part you might ever need is available from ebay. Front engine, rear drive. A-Arm front suspension and multilink rear. Typical Lexus quality on a compact form. They're easy to work on and maintain with Spritely performance. I own two of them. One with 250K miles on it.
(Suggested by Quade)
Even though TheSmokingTire managed to destroy a clapped-out example, under usual conditions, this car is unkillable. Its engine will last multiple trips to the moon, and its drivetrain will give any $140k Range Rover a run for its money when things get bumpy. This one is slightly over budget, but for a low mileage example, it's worth it. I'm not sure it'll stay pearly white for long though.
(Suggested by FCV_P71)
I have one of these currently, and have driven it almost exclusively for a few summers. It will never, ever give up on you, no matter how many accidents and missed oil changes you throw at it (Believe me, I tried my best). This extended cab V6 version is the best of the best little trucks, and at well below the budget limit, you can buy two or three in case one breaks down (it won't). It's all the truck you'll likely ever need.
(Suggested by You had fordboy357 at "meat tornado")
Here's a quick experiment: Go to your nearest bus station or airport, find a Ford Crown Victoria taxi, and check its mileage. Didn't know numbers went up that high, you say? That's exactly the reason that the Ford Panther platform was so popular with law enforcement, taxi drivers and the elderly. This 2004 LX Sport, although not abused, certainly has the pedigree for taking a licking and keeping on ticking. You could skip 10 oil changes and it would still get you across the country without so much as a cough. You could make these cars ungodly fast, or you could fill the enormous trunk with supplies and just live out of it. It's one of the most dependable cars money can buy, and they're so ubiquitous that replacing one would be no big deal. I've owned one, and so should everyone at some point.
This car cannot die. Its engine is simple with no expensive service intervals, has room for 5, uses cheap tires, cheap fuel, parts are plentiful, and it doesn't look half bad. This car is below budget and rivals brand new Toyotas for reliability.
It's the most dependable car possibly ever made, and a shining example of why people should never, ever go into crippling debt for a car they think is reliable and safe when you can get this car for 1/10th of the price of new.
You literally cannot kill it. This is the CE version also, which means manual windows, manual seats, manual locks. Literally nothing to stop working.
(Suggested by El-Verde)
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Tavarish is the founder of APiDA Online and writes about buying and selling cool cars on the internet. He owns the world's cheapest Mercedes S-Class, a graffiti-bombed Lexus, and he's the only Jalopnik author that has never driven a Miata. He also has a real name that he didn't feel was journalist-y enough so he used a pen name and this was the best he could do.