With all the computerization and electrical doodads going into cars these days, buying a new vehicle and hoping to drive it forever can seem like an exercise in futility. Alleviating reliability concerns by leasing a new car, though, is generally regarded as less financially responsible.
Plus, there's the fact that most new cars on the market today look pretty similar, with all the swoopy exterior lines and fake brushed aluminum details on the interior. Long gone are the days when cars were designed to stand out from the herd.
Buying a used car can be frightening, as well, given how most people totally neglect their vehicles. For some drivers, the best bet is just to buy a fun beater on the cheap. Keep scrolling for 16 perfect options anyone can find under $5,000 as long as they can live with driving their car into the ground.
16 Audi TT
The Audi TT took the world by storm when it debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1995. The concept was changed very little before production and clearly influenced a generation of auto design. The first generation is a blast to drive, with 225 horsepower, a six-speed, and all-wheel drive. Is it reliable? Not at all, but it is cheap and driving a TT into the ground will bring a thousand smiles per gallon.
15 Honda CRX
For more reliable fun that can still be had for the cheap, it's hard to go wrong with a Honda. The Honda CRX might be the best bet and there are a million out there that have been beat up so bad they're not totally affordable. There's not much power under the hood but the CRX is lightweight and features a great suspension setup from the factory.
14 Volvo V70
Not many drivers think of Volvo when they think about finding a fun beater. But in reality, these cars were both super safe and offered the potential for some excellent driving characteristics—not to mention room for the whole fam. A V70 in R spec would be ideal but those cost too much. Just find any old one and drive it til it falls apart.
13 Saab 9-2X
Subarus mostly hold their value too well to drop significantly below the $5,000 mark, though there are a few exceptions. One semi-exception is the Saab 9-2X, which is essentially a WRX mixed with an STI, plus some better exterior styling and a slightly upscale interior. The best part is the 9-2X is undervalued these days because not many people know about this model.
12 E36 BMW 318ti
For lightweight, tossable fun with respectable power and at least a modicum of style, it's hard to go wrong with an E36-generation BMW. The cheapest of the lot will be the 318ti and its squat rear end. A four-banger under the hood isn't going to wow anyone off the line but this car has about 80% of everything an E36 M3 offers at 20% of the cost.
11 Mazda Miata
Without a doubt, anyone looking for a fun, cheap, reliable sports car should consider the legendary Mazda Miata. Even one that doesn't have as many mods as the example pictured above can prove the old adage that it's more fun to drive a slow car fast. Miatas aren't the most practical of cars, which helps keep their values even lower.
10 Toyota Tercel 4WD
Only the most knowledgeable gearheads would look twice at a Toyota Tercel parked in a ski resort parking lot. But those that know will attest that there are not many cars with the perfectly 1980s style of a Tercel, plus four-wheel drive and comfort for everyone inside. It's not fast, but this car will get great MPGs while still being able to charge up the hill through some fresh powder.
9 W124 Mercedes-Benz 300E
Perhaps the beginning of the end for Mercedes-Benz's legendary reliability, the W124 generation was boxy, boat-like, and bulletproof. Mercedes built a ton of these cars, so finding a beater used is pretty easy. The car will float at highway speeds happily forever, making it one of the best road trip cars on the secondhand market.
8 Lexus LS400
It might be getting a little difficult to find a Lexus LS400 under $5,000 these days. But the fact of the matter is that an example under that price point will definitely have a ton of miles on it, yet will still have a few hundred thousand left to run. These cars took Lexus into the big leagues and they combine Toyota-level reliability with European-level comfort.
7 Fiat 500
Fiat scored a huge hit when they brought the 500 back to the market, especially for car owners who live in the city. The 500's price point certainly helped, even if Fiat's notorious reliability issues still haunt the model. But truly, the 500 is fun to drive, especially compared to other cars in its segment, and finding one used under $5,000 is very easy.
6 Subaru Legacy GT
Few Subaru models will fall under the $5,000 mark until they're at the final stages of beater-level implosion, but the 1990s-era Legacy fits the bill. While lacking the beefy torque of later Subie models, the Legacy offers clean looks, all-wheel drive, and enough power to keep everyone feeling safe on the road.
5 Volvo 242
Any car that earns the nickname of "Brick" must bring reliability and a complete lack of style to the table. Actually, though, the Volvo 242 might wear that moniker, but it has aged well over the years. Two-doors definitely look the coolest, though a four-door or wagon may be easier to find under the $5,000 limit for this beater list.
4 Geo Metro
Car and Driver's hilarious image of four guys lifting up the rear end of a Geo Metro will go down in automotive history. But so will the Geo Metro, perhaps one of the most uninspired commuter cars of all time. But finding a Metro over five grand is almost impossible, and with almost no power on tap, these cars will definitely run forever.
3 Volkswagen Touareg
The Volkswagen Touareg has earned itself a fair amount of negative press because of severe reliability problems. It's a shame, though, since this SUV could be purchased from the factory with three locking differentials, a V10 diesel engine, and air-lift suspension. Buying one would definitely take courage, but when it actually runs, a Touareg is definitely ready for some off-road fun.
2 Ford Crown Victoria
No one likes the kind of driver who goes out and buys a Crown Victoria fresh out of its service life. But no one who drives a Crown Victoria hates the way the car motors along happily and powerfully, forever and ever. The only downside of buying a Crown Vic is that everyone nearby slows down, thinking a cop is on the prowl.
1 Fox Body Ford Mustang
It might be easier to find a fourth-gen Mustang on the used market for under $5,000, but it's not impossible to find a beater Fox Body and enjoy it for the remainder of its life. Plus, the third generation was way better than its successor from the 1990s, which was underpowered, cheap, and looked awful, to boot.
Sources: Jalopnik, VWvortex, and Wikipedia.